A Guide to Eating Out at Starbucks While Dieting

A Guide to Eating Out at Starbucks While Dieting

Whatever your stance with coffee, Starbucks is a place for almost everyone to find something to eat or drink. That doesn’t mean everything is diet-friendly, though, as there can be a lot of unhealthy ingredients hidden in coffeehouse favorites. If you love Starbucks but are working to make healthier choices, don’t worry – there are still some ways you can enjoy this convenient spot. 

One of the nice things about Starbucks is that they come across as wanting to be as transparent as possible when it comes to the nutritional value of their menu items. Their website states that they understand that “small changes add up to a big impact” and they support their customers’ health goals. Starbucks also allows you to find nutritional information by using the menu calculators on their site. 

Let’s look at how to best approach Starbucks from a healthier standpoint. 

Tips for Making Healthier Choices at Starbucks

The Starbucks menu can be overwhelming to navigate when on a diet. Here are some things to consider when making food and beverage choices.


  • Establish your health goals. This may mean determining your caloric and macronutrient needs, and figuring out how Starbucks can align with them. If you’re used to Starbucks on a daily basis, you may need to make some changes there, but this doesn’t have to mean nixing your favorite go-to item completely (unless maybe it’s a daily Frappuccino made with whole milk and extra whip).


  • Watch for hidden fat and calories. Many items appear simple, only made of a handful of ingredients, but you might be surprised. A dollop of whipped cream alone can add upwards of 70 calories and 6 grams of fat to a Starbucks beverage. 


  • Avoid added sugar bombs. Yogurt is an easy go-to breakfast, and the yogurt bowls and parfaits at Starbucks certainly look healthy with all of the fruit added to them. However, restaurants rarely use plain, unsweetened yogurt on their menu, and Starbucks is no exception. Yes, fruit contains natural sugars, but regular yogurt is very high in added sugar. For instance, the Fresh Blueberries and Honey Greek Yogurt Parfait contains 29 grams. Furthermore, the sweet syrups used in many drinks are packed with sugar.


  • Make healthier substitutions where possible. Starbucks does offer a variety of milk options and wiggle room for substitutions. This could mean asking for a fat-free, low-fat, or non-dairy milk in your favorite latte, to reduce the amount of syrup added to your iced drink, or nixing the whip. Starbucks also has avocado spread (made of Hass avocado, sea salt, onion, garlic, jalapeno pepper, and lime juice), which is definitely a healthier substitute for a cream cheese shmear.


  • Order smaller portions or share with a friend. Portion sizes everywhere are pretty out of control, and the smallest sizes are often the perfect amount. However, it’s easy to be tempted by the opportunity to go up a size for just a little more money. In this case, consider saving part of your drink or food for later, or perhaps splitting it with someone. 


Choosing Healthier Drinks at Starbucks

Drip coffee is far from the only thing at Starbucks. Over the years, their menu has expanded to include some of the most colorful, flavorful, and well-known seasonal beverages out there. With the complexity of some of their drinks comes a highly variable nutritional composition. 

Here are some of the healthier drink selections at Starbucks.


Brewed or iced plain coffee 

You can of course either enjoy this black (without cream, sugar, or other additives) or with a bit of low-fat or non-dairy milk. 


Low-fat or non-dairy latte or cappuccino

Lattes are mostly milk, and cappuccinos are mostly foam, so this is where the majority of fat, calories, and sugar will come from. Alternatively, you can order drip coffee mixed with a little milk for somewhat of a fake-me-out, healthier version of a latte. Note that if you add a flavored syrup, this will add calories and sugar (unless you choose a sugar-free version).


Caffe Americano

This is a basic drink made of espresso and hot water, with very few calories and no fat or sugar.


Teavana® Shaken Iced Passion Tango™ Tea

This is tea, ice, and sweetener. Although this option does contain 11 grams of sugar, this is less than half of what you’ll find in other iced teas or iced tea lemonade drinks on the menu, which contain well over 25 grams in just 16 ounces.


Evolution Fresh® Organic Green Devotion

This drink contains 100% juice with no additives or artificial sweeteners. The 5 grams of sugar come naturally from the greens and other veggies used. 


Choosing Healthier Foods at Starbucks 

Coffee isn’t the only decision to make, and you may be upsold at the drive-thru or tempted by the food display case in the store. It’s a little more difficult to ask for substitutions in Starbucks food options as most are premade (and contain added salt and sugar). 


Here are some healthier food selections at Starbucks, though many still contain a lot of salt.


Hearty Blueberry Oatmeal

This is a small but satisfying breakfast option, made up steel cut oats and topped with fresh blueberries. You could pair this with a favorite coffee drink without totally going over your health goals for the morning. The sugar comes from both natural sugar in the blueberries and added sugar from the dried cranberries (which you could remove) and agave nectar used to sweeten it. 


220 calories 

2.5 grams total fat

125 mg sodium

5 grams fiber

5 grams protein

13 grams sugar


Chicken & Quinoa Protein Bowl with Black Beans and Greens

This dish offers a nice variety of whole food ingredients, with both chicken and plant-based proteins tossed in a vinaigrette. Note that it does contain around half of your day’s sodium limit, something to keep in mind when planning the rest of your day. 

420 calories 

17 grams total fat

1030 mg sodium

9 grams fiber

27 grams protein

11 grams sugar


Grilled Chicken & Cauliflower Tabbouleh

This is another nice combination of leafy greens, chicken and plant-based protein. Although it contains a substantial amount of fat, the majority of it is unsaturated. This dish is high in sodium, which comes from the feta cheese (that you could remove) and the added salt listed several times in the ingredients. 


390 calories 

27 grams total fat

1140 mg sodium

4 grams fiber

21 grams protein

7 grams sugar


Baja Black Bean Veggie Wrap

Despite the high sodium content (which comes from the added salt and rice vinegar in the ingredients), this is a decent option that does incorporate some healthy ingredients. It’s full of plant-based protein from the black beans, and includes fresh veggies like cabbage, spinach,  carrots, and tomatoes. The majority of the fat and calories here come from the jalapeno cream cheese spread, which you could probably scrape off if you wanted. 


570 calories 

22 grams total fat

1300 mg sodium

7 grams fiber

21 grams protein

5 grams sugar


Sprouted Grain Vegan Bagel with Avocado Spread

Starbucks sells these two items separately, so this is something you’ll have to ask for together, but it makes a great pairing that leaves room for a small drink alongside it. 


420 calories

14 grams total fat

600 mg sodium

11 grams fiber

13 grams protein

4 grams sugar


Whatever role Starbucks plays in your life, you don’t completely have to abandon it in your quest for health. You just need to be aware of what may be lurking in your old favorites and be willing to make some substitutes or try something new. Or, take on the challenge of recreating some of your Starbucks favorites at home, using healthier ingredients.


For help in meal planning or developing your personalized goals, call Elite Body Data today. 


Read more articles by John Smith

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