Plant-based protein you can sip? Sign us up.

By Samantha Lauriello
August 15, 2018

Just when we thought Starbucks had done it all (who knew it could get more inventive than the Unicorn Frappuccino?), the company has expanded its empire to an area all healthy eaters can appreciate: plant-based protein.

On August 14, Starbucks launched its new Protein Blended Cold Brew drinks, available across the country. The drinks, which come in almond and cacao, cost $5.95 and can be ordered in only one size, grande (16 ounces).

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The almond version is a blend of cold brew, almond milk, plant-based protein, almond butter, and a banana date fruit blend. It clocks in at 270 calories and has 12 grams of protein. At 250 calories and 10 grams of protein, the cacao flavor features cold brew, coconut milk, plant-based protein, cacao powder, and the banana date fruit blend.

The protein content of both drinks is fairly substantial, considering that a 150-pound woman should consume about 54 grams of protein per day, on average, per the official RDA.

Both drinks are customizable, meaning you can swap the banana date fruit blend for a whole banana or adjust the amount of almond butter or cacao powder. You can also double the protein, add an extra shot of espresso, or substitute the cold brew for decaf espresso.

If you’re wondering what kind of plants make up plant-based protein, the answer might surprise you. Starbucks’ blend contains both peas and brown rice, two things we never thought we would be putting in our coffee.

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Considering that the drinks contain decent levels of protein, we were curious: Is Protein Blended Cold Brew actually good for you? We ran the nutritional info in front of an expert to find out.

“I love that Starbucks has embraced plant-based protein,” says Health contributing nutrition editor Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD. Pea protein is a member of the pulse family, which includes beans, lentils, chickpeas, and more. Pulse proteins have a range of health benefits, Sass explains, including aiding in weight management and appetite curbing.

In her opinion, the drinks provide a reasonable macronutrient balance, and the 4 to 5 grams of fiber in each order is the star of the show. Compared to a Caramel Frappuccino, which has 67 grams of carbs and 66 grams of sugar, the protein drinks are healthier. The Cacao version contains 36 grams of carbs and 26 grams of sugar; Almond has 30 grams of carbs and 22 grams of sugar.

Sass considers the protein drinks a “much more balanced alternative.” (The American Heart Association recommends that women consume fewer than 25 grams of sugar each day.)

Though she prefers the Protein Blended Cold Brew to many other items on Starbucks’ menu, Sass does say she could do without some of the additives, like carrageenan, which is a thickener.

“I think this can be used as a meal replacement or afternoon snack,” she says. “Macronutrient-wise, it’s like a liquid protein bar, so think of it as food, not a beverage to sip along with a bar.”