Maybe you pop in every day, maybe you only go there in a pinch at the airport—either way, chances are grabbing coffee from Starbucks is part of your life. And though you’re probably already avoiding those ultra-grande super-sugary specialty drinks (right?!), there are ways to order like a champ. We asked health experts for their best tips for ordering better-for-you fare from Starbucks.
Don’t fall for “skinny” marketing.
A “skinny” drink sounds like a good choice, but generally isn’t, warns Bethesda, Maryland-based internist Dr. Sonya Chawla. “‘Skinny’ options use sugar-free syrups. Though they’re lower in calories, they have artificial sweeteners, which have been linked to obesity, insulin resistance, and diabetes. Sucralose, which is often in those sugar-free syrups, has been shown to alter the microbiome of the gut, decreasing the beneficial gut microbes that keep us healthy.”
“Skinny” drinks also have low-fat or skim milk, which Dr. Chawla doesn’t recommend. “The fat in whole milk will keep you feeling fuller longer,” she advises. “While skim milk has less fat, it actually has more carbohydrates and more sugars than the full-fat option. Whole milk also contains more fat-soluble vitamins, including vitamins D, A and E.”
Choose the best (dairy free) milk.
Going dairy free? “Opt for the almond milk, which has less sugar, fewer calories, more protein and more fiber than coconut, soy or regular milk,” Dr. Chawla notes.
If you’re new to almond milk in coffee, note that it can taste bitter when steamed. Try adding a dash of cinnamon, which is naturally sweet, to counteract it. We find that almond milk in iced drinks doesn’t have this problem.
For that all-important good night’s sleep, “Try to have your last cup of caffeine at least 6 hours before bed,” Dr. Chawla says.
If cutting down on caffeine in general was one of your resolutions, taper down slowly. “Cut back by no more than 25% per week to avoid headaches,” she says. “So if you drink 1 cup per day, for example, cut down by ¼ cup each day for a week. At Starbucks, order the ‘short’ size, which is even smaller than their ‘tall,’ and is often left off their menus.”
To receive the benefits of coffee while minimizing the potential negative effects, consume no more than two 8-ounce cups—nothing larger than a Short—in the morning, and switch to plain green tea after noon, such as the Emperor’s Cloud and Mist Green Tea, not the sugary Matcha Green Tea Latte or Shaken Iced Green Tea,” says Newport Academy culinary program director and Clean Plates Collective member Jeffrey Zurofsky.
Don’t always go with your “usual.” Order to fuel your day!
Instead of choosing one regular order for every time you visit, “Take into consideration what kind of activity you are going to do after you eat,” advises New York City-based group fitness instructor Mary Onyango. “Certain foods will make it difficult to focus because they take longer for the body to convert to usable fuel. So I always base my choices on the type of activity I’m going to do. If I’m going to the gym in the morning, I’ll grab the oatmeal with blueberries (instead of nuts) and replace the agave with honey to give me energy for my long workouts. The blueberries and honey offer a natural energy boost. The berries are lower on the glycemic index than bananas so the body metabolizes them faster, which means quicker fuel for my workouts.”
Not headed to the gym? “If I’m going straight to the office, where I’ll be sitting for 1 to 2 hours before teaching 2 classes, I go for a breakfast sandwich and a coffee,” Onyango says. “This gives me the right amount of energy and fuel to focus on the computer, and I know that once I’m active again my body will burn it off. My favorite sandwich is the Bacon, Gouda, and Egg. I feel like it doesn’t sit in my stomach for hours or make me sleepy. The Gouda is a higher source of protein than yellow cheese, and of course who can say no to bacon?”
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