When you need an early-morning caffeine fix or an afternoon pick-me-up, Starbucks might be your go-to spot for a cup of coffee or yummy espresso drink.
But certain Starbucks drinks are complete sugar bombs, thanks to syrups, drizzles, whipped cream, and even cookie crumbles.
“Many coffee and matcha tea drinks add sugar to reduce the bitterness,” says Michele Promaulayko, author of Sugar Free 3.
So, if you’re trying to reduce your sugar consumption, do you need to walk on by — or at least switch to black coffee?
Not at all. There are actually plenty of sugar-free Starbucks drinks — you just need to know what to order. Here are a few safe bets when you’re going sugar-free.
NOTE: With the exception of espresso shots, the nutritional stats below refer to the tall (12-ounce) drink size at Starbucks.
Naturally Occurring Sugar vs. Added Sugar
When deciding what to order at Starbucks on a sugar-free diet, it’s important to look at whether an item contains naturally occurring sugar or added sugar.
Naturally occurring sugar — like the fructose in fresh fruit, or the lactose in milk — is fine even if you’re following a sugar-free diet.
Added sugars are what you need to watch out for. Any sugar or syrup that’s added during the preparation process is added sugar.
(Added sugars are sometimes hidden on the ingredients list under sneaky names like agave nectar or corn syrup, but they’re still sugar.)
The sugar content in the drinks below comes from naturally occurring sugars — so these drinks are a safe bet if you’re cutting out added sugars.
Espresso Drinks and Hot Coffee Drinks
This drink category includes some of the most sugar-filled drinks at Starbucks — including the beloved pumpkin spice latte with 38 grams of sugar.
But there are still plenty of hot coffee and espresso drinks you can enjoy on a sugar-free diet. The drinks below contain only naturally occurring milk sugar (or no sugar at all).
PRO TIP: Watch for espresso drinks with sneaky added sugars.
For example, the Caffè Mocha looks similar to the Caffè Latte, but its mocha sauce and whipped cream add an extra 13 grams of added sugar.
Cold Brews and Iced Coffees
There are plenty of refreshing cold coffee drinks you can enjoy without boosting your added sugar consumption for the day.
Cold Brew with Cold Foam (5 grams of milk sugar) is a better bet than syrup-sweetened cold brew options.
Nitro Cold Brew contains zero sugar. (Starbucks says that’s possible because infusing the coffee with nitrogen gives it a naturally sweet flavor — works for us!)
Iced Flat White (8 grams of milk sugar) can satisfy your craving for a cold and creamy treat, but all of its sugar comes from whole milk. (Consider ordering this drink with 1% or 2% milk to lower the fat content and calorie count.)
Nitro Flat White (14 grams of milk sugar) contains a bit more natural sugar than an Iced Flat White, but it’s still natural sugar from milk.
Iced Caffè Latte (9 grams of milk sugar) contains slightly less natural sugar than the hot version of the same drink.
Starbucks tea lattes can be loaded with sugar, but you can satisfy your cravings by ordering hot tea and adding a splash of milk.
4 Tips for Cutting Out Sugar at Starbucks
If you’re starting a sugar-free lifestyle — but you still love your ‘bux — here are a few tips to keep in mind when you’re deciding what to order.
1. Focus on added sugars
When you’re knocking out sugar, you’re looking to reduce added sugars, as opposed to naturally occurring ones like those found in dairy milk.
According to dietitian Michelle Abbey, RDN, of The Nature Nutritionist, natural sugars are found in foods that also contain key nutrients like protein, fiber, vitamins, and antioxidants.
“It’s the refined and added sugars that you need to watch, because they add calories without any nutritional benefits,” Abbey says.
2. Choose unsweetened plant milks
Plant milks labeled as “original” are typically sugar-sweetened versions. Make sure you choose unsweetened plant milk; if the barista isn’t sure if their plant milks are unsweetened, it’s better to just skip it.
3. Check the nutritional data
Sure, it sounds obvious — but Starbucks doesn’t differentiate between natural sugars and added sugars in their nutritional information, which can make it tricky when you’re trying to cut out added sugars.
Still, a good rule of thumb is to look for a sky-high sugar content.
One cup of whole milk contains around 12 grams of naturally occurring sugar, so if you see a drink with double or triple that number, there’s a good chance it contains added sugars.
4. Order plain black coffee — hot or cold
Plain coffee doesn’t include any sugar, added or natural. That means this is always a safe order, but some people find it way too bitter.
“Personally I can’t drink coffee unless it’s sweetened — I’ve tried,” Promaulayko says. But fear not! There is still an option that’s free of added sugar. “I put a little stevia (my preferred brand is Sweet Leaf) in my coffee.”
Both stevia and monk fruit are allowed in coffee and tea in the program, as they come from natural, plant-based sources.
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