With the arrival of Starbucks’ fall drinks menu, ‘tis the season to indulge in your favorite seasonal brew.
But with many of these drinks containing whopping amounts of calories, fat, and sugar, you might want to consider the nutritional content before taking a sip.
Here, we ask two nutritionists how eight of Starbucks’ fall drinks rack up, and what you can do to make them healthier.
The Pumpkin Spice Latte has become a regular staple in Starbucks’ fall drinks menu, but with 390 calories, 14g of fat, and nearly 50g of sugar in a grande cup, it’s not something you should be consuming regularly.
“What immediately stands out is the volume of sugar in this drink,” says Natalie Louise Burrows, a registered nutritional therapist. “A small portion of this will be natural sugar from the milk (lactose) and the rest from the added sugar likely from the pumpkin flavor sauce and potentially from the whipped cream too.”
To make this drink healthier, Burrows advises cutting out the whipped cream, which adds to both the saturated fat and sugar content.
With 420 calories, 15g of fat, 70g of carbohydrates, and 60g of sugar, the Apple Crisp Frappuccino is far from healthy.
Burrows says the amount of carbohydrates alone is equivalent to the amount you’d find in a decent meal. The sugar content is also a big concern.
“Personally, this drink would be on my ‘not recommended’ list. With double the amount of free sugars than the upper daily limit, and the impact this sugar will have on blood sugars and inflammation, I class this as confectionary, not a drink,” she says.
If you are ordering this drink, Burrows says one way to make it slightly healthier would be to swap the oat milk for whole milk.
“This would provide more fats and protein to slow the sugar spike down,” she explains.
“Removing oat milk will also reduce the overall sugar content as oats are broken down into sugar,” she adds.
If a seasonal drink is a must for you, then a Cold Brew may be a slightly healthier choice. A grande Pumpkin Cream Cold Brew has 250 calories, 12g of fat, and 31g of sugar, noticeably less than some of the other fall drink choices.
“A cold brew tends to have a lot less ingredients and you can tell by how different the nutritional value is,” Burrows points out.
One of the biggest concerns with this drink is its saturated fat content. “The saturated fat content will likely be from the Pumpkin Spice Cream Foam which could easily be omitted to reduce this,” Burrows explains.
If you want to go one further, you could also ask for one pump of vanilla syrup instead of two.
Like most of the drinks on the fall menu, the Hot Apple Oatmilk Macchiato is high in calories (320), sugar (29g), and fat (10g). It’s also very high in caffeine with 170mg of caffeine in a 16 fl oz grande.
“Just two of these drinks and you would have almost had your caffeine limit for the day,” Burrows points out. Add to that, with 29g of sugar, you could be setting yourself up for a massive energy spike, followed by a massive crash.
Most of the sugar will come from Apple Brown Sugar Syrup and the Spiced Apple Drizzle so Burrows recommends reducing these by half.
“There will be a portion of sugar coming from the oat milk too, so swapping to a whole milk could help to reduce the overall sugar intake,” she adds.
If you’re sensitive to caffeine, you might want to consider asking for decaf as well.
With 65g of sugar, a grande Pumpkin Spice Frappuccino is one of the worst offenders in terms of sugar content. It also contains 420 calories.
A venti size contains 510 calories and 80g of sugar.
To put that into perspective, nutritionist Tony Cottenden says that’s roughly the equivalent of three and a half cans of Coca-Cola.
“You may consider modifying the drink by opting for skim milk, however, this alteration will only marginally reduce the overall caloric intake,” he explains. “Even with this modification, the drink remains more calorie-dense than many baked goods, including cookies and doughnuts.”
One of the most effective ways to reduce both the calorie and sugar content of this drink is by ordering a smaller size. By choosing a tall rather than a venti, you can cut 220 calories and 36g of sugar.
Like many of the other options, the Iced Apple Crisp Macchiato is very high in calories and sugar. A grande size contains 310 calories and 34g of sugar.
However, just because it’s packed with calories doesn’t mean you’ll be satisfied after consuming it. “The most concerning thing about drinks like this is how easy they are to overconsume because of the high-calorie content,” Cottenden explains.
“High-sugar drinks like this one make us want to keep eating. They bypass our hunger signals so we overconsume easily.”
A significant amount of the sugar content will be from the Apple Brown Sugar Syrup and the Spiced Apple Drizzle, so you could consider asking for less of these or forgoing the drizzle completely.
Cottenden says the amount of calories in this drink is actually quite spectacular. As well as packing in 66g of sugar and 17g of fat, a grande size Iced Pumpkin Cream Chai Latte contains 460 calories.
“In a society where caloric overconsumption is already a concern, a drink like this can inadvertently contribute to the problem, often without the consumer fully realizing the impact,” he notes.
150 of the calories in this drink come from fat, so a good way to reduce this would be to ask for it without the Pumpkin Cream Cold Foam topping. Alternatively, you could opt for a Light Pumpkin Cream Cold Foam.
Opting for a smaller size may be your best bet. By choosing a tall rather than a grande you’ll be cutting out 120 calories.
With 180 calories in a grande, 4.5g of fat, and 21g of sugar, Cottenden says the Iced Apple Crisp Oatmilk Shaken Espresso is one of the better choices on the fall menu.
However, he says you’re still consuming liquid calories. “The problem with liquid calories is that they don’t offer too much on the satiety front. As well as that, high amounts of sugar make this drink very palatable and so it could make you crave more tasty, high-calorie foods,” he explains.
If you’re choosing this drink over the others, you’re already making a slightly healthier choice, but you can go one further by asking for half of the Apple Brown Sugar Syrup.
Swapping to whole milk instead of oat milk is another way to reduce the sugar content.
“While these beverages offer a comforting embrace as the temperatures drop, it’s crucial to examine their nutritional impact,” Cottenden points out.
He says while we shouldn’t demonize these drinks, it’s important to keep moderation in mind. By seeing these drinks as an occasional indulgence and making healthy swaps when you can, they can still be a cherished part of your fall ritual.