Black coffee is a healthy, energizing beverage. From enhanced memory to improved athletic performance, black coffee (or coffee with just a dash of cream and/or sugar) can give you a boost in a multitude of ways. But not all coffee drinks are created equal. Case in point—Starbucks’ seasonal offerings.
When you dive into the nutrition facts of many of these seasonal beverages, they’re essentially liquid junk food. Not only are they much higher in calories than your average cup of Joe, but they also contain insane amounts of added sugar (the most harmful type of sugar) and saturated fat. This wouldn’t be such a big issue if people treated them like desserts, but that just doesn’t seem to be the case. For one, Americans seem to have a tough time conceptualizing just how innutritious a beverage can be. In his book Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think, Dr. Brian Wansink reveals research has found people typically underestimate the number of calories they drink by about 30 percent.
RELATED: Is LaCroix Actually Healthy?
Then there’s the fact that these are coffee-based drinks. Starbucks is a morning ritual for millions of Americans, as many people can’t imagine starting their day without a caffeine kick. They might see a seasonal offering on the menu and figure they’ll give it a try. After all, you were going to get a coffee anyways—Why not get festive? It’s an all too common occurrence, but let’s dive into why this type of behavior can be destroy your chance at a well-balanced diet (all nutrition facts are for beverages made with 2% milk, which is Starbucks’ standard practice unless a customer specifies otherwise).
A Venti (20-ounce) Toasted White Chocolate Mocha contains 510 calories and a ridiculous 66 grams of sugar. It also manages to pack 11 grams of saturated fat and 480mg of sodium. It’s hard to see much of a difference between the nutrition facts for this drink and the nutrition facts for a large Chocolate Frosty from Wendy’s. You wouldn’t start your day off with a Frosty and expect to feel good, yet plenty of people buy this sort of thing during their daily Starbucks run without batting an eye.
And check out the length of this ingredients list:
Sugar itself makes three separate appearances, while corn syrup is little more than a source of empty sugar. Carrageenan is an additive that’s been known to cause inflammation, which makes it especially risky for athletes.
Frequently choosing high-sugar beverages is a serious hazard to your health. Not only can it lead to poor body composition, but it significantly increases your risk of several unfavorable health outcomes. Regular consumption of beverages high in added sugar has been associated with an increased risk of cancer, heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Saturated fat is also a major concern with these Starbucks beverages. Eating too much saturated fat drastically increases your risk of high cholesterol, which in turn can have a negative impact on blood flow and oxygen transportation throughout the body. The American Heart Association recommends that no more than 6% of your daily calories come from saturated fat. For a 2,000-calories-a-day diet, that translates to a limit of 13 grams of saturated fat each day. If you start your morning with a Tall (12-ounce) Brown Sugar Shortbread Latte, you’re instantly up to 9 grams of saturated fat. You’ve essentially already hit your limit and you’re still rubbing sleep out of your eyes.
Cutting back on the portion size helps make the nutrition facts more manageable, but even a meager 8-ounce serving can still be plenty problematic. For example, a Short (8-ounce) Gingerbread Latte contains as much saturated fat as 70 Cheetos and as much sugar as 25 jelly beans. It’s truly amazing how much bad stuff Starbucks can pack into a drink most people will down in a few minutes.
It’s not just the holiday drinks, either. Remember the Unicorn Frappuccino that was released last spring? A Grande (16-ounce) Unicorn Frappucino Blended Crème contains 59 grams of sugar. You’d honestly be better off eating two Snickers bars—you’d save yourself five grams of sugar and at least get some fiber and protein. The ultra-popular Pumpkin Spice Latte, whose release has become synonymous with the start of fall, is also little more than junk food in a cup. A 12-ounce Pumpkin Spice Latte packs in 300 calories, 11 grams of fat, 40 grams of carbohydrates and 39 grams of sugar. That’s more calories than a six-piece Chicken McNugget, more fat than five Rice Krispies Treats, and roughly the same amount of sugar you’d find in a can of soda.
Our advice—treat these seasonal beverages like desserts. An occasional one won’t torpedo your overall diet, but if you’re drinking multiple a week, you’re setting yourself up for failure and poor body composition. When in doubt about a drink’s nutrition, head to Starbucks’ website. The nutrition facts and ingredients list are available for every beverage, and you can see how they change when you adjust size and additions. Black coffee or coffee with a little cream and/or sugar is healthy, but the further a coffee-based drink strays from that formula, the worst its nutrition will often be.
Photo Credit: leekris/iStock