Starbucks Experiment + Observations

Original Image by AA jhr via Flickr
Original Image by AA jhr via Flickr

By: Nikki Nies

I know all major chains and restaurants post their nutrition information online, but I was curious how helpful employees were to cater to different nutritional needs.  I’m currently at Starbucks and I asked one barista for the nutrition facts.  In other Starbucks, I’ve seen the nutrition fact information visibly available for customers to peruse.  However, since there was no nutrition information in sight, I had to wait for the employee to find the information.

He “hmmed” and “hawed” for a couple seconds, mumbling that they should have a copy around here somewhere.  I was surprised by his response.  When’s the last time someone asked for such information?  I can’t be the first!!! Luckily, he was able to find a copy.

I understand people to don’t immediately associate Starbucks with health.  It’s definitely considered a luxury item above Dunkin Donuts.  However, that doesn’t mean one should walk into a Starbucks blindly.  I’m actually a big DD coffee fan, but Starbucks’ atmosphere is obviously better for longer periods of time.  So what’s a girl to get?  I can’t use their sitting area without ordering something.

When I went to analyze the nutrition facts, I realized the barista only gave me the food nutrition information.  I hate to compare, but at other Starbucks, I’ve seen nutrition information for both food and drink in one pamphlet.  I had to ask more clearly for the beverage nutrition information.  A different barista had to rummage for the beverage pamphlet.  I jokingly commented, “Not many people ask for this kinda information, huh?” and she said, “not really.”

So onto the phase of my curiosity.  Another study session, when there was no one else in a Starbucks, I did another quick experiment.  I asked the barista what was the lowest calorically dense beverage they served, besides water.  She was very kind, but had to think for a minute.

I must say the beverage nutrition information is very pleasantly laid out.  It gives a great depiction of the different sizes of hot beverages as well as cold beverages.  The beverage nutrition information includes “Delicious Sips 200 Calories or Less.”  The only 0 kcal beverages are 12 oz. unsweetened Tazo shaken Iced Passion Tea and Brewed Tazo Tea.  The 12 oz. Soy Tazo Chai Tea Latte and the Coffee Frappuccino Blended Coffee scoot by with a mere 180 oz. How many people get a small when they go to Starbucks?

Original Image by poolie via Flickr
Original Image by poolie via Flickr

A lot of people in the nutrition field emphasize limiting amount of calories derived from drinks, so here’s a list of suggestions one might get at their next time at Starbucks or if they wanted to splurge. Obviously, a lot of choices are personal preference, but suggested ways to cut calories, fat and sugar:

  • Skip the whipped cream and fancy syrups
  • Opt for small (short hot 8 oz. cup size or tall cold 12 oz. cup size) it’ll save calories as well some dollars
  • Try light version of Frappuccino Blended Beverage–1/3 fewer kcal
  • Choose or add skim milk
  • Can’t go wrong with any size brewed coffee–5 kcal

For special occasions:

  • Venti Caffe Mocha without whipped cream–340 kcal; 180 mg of sodium; 43 g of sugar
  • Adding whipped cream is an additional 110 kcal, 40 mg of cholesterol and 11 g of total fat
  • Venti Signature Espresso Drink with 2% milk–500 kcal;  320 mg of sodium; 74 g of sugar
  • Venti Java Chip without Whipped Cream with whole milk–460 kcal; 340 mg of sodium; 84 mg of sugar
  • Venti Caramel Apple Spice–360 kcal; 25 mg of sodium; 89 g of sugar

Starbuck’s offers some foods for under 350 kcal.  However, a lot of the foods under 350 kcal are sugary foods, which will make people more hungry.  One usually doesn’t equate Starbucks with food, but when you’re waiting in line to place your order and your stomach’s growling, it’s very easy to pick up the heavenly looking Danish.  Overall, I wouldn’t recommend Starbucks food on a regular basis.  Based on the nutritional information, here’s my opinion:

For those that need a bite as well:

  • Chicken and Hummus Bistro Box–260 kcal; 7 g of fat; 5 g of dietary fiber; 2 g of sugar 
  • Veggie and Monteray Jack Artisan Breakfast Sandwich–350 kcal; 18 g of fat; 590 g of sodium
  • Hearty Blueberry oatmeal, steel cut with old fashioned oat–150 k cal–I’m impressed they offer agave and dried fruit

My point isn’t to alarm you or become calorie counters, but to make everyone more aware of what they’re not only eating, but drinking.  The biggest culprits can reach over 600 kcal if one adds additional whipped cream and sugar, which could be calories to one of the three meals! Obviously, the larger portions of special occasioned drinks have more kcal, but that is more realistic information to review.  I remember my one friend used to always order a Venti Java Chip every time we went to Starbucks.  She always considered a “treat”, but one summer we were going every week, so the “treat” concept lost the novelty and it was a regular item in her diet.  I know she’s not the only one and this was at a time when nutrition wasn’t a passion of mine, so I was equally unaware of what she was consuming.  That thought has always stayed in my head though.

I know a lot of people get caught up with the amount of calories they’re consuming, but I suggest one should check the sodium, fat, cholesterol and active ingredients as well.  High blood pressure is not as publicized of matter in America now,  but the biggest culprit is a large consumption of sodium.  One should aim for less than 2400 mg of sodium daily.  By drinking the Venti Java Chip with whole milk, that’s 340 mg of sodium, which would be 14% of one’s allotted amount of sodium for the day. If that’s what one wants to spend their sodium intake for the day on, okay, but my biggest goal is to make people more aware of what they’re putting in their bodies.

4 grams of sugar equals one packet of regular sugar, so the venti caramel apple spice’s 89 grams of sugar would be equal to 22.25 PACKETS of sugar!!!!! One doesn’t visually see it, but that’s crazy to think about.

Next time you’re at Starbucks, remember these tips and see if your Starbucks has nutrition information readily available for you to peruse.  You can sip some great beverages without trading many calories!


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