Starbucks has become synonymous with the start of each new season, rolling out limited-time specialty drinks and baked goods that get customers excited for fall, winter, spring and summer. This year is no exception, as Starbucks recently unveiled its latest lineup of seasonal coffee and espresso beverages. While these sugary, calorie-laden drinks may seem like a special treat, nutrition experts say many of them are more indulgent than you may realize.
In this article, we asked registered dietitians to break down the nutritional content of Starbucks’ new seasonal drinks for fall 2023. We’ll look at popular options like the Pumpkin Cream Cold Brew, Apple Crisp Macchiato, and Caramel Brulée Latte. The nutritionists weigh in on calories, sugar, fat, and other aspects for each drink.
We’ll also provide easy, lower-calorie recipes you can make at home to replicate these seasonal favorites. By making modifications like using low-fat milk, less syrup, and natural sweeteners, you can still enjoy the flavors of fall while cutting the calories significantly. The nutritionists offer their best tips for “skinny” versions of the new Starbucks drinks that won’t completely ruin your diet.
So enjoy your favorite coffee-shop seasonal beverages guilt-free by whipping up these simple, nutritious copycat recipes at home. With some easy ingredient swaps and tweaks, you can save hundreds of calories per drink compared to the Starbucks originals.
Nutritional Info For Starbucks’ Seasonal Coffee Drinks
Fall signals the start of many things like cooler weather and warmer clothes. The global coffee chain has announced that the Pumpkin Spice Latte will be returning for its 20th year. The brand has also announced the addition of two new drinks to its seasonal menu: the Iced Apple Crisp Oatmilk Shaken Espresso and the Iced Pumpkin Cream Chai Tea Latte.
For some, seasonal coffees like these may be as much a part of fall as the leaves falling from the trees, but just how healthy are these new autumnal brews, and how do they stack up to the beloved classic? Let’s take a look:
Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Latte
Starbucks’ Ingredients: Milk, pumpkin spice sauce, brewed espresso, whipped cream, vanilla syrup, pumpkin spice topping.
A 16-ounce grande contains:
- 390 calories
- 14 grams total fat
- 9 grams saturated fat
- 0.5 grams trans fat
- 50 milligrams cholesterol
- 230 milligrams sodium
- 52 grams total carbohydrates
- 0 grams of dietary fiber
- 50 grams of sugar
- 14 grams of protein
- 150 milligrams of caffeine
When looking at nutrition, one of the most alarming aspects of the Pumpkin Spice Latte is its sugar content. The drink contains 50 grams of sugar. Nutritional therapist Natalie Burrows says a small amount of this will be natural sugar from the milk, while the rest is added sugar.
“Adults are recommended to only consume 30 grams of free sugars a day — the type that would come from added sugar, found in syrups, and fruit and vegetable juices. This is a limit, not a target, and this drink exceeds it by almost double,” she explains. As for caffeine, the Pumpkin Spice Latte delivers approximately 150 milligrams per drink, over one-third of the caffeine limit for an adult each day.
“For some, depending on sensitivity to caffeine, this could add to the feeling of a sugar/energy hit and what goes up must come down. The blood sugar and caffeine dips could leave you searching for more.”
Here are some suggestions to make that pumpkin spice latte recipe healthier:
- Use high quality milk, healthy fats are so important for our brains.
- Replace the pumpkin spice sauce with real pumpkin puree. Make your own by blending canned pumpkin with cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and allspice. This will cut down on preservatives and added sugar.
- Use a natural vanilla extract and sweetener like maple syrup or agave.
- Make your own pumpkin spice topping (cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and ginger)
- Check Out Micro Ingredients Mushroom Coffee For All The Coffee Flavor Plus Brain & Immune Boosting Mushrooms (It doesn’t taste like mushrooms, I promise!)
Starbucks’ Iced Apple Crisp Oatmilk Shaken Espresso
Ingredients: Ice, oat milk, canola oil, brewed espresso, and apple brown sugar syrup
Nutritional information: A 16-ounce grande contains:
- 180 calories
- 4.5 grams of total fat
- 0 grams of saturated fat
- 0 grams of trans fat
- 0 milligrams of cholesterol
- 190 milligrams of sodium
- 34 grams of total carbohydrates
- 1 gram of dietary fiber
- 21 grams of sugar
- 2 grams of protein
- 225 milligrams of caffeine
Let’s start with the positives. Firstly, “espresso contains antioxidants and metabolic benefits,” Stricoff points out. Secondly, this drink has fewer calories and sugar than the Pumpkin Spice Latte.
