A recent Washington Post article looking at the effects of various foods on heart health identified coffee’s biggest health risk as weight gain from mixed coffee drinks full of empty calories from sugar and dairy fat.

Lately, it seems the beverage’s creator and largest supplier has been trying to sideline that it’s as much to blame as McDonald’s and other fast-food chains for contributing to high rates of obesity and diet-related disease.

Along with the introduction of oatmeal to its menu, Starbucks posted “20 Drinks Under 200 Calories” and “Favorite Foods Under 350 Calories” guides on its website. Unfortunately, Starbucks downplays healthier beverages (full leaf teas, brewed coffee, espresso, Americano, etc.) that are under 10 calories. For example, if you’ve had enough of Pike Place Roast, I bet you didn’t know you can order Starbucks beans to be made using a French press.

Adding milk or cream and sugar to brewed coffee is so common among American Starbucks patrons that baristas “leave room” for milk in the cup by default. It’s no wonder heavy coffee drinkers (those who know the difference between an ibrik and a v60) don’t take the chain seriously, especially after it introduced lightly roasted Blonde coffee (it’s now the most popular), blurring even plus the pedestrian cafe line.

Of course, only Starbucks straight coffees/teas and those made with soy milk, rather than cow’s milk, are of interest to those on a whole food, plant-based diet (those who haven’t given up caffeine, at least ) .

According to the US Starbucks website, a tall size whole milk (12 fl oz/355 ml) contains 240 calories and 13 g of fat. Their custom blended soy milk contains more calories and saturated fat than skim milk (210 calories and 6 g fat vs. 140 and 0 g) and even slightly more calories than low-fat milk* (200) . However, soy milk contains no cholesterol (compared to 5 g in skim milk) and does contain fiber, a beneficial nutrient found only in plant-based foods.

*Nutritional values ​​may vary, as skim milk is created by the barista at each store by mixing whole milk and skim milk.

Ironically, many omnivores substitute cow’s milk for soy milk because they believe it’s healthier, or because of the flavor and variety. while still topping your drink with dairy whipped cream. Even if you’re wondering if soy milk is a healthier or safer alternative to cow’s milk, I’d still choose soy milk just for the humane aspects.

Starbucks “Delicious Drinks” list contains 3 cold drinks and 5 hot drinks suitable for vegans:

  • Shaken Tazo Iced Passion Tea–0 Calories
  • Shaken Tazo Iced Black Tea Lemonade – 100 calories
  • Iced coffee (with classic syrup): 60 calories
  • Brewed coffee: 5 calories
  • Brewed Tazo Tea – 0 Calories
  • American Coffee – 10 calories
  • Steamed apple juice: 170 calories
  • Soy Chai Tea Latte: 170 calories

As long as you hold onto the whipped cream, soy milk-based Mocha, Coffee, and Espresso Frappuccinos are also under 200 calories. Some other vegan-friendly beverage offerings (in order of increased calories) are:

  • Soy Cafe Misto (coffee made with steamed soy milk): 80 calories
  • “Dry Cappuccino” (reduced steamed milk, more foam): less than 90 calories
  • Whole Leaf Soy Tea Lattes: 140 calories
  • Soy latte: 150 calories
  • Soy Caramel Macchiato — 180 calories
  • I’m Caffe Mocha: 200 calories (no whip)
  • Soy Hot Chocolate: 200 calories (no whip)

To cut calories even further, ask the barista to reduce or eliminate syrups (20-25 calories per pump). For example, a tall drink usually contains 3 pumps of syrup, so you can order 1 or 2 pumps instead. And if you skip the sauces drizzled on top, you’ll also save about 15 calories.

In fact, except for that rare special occasion (your birthday, a lunar eclipse, etc.), your best bet is to stick to plain coffees or teas. Assuming you’re serious about coffee and tea, why cover the flavor with milk and sugar?

By the way, if you’re watching calories, always be prepared to turn down samples of new food and drink offerings. Otherwise, you may consume many more calories than you intended. I understand firsthand that it’s easy to drink or eat something on impulse. Or, if you want to indulge in a sample and satisfy your sweet tooth (or calorie limit), you can turn around and walk out the door.

I was pleased to learn from Starbucks’ interactive nutrition guide that the food menu included some vegan-friendly items, including the aforementioned oatmeal (140-340 calories, less sugar) and fruit salad (80 calories). I recommend you stick with one of these, or a piece of fresh fruit (banana or apple), where available. I have to question the company’s claim that it has a lot of “smart choices” and that it’s possible to “eat sensibly” just because some foods contain less than 350 calories.

On the bright side, Starbucks’ recent acquisition of Evolution Fresh (cold-pressed juice company) is an encouraging sign that the chain is taking steps down the healthy path. I hope you’ll join me in calling on the company to also expand its selection of nutritious, organic, whole plant-based foods and beverages.

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