Starbucks Survival Guide: Nutrition Edition

Starbucks has become a global, cultural and generational coffee phenomenon. They make billion dollar revenues and have nestled into the daily routines of a massive number of people. Many people I know are regular Starbucks visitors with their own favourite drink selected from Starbucks’ massive hot and cold drink selection. If you are a regular Starbucks visitor, this article is for you. Today I will share the results of my review of the Starbucks’ drink menu and present to you the best drink choices, nutrition-wise, in each of their drink categories. I am basing my analysis primarily on the calorie content of the drinks, but will also take into consideration caffeine and nutrient content if/when it makes sense to do so. 

Why am I doing this? I always get questions from coffee drinking friends about Starbucks. Many people I know love coffee , but they are generally less aware of the nutritional component of the flavoured coffee beverages that they so much enjoy. As an example, certain beverages at Starbucks could contain 25% of a person’s daily calorie intake or 100% of  a persons recommended caffeine intake. It is important to be aware of the nutritional value of what you are drinking on a daily basis. For this reason, I felt it important to write today’s article. 

Starbucks Survival Guide 

For the sake of this guide, I am looking at each drink category from the perspective of someone who regularly purchases Starbucks drinks in that category and wants to be sure that, within that category, they are not making the highest calorie choice. I am only going to compare drinks within categories, not across categories. The reason for this is because, if you are just looking for the lowest calorie drinks available overall, Starbucks already provides that. However, if you are looking for the best drink within a category of drinks that you enjoy, that is what I am here to provide.

Please keep in mind that the calorie levels of a drink will change significantly based on the type of milk you add, if you add toppings ( whipped cream, syrup, drizzle) and the size of drink you get. My analysis today is an all things equal comparison, meaning that it holds true when you compare the same drink of the same size prepared with the exact same additions. Let’s get it started! 

Ranking System: #1) Best Choice #2) Alternative #3) Not Great. Not great in this context means only that it is the highest calorie option within a given drink category. 

Please remember I am only comparing drinks within each category, the following information will not tell you that, for example, Smoothies are any better calorically than Shaken Iced Beverages. It will only identify which smoothie is the best choice among smoothies offered. 

1) Add Ons

Not Great: Whipped cream –  Contains 50-100 calories, depending on size, mostly fat.

Alternative: 1 Pump of syrup* or drizzle –  About half the calories of whipped cream. 

Best Choice: Protein/Fibre powder – Adds 1 gram fibre and 6 grams protein to your drink.

                     No Add Ons – No add ons mean no calories.

*Keep in mind that Starbuck’s can also do half a pump of syrup ( half sweet) or use sugar-free syrup. I did not add sugar free syrup to this list because regular use of non-caloric sweeteners could cause gastrointestinal issues in some people.

2) Cold Beverages


All 3 of the smoothies Starbucks offers are quite similar from a nutritional perspective. 

Shaken Iced Beverages

Alternative: Shaken Iced Tea Tazo Lemonade – Higher in calories due to lemonade.

Best Choice: Iced brewed coffee*/ Shaken Tazo Tea –   Lower calorie content. 

*Keep in mind that iced brewed coffee has the highest caffeine content of all the cold beverages ( 235 mg for a Venti – more on caffeine intake recommendations to follow).

Frappucino & Frappucino Light* Blended Coffee 

Not Great: Java Chip –  The highest calorie option in this category of drinks.

Silver: Mocha/Caramel – Less calories than the not great choice but more than the best.

Best Choice:  Coffee – The lowest calorie drink in this category of drinks. 

*The light version of these drinks has about 33% fewer calories than the original version of the same flavour. 

Frappucino Blended Creme 

Alternative: Strawberries Creme/ Vanilla Bean – The highest calories in this category.

Best Choice: Double Chocolatey Chip/ Green Tea – Depending on size, 25-100 calories less. 

3) Hot Beverages 

Tazo Tea Drinks

Not Great:  Tazo Green Tea Latte/ Tazo Chai Tea Latte – The highest calorie options. 

Alternative: Full Leaf Tea/Full Leaf REd Tea – About half as many calories as the above. 

Best Choice: Tazo Tea – If nothing is added, 0 calories and less caffeine than coffee.

