Other than enjoying stunning fall foliage and participating in fun activities like corn mazes and pumpkin picking, few things ring in autumn quite like the debut of Starbucks’ seasonal fall drinks menu. In fact, it’s one of the most anticipated events of the season (pumpkin spice latte, anyone?).
While treating yourself to one of the coffee giant’s signature beverages every now and then shouldn’t affect your overall health goals, there are better-for-you ways to enjoy Starbucks fall drinks. In fact, there are even health benefits to a cup of coffee, says Keri Gans, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.N., author of The Small Change Diet. Coffee beans have antioxidants, may have anti-inflammatory properties, and may even help prevent heart disease, she says.
But some of our favorite drinks from the Starbucks fall menu are brimming with sugar—something Gans says you’ll want to watch if you plan to drink a cup every morning.
“There are a lot of health benefits associated with coffee, but not a lot of health benefits associated with sugar. With too much sugar, you’re sabotaging your coffee,” she says. However, Starbucks doesn’t separate their added sugars on their nutrition; some of the sugar is naturally occurring in milk, Gans says, so you won’t find a zero-sugar latte or Frappuccino anywhere.
So, what’s the secret to enjoying the seasonal flavors without crushing your health goals? The answer is simple: moderation.
It’s important to remember that enjoying a sweet coffee drink every so often, just because you want one, isn’t going to totally derail your day. But if you prefer to lighten them up a bit, there are easy ways to make your favorite Starbucks fall drink items a bit healthier.
Your healthy Starbucks order checklist
If Starbucks stops are a regular occurrence for you, follow Gans’ tips for making better-for-you choices when it comes to your everyday cup of Joe.
✔️ Be conservative when it comes to creamers. Though a splash of milk is totally fine, avoid overusing cream, sweetened syrups, and whipped cream where you can.
✔️ Don’t supersize. Gans suggests opting for a tall or grande size where possible and avoiding too-large coffee orders.
✔️ Make adjustments. Ask for a fraction of the pumps of syrup in the original drink to lessen the sweetness (and sugar and fat count!), cut down on whipped cream, and create a lighter version.
✔️ Splash whatever milk you like. Gans says unless you’re having multiple cups of very light coffee daily, any half-and-half, dairy-free milk, cream, or non-fat milk will do the trick if you like a splash of milk in your coffee.
How and what to order from the Starbucks fall drinks menu
Pumpkin Spice Latte
Nutrition in a grande: 380 cal, 14g pro, 52g carb, 0g fiber, 50g sugars, 14 g fat (8 g sat fat), 240 mg sodium
A classic pumpkin spice latte contains espresso, milk, pumpkin, cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove syrup, plus whipped cream and pumpkin pie spice topping. Gans calls out that a grande pumpkin spice latte contains 50 grams of sugar—the added sugar limit most people should have in an entire day, per the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. (The American Heart Association suggests you should have even less—25 g tops for women and 36 g for men.)
Dietitian’s tip: “It’s the pumpkin spice [syrup] that you really get most of that sugar from,” she says. Because of this, she suggests asking for fewer pumps of syrup to slash calories, fat, and sugar, no whipped cream, and switching to a non-fat milk.
Pumpkin Cream Cold Brew
Nutrition in a grande: 250 cal, 3g pro, 31g carb, 0g fiber, 31g sugar, 12g fat (8g sat fat), 55mg sodium
The pumpkin cream cold brew launched in 2019 as the first new pumpkin coffee beverage to join the Starbucks menu in 16 years. Each cup features Starbucks cold brew coffee, vanilla, pumpkin cold foam, and a dusting of pumpkin spice topping.
Dietitian’s tip: The seasonal flavors pack in high amounts of saturated fat. A grande pumpkin cream cold brew has 30% of your daily limit, Gans says. Enjoying a cup every so often is an acceptable treat, but Gans warns a regular drink high in saturated fat could potentially increase the risk of heart health issues.
Consider asking for a light amount of cold foam or forgo the foam and add a pump of pumpkin spice syrup, a sprinkle of pumpkin pie spice, and a splash of milk to a regular cold brew coffee for a lighter option.
Salted Caramel Mocha
Nutrition in a grande: 470 cal, 13g pro, 68g carb, 4g fiber, 59g sugars, 16g fat (10g sat fat), 370mg sodium
A regular salted caramel mocha coffee contains mocha sauce, toffee nut syrup, espresso, and steamed milk, and is topped with whipped cream, sugar, and sea salt. It’s more like a decadent hot chocolate than a coffee drink—which isn’t always a bad thing! Unless you plan to have one every morning.
Dietitian’s tip: Gans suggests starting with lowering the number of syrup pumps in your latte. “You don’t need four pumps of each syrup. You’ll enjoy it without it. Just that small change will be doing yourself a lot of good,” she suggests.
Salted Caramel Frappuccino
Nutrition in a grande: 420 cal, 5g pro, 67g carb, 1g fiber, 63g sugars, 15g fat (10 g sat fat), 360mg sodium
An order of the salted caramel Frappuccino comes with mocha sauce, toffee nut syrup, coffee, milk, ice, and a whipped cream topping with caramel sauce, sugar, and sea salt. This hot-button fall menu item’s taste (and macros) make it more like a milkshake than a blended coffee.
Dietitian’s tip: Though this is a slightly better choice (as far as nutrition info goes) compared to the salted caramel latte version, Gans warns about the sugar in any of the seasonal selections. Fewer pumps of syrup or even just ordering the smallest size (tall) can cut down on sugar tremendously.
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