Unfortunately, that’s where the redeeming qualities end. The drink still has 21 grams of sugar, which Burrows points out is 70% of the recommended daily amount.
Add to that, it has minimal fiber. “The loss of fiber not only impacts gut bacteria, it contributes to blood sugar imbalance; driving sugar spikes and then sugar crashes.” Twinned with the caffeine hit, which is over half of the 400 milligrams daily recommended amount for an adult, Burrows says this drink could leave you simply craving more sugar and/or caffeine to pick you back up.
Don’t let the inclusion of apple fool you into thinking this drink is a healthy choice either. Apple sugar syrup — as the name suggests — is mostly just sugar. It’s made up of invert sugar and brown sugar to be exact.
Healthier Iced Apple Crisp “Skinny” Shaken Espresso
- Unsweetened oat milk or low-fat milk
- 1 teaspoon olive oil or avocado oil
- Brewed espresso made with less grounds
- 1 tablespoon pure maple syrup or honey
- 1/2 teaspoon Cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
- Pinch of allspice
- Fill cocktail shaker with ice.
- Add oat milk or low-fat milk, oil, espresso, maple syrup/honey, cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice.
- Shake vigorously until frothy.
- Pour into glass and top with extra ice if desired.
Starbucks’ Iced Pumpkin Cream Chai Tea Latte
Ingredients: Milk, ice, pumpkin spice cream, vanilla syrup, pumpkin spice sauce, chai tea concentrate, and pumpkin spice topping
Nutritional information: A 16-ounce grande contains:
- 460 calories
- 17 grams of total fat
- 11 grams of saturated fat
- 0.5 grams of trans fat
- 55 milligrams of cholesterol
- 160 milligrams of sodium
- 68 grams of total carbohydrates
- 0 grams of dietary fiber
- 66 grams of sugar
- 10 grams of protein
- 95 milligrams of caffeine
- With 66 grams of sugar, this drink is the worst offender of the three when it comes to sugar content.
“With no fiber to encapsulate those sugars, there is a reliance on the fat and protein content from the dairy milk, to slow down the blood sugar rush this drink will undoubtedly drive,” Burrows explains. “However, many people will opt to swap dairy milk for an alternative like oat milk, for example, which would reduce the fat and protein content and further add to the high sugar volume.”
The good news? Chai does have some health benefits. It has anti-inflammatory properties and contains anti-oxidants that can protect cells from damage.
“The chai tea concentrate, made by an infusion of black tea, cardamom, black pepper, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, and star anise, is the leading health benefit in this drink as these natural spices contain anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties, perfect for colder, more immune-demanding months,” says Burrows. “However, we are only assuming natural spices were used in the making of this infusion, as it’s not clear on the ingredients list,” she adds.
Before you get too excited about these potential health benefits, Burrows says, “the sugar and honey that is included in the chai tea concentrate adds to the whopping 66g of free sugars. “This dilutes the potential benefits of the spices as sugar is inflammatory to the body, especially in this quantity.”
Healthier Iced Pumpkin Chai Latte
- Unsweetened almond milk or skim milk
- 1 tbsp pumpkin puree
- 1 tsp honey or maple syrup
- 1/4 tsp cinnamon
- 1/8 tsp nutmeg
- 1 chai tea bag or 2 tsp chai tea concentrate
- Dash of vanilla extract
- Brew a strong cup of chai tea and let cool slightly.
- Fill a glass with ice.
- In a blender, combine almond milk, pumpkin puree, honey/maple syrup, cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla. Blend until smooth.
- Pour chai tea and pumpkin blend over ice.
- Garnish with a dusting of cinnamon.
The Bottom Line
These drinks are far from healthy. Perhaps that won’t come as much of a surprise. That doesn’t mean you can’t ever enjoy them. Instead, consider them an occasional treat, and remember their nutritional content needs to be considered as part of your overall energy intake.
“While Starbucks’ seasonal drinks may be delicious and tempting, it’s essential to approach them with a discerning eye from a nutritional perspective,” warns Stricoff. “Many of these drinks are notably high in calories and added sugars, which, when consumed frequently, can be counterproductive to health goals. As they provide minimal nutritional value, they are best enjoyed in moderation.” Or you just opt to make them at home with healthier ingredients!