Signature Espresso Drinks 

Not Great: White Chocolate Mocha  –  One of the highest calorie drinks at Starbucks.

Alternative: Caramel Apple Spice/Hot Chocolate –  Less calories than the above.

Best Choice:  Caramel Machiato – The lowest calorie selection in this category.

Classic Espresso Drinks

Not Great: Vanilla Latte/ Caffee Mocha –  These two drinks have the highest calories. 

Alternative: Cappucino/Caffee Latte/Skinny Latte – 50% less calories then the above.

Best Choice: Caffee Americano**/Brewed Coffee**/Espresso  – Very low in calories. 

** Please be aware that , despite a low calorie content, a Grande brewed coffee contains 300 mg of caffeine and a Grande Americano contains 225 mg. Health Canada recommends Canadian adults consume no more than 400 mg of caffeine daily, and women of child bearing age consume no more than 300 mg daily.

 I sincerely hope you found some value in my analysis of the Starbucks’ drink menu. Keep in mind that the primary point of this exercise is to help direct you to the best drinks within each category, not to compare drinks across categories. I want to help you choose a drink that is similar to the drink you already enjoy, but perhaps represents a  smarter choice from a caloric perspective. I remind you that if you just want a list of all the lower calorie drinks across all categories, Starbucks provides that here. For those of you who were looking for more precise calorie information on your favourite drink, please review Starbucks’ Beverage Nutrition Guide. They do a great job of providing you the caloric information for each drink based on size and milk variety used, and also provide important information on caffeine, nutrients and toppings. For those of you who you are looking for even more tips to control your calorie/caffeine intake at Starbucks, I provide them below. 

Starbucks Quick Tips 

1)  Know your caffeine intake: Health Canada recommends that healthy adults consume no more than 400 mg of caffeine a day. This number lowers to 300 mg for those who are or could become pregnant. Caffeine has its benefits, but having too much may disturb your sleep and lead to headaches, nervousness and irritability. The average Starbucks’  drink contains about 75-100 mg of caffeine for a Tall and about 125-150 mg of caffeine for a  Grande. This value varies depending on the drink. Certain popular options, such as brewed coffee, will contain about double that amount of caffeine while other drinks, such as most tea beverages, will contain about half as much. Starbucks’ aside, Health Canada generally recommends you drink no more than 3-4 cups of coffee a day to stay within your healthy caffeine recommendations. If reading any of this makes you concerned about your daily caffeine intake, consider decaf options, tea or drinking a little bit less coffee. 

2) Try a smaller size:  Ordering your drink in a smaller size could save you anywhere between 25 to 200 calories, depending on the size difference, the drink and the way it is prepared. It could also have a similar effect on your caffeine intake. This difference could prove significant for someone trying to monitor their calorie or caffeine intake. You could also opt to have your favourite drink slightly less frequently, this may be especially helpful if you generally choose a higher calorie or caffeine drink option. 

3) Try lower fat milk: Depending on the size of the drink, you will be looking at around a 50 calorie reduction switching from a higher to lower fat milk option. If you add cream to your coffee, try adding milk instead. 

4) Modify your toppings: I discussed in the previous section that whipped cream is the least ideal topping, calorie-wise. A single pump of syrup or single drizzle serving would be about half the calories of whipped cream. You can also ask for half a pump of syrup, as strange as thay may sound. Sugar free syrup is also available but , as with many sweeteners, overconsumption may cause stomach upset in some people. For plain coffee drinkers, consider adding one less sugar or using cinammon instead, which contains less calories per gram.   

5) Modify your drink selection:  I know how sacred your drink is to you and I am not asking you to completely abandon it. What you might consider, however, is being slightly more strategic about your drink selection if you feel concerned about your caffeine or calorie intakes from coffee beverages. That is what this whole article is about after all.

Thank you for taking time to review my Starbucks Survival Guide and quick  tips. I hope it will help you with your coffee selections in future. Please remember that seemingly small changes in something like a daily beverage choice could have important long term implications for your health and wellbeing. As always, I wish you the best in all your food, drink and nutrition endeavours.


Until next time, Drink Up!
Andy De Santis RD MPH