Starbucks New Spring Drinks 2020: How Healthy Are They?
A nutritionist weighs in.
Spring brings warmer weather, chirping songbirds, tulips and daffodils, and yes, new Starbucks beverages! Here’s this season’s lineup (plus a few favorites from 2019 that are still on the current menu), including nutritional facts and my thoughts on each drink from my nutritionist’s point of view.
Iced Pineapple Matcha
This chilled drink, served over ice, is made from a combo of coconut milk, matcha tea powder, and pineapple ginger syrup. A grande provides 170 calories, 5 grams of fat, 2 grams of protein, and 30 grams of carbohydrate, of which 2 grams are fiber and 27 grams come from sugar. That’s the equivalent of 6.75 teaspoons of sugar, more than the maximum recommended daily intake of six teaspoons worth for women, set by the American Heart Association.
Downgrading to a tall and reducing the syrup to two pumps lowers the calories to 130 and the sugar to 19 grams, or 4.75 teaspoons—still a significant chunk of the daily sugar cap. On the pro side, this drink is 100% plant-based and free from common allergens, such as dairy milk, soy, or nuts. (Although if you have food allergies, always double-check before you order.) But the ingredients aren’t as simple as they sound. Additives include gums (xanthan, gellan, and guar), corn dextrin (a stabilizer and thickener), and potassium sorbate, a preservative. Also, sugar is build into all three ingredients: the coconut milk, matcha powder, and syrup, so it’s not possible to order the beverage unsweetened.
Finally, according to the ingredient list, there is no actual pineapple or ginger in the drink. The pineapple ginger syrup used for flavor is made from water, sugar, natural flavors, citric acid, and potassium sorbate. While it may be refreshing, think of this option more like a dessert. A grande provides just 10 fewer calories than a Starbucks Chocolate Chip Cookie Cake Pop, and more than twice as much sugar. And keep in mind that matcha is a source of caffeine. The three scoops in a grande provides 80 mg, compared to 25 mg in a grande unsweetened iced tea.
Iced Golden Ginger Drink
Also made with coconut milk, this chilled beverage uses the same pineapple ginger syrup as the Iced Pineapple Matcha, combined with Golden Ginger Blend, which is made from sugar, gum arabic, natural flavors, and extractives of turmeric. I have a few beefs about this drink.
First, despite the name, there is no mention of actual ginger in the ingredient list. And, it’s unclear how much turmeric the beverage provides, and how the "extractives" were processed. Also, research has shown that the bioavailability of curcumim—the active compound in turmeric that possesses anti-inflammatory protection—is extremely limited without the inclusion of peperine, found in ground black pepper.
A grande contains 140 calories from 5 grams of fat, 1 gram of protein, and 22 grams of carb, of which none come from fiber and 19 come from sugar. Again, that’s 4.75 teaspoons of sugar, the amount in about 12 gummy bears. A tall clocks in at 100 calories and brings the sugar down to 14 grams, which is still equal to 3.5 teaspoons.
On the plus side, this drink is also 100% plant-based, contains no common allergens, and it’s caffeine-free. (Again, double-check if you have allergies.) But, I have the same ingredient concerns. This beverage contains sugar in the coconut milk, as well as in the Pineapple Ginger Syrup, and the Golden Ginger Blend, in addition to the same gums, corn dextrin, and preservative. Again, think of this drink as a treat, not an alternative to good old H2O.
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Nitro Cold Brew With Salted Honey Cold Foam
This iced brewed coffee is combined with a Honey Blend, Toasted Honey Topping, and salt. A grande provides 40 calories, no fat, 2 grams of protein, and 7 grams of carb, of which 7 grams come from sugar, almost two teaspoons' worth. It also provides 275 mg of caffeine and 240 mg of sodium, 10% of the daily recommended maximum target.
I like that it’s only lightly sweetened, but it’s impossible to order unsweetened, and the ingredients can use some clean up. The Honey Blend is made from honey, water, natural flavors, potassium sorbate, xanthan gum, and citric acid. (Why not just raw, organic honey?) The Toasted Honey Topping is made from sugar, powdered sugar, honey, fruit and vegetable colors (apple, carrot, hibiscus, and pumpkin), natural flavor, and corn starch.
Ordering a tall reduces the calories to 30 and the sugar to 5 grams, just over a teaspoon. It also lowers the caffeine to 190 mg, a little over the 150 mg in a tall iced Caffe Americano.
Iced Caramel Cloud Macchiato
This decadent iced drink combines milk with espresso, vanilla syrup, caramel sauce, and what the brand refers to as Cloud Powder. The latter is made from sugar, arabic gum, egg white powder, rice protein, citric acid, sea salt, natural flavor, and xanthan gum.
A grande made with the default 2% milk, two shots of espresso, two pumps of vanilla syrup, and the caramel drizzle provides 150 mg of caffeine, and 190 calories from 4 grams of fat, 5 grams of protein, and 32 grams of carb, of which 28 grams are sugar.
Starbucks’ online tool allows you to alter how you might order the drink to see how various tweaks change the nutrition info. For example, a tall with almond milk, which also reduces the syrup to one pump, brings the calories down to 120 and lowers the total carbs to 20 grams and sugar to 17 grams, just over four teaspoons. That’s less, but still close to the recommended limit for women of six teaspoons of added sugar per day from all foods and beverages combined. Also, keep in mind that the Cloud Powder does contain egg, so if you’re vegan or allergic you’ll want to steer clear.
The caramel sauce is also dairy-heavy. It contains butter, heavy cream, and nonfat dry milk. Once again, this drink has a lot of additives and sugar, so even a smaller version should be considered a splurge. If you’re OK with the ingredients, and you want to try one to celebrate the season, go for it. But don’t rely on it for your daily caffeine fix.
Iced Cocoa Cloud Macchiato
This drink is similar to the Iced Caramel Cloud Macchiato, but with toffee nut syrup in place of vanilla syrup, and added mocha sauce. A grande with 2% milk provides 150 mg of caffeine, and 200 calories from 4.5 grams of fat, 6 grams of protein, and 34 grams of carbohydrate, of which 29 grams are sugar. That’s over 7 teaspoons of sugar, and more than the amount in a serving of the brand’s Classic Coffee Cake.
Ordering a tall with almond milk, no caramel, mocha drizzle, and only one pump of toffee nut syrup brings the calories down to 130, from 3 grams of fat, 4 grams of protein, and 21 grams of carb, with 18 as sugar. Any way you slice it (or rather sip it), it’s still a liquid dessert.
Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, is Health's contributing nutrition editor, a New York Times best-selling author, and a private practice performance nutritionist who has consulted for five professional sports teams.
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