Healthify your PSL


“But pumpkin spice lattes have soooo many calories…” and other Starbucks statements

It’s officially PSL season! For those of you who don’t know what that means, it’s Pumpkin Spice Latte season. Time to bust out your fall boots and sweaters and frolic around in the leaves!

I grew up watching my parents each drink about a pot of coffee a day. It’s no wonder I ended up with a job at Starbucks (and as a result of both of those things: an incredible tolerance to caffeine).

In college, I worked at several different Starbucks for a grand total of four years. During this time, I was able to learn all the secrets and tips and tricks of ordering a healthier, lower-sugar version of Starbucks drinks. After all, working at Starbucks (and all the free coffee!) was what kept me afloat during school as dietetics major. When you’re drinking Starbucks (multiple times Every. Single. Day.), you have to learn how to “healthify” regular drinks. Sure, I still love my Salted Caramel Mocha (pro tip = you can order it year round just without the salt), but I get it with less pumps and Americano-style.

I’ve heard a lot from customers standing in line, and not all of the statements are false.

  • “Tall means small” – Yep. That one’s true.
  • “Mochas have so many calories! I’ll just go with a venti caramel macchiato.” – Because fancy-sounding things have fewer calories, right?
  • “Can I have a venti skinny vanilla latte with extra whip cream? I’m on a diet. *wink*”
  • “Do you know how much sugar is in my venti extra-caramel-drizzle, extra-whip caramel Frappuccino?” – Well, there’s a 84g in a regular venti caramel Frappuccino… so you do the math.
  • “Do you have anything that’s low carb?”

First of all, let’s talk about how many calories/sugar/fat are in Starbucks drinks. A standard grande (16oz) Pumpkin Spice Latte has about 2oz espresso, roughly 14oz 2% milk, and four pumps of pumpkin syrup, topped with whipped cream and nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, and clove. Here’s the breakdown:

  • 380 calories
    • 120 calories from fat
  • 50 grams of added sugar
    • That’s 12.5 teaspoons of sugar and 200 calories in syrup alone!
    • The 2015 Dietary Guidelines say that added sugars should only be 10% of total calories. On a 2,000 calorie diet, that’s already 10 % of your total added sugar intake! Yikes.
  • Total of 6 grams of fat, 9% of your daily value
    • 3.5g saturated fat, which is 18% of your daily value!
  • But… there’s an impressive 14 grams of protein, y’all!! Get your protein needs in a PSL! (That’s a joke. I’m not advocating this. Eat some yogurt instead).

Now, compare to an Americano (2oz espresso and water) with 2 tbsp. of cream:

  • 55 calories
    • 30 calories from fat
  • 1g sugar
  • 2g protein

This has much less calories, fat, and sugar than the pumpkin spice latte!

Here are a few of the ways I like to cut calories/fat/sugar but still get my caffeine. If Starbucks isn’t your preferred choice, just apply these rules to your own local coffee shop.

  • Americanos
    • Like I mentioned before, an Americano is an excellent way to get as much caffeine as a regular latte, and Americanos actually have an extra shot of espresso. So, it’s cheaper, has less “junk”, and has more caffeine!
    • You can always ask for an inch of steamed cream or milk on top. Same mouthfeel; less calories!
  • Café Misto
    • While I enjoy a simple black coffee or Americanos, sometimes I just need the silky mouthfeel of a latte without the calories. This drink has about ¾ coffee and ¼ steamed milk.
    • This is also called a café au lait if you are at a non-Starbucks shop.
  • Less syrup!
    • Some people don’t know that you can customize your drink! You can always order what you want, but with half the pumps of syrup.
    • Likewise, you can order a coffee, Americano, or Café Misto which doesn’t automatically come with sweetener and add a pump or two of syrup. According to MyFitnessPal, each syrup pump is roughly 5g sugar.
    • If you do a single pump of a sauce like pumpkin spice or mocha, the amount of calories will be slightly higher due to change in composition – sauces tends to be a little thicker and a little sweeter than syrups.
  • Iced teas
    • Iced teas automatically come with sweetener. A grande passion tea lemonade has 32g sugar! Starbucks brews tea to a stronger concentration and then dilutes it for beverages, so ordering it with no water will make the flavor stronger. For less sugar but the same great flavor, order a grande passion tea with no water, no sweetener and just a splash of lemonade.

zoldapronPutting these tips together, your “healthified” PSL looks a little like this:

  • Americano
  • Add two pumps pumpkin spice
  • Inch of steamed cream
  • Pumpkin spice topping (optional)

…And voila! With these tips, you can still have your PSL… and drink it too.

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