Starbucks drinks for diabetes. Is there such a thing?
Or maybe you crave Starbucks but you’re stumped on what to order?
Are you wondering if there are any low sugar drinks available?
Sometimes the menu can be overwhelming. After all, Starbucks has countless drink variations. It can be a real choice overload. And you already have enough decisions every day as it is!
In this post, you will learn what and how to order to keep your carb count down. We’ll look at the best Starbucks drinks for diabetes. After that, we’ll dive into the science of how ingredients like caffeine and sweeteners affect your blood sugars.
But first, let’s address the question on everyone’s minds.
DISCLAIMER: This post was written by Justine Chan MHSc, RD, CDE. All content on this site is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical or nutritional advice. Always seek medical and dietary advice from your doctor or dietitian.
Table of Contents
Can I drink Starbucks if I have diabetes?
Absolutely! I mean, it would be wrong to deny yourself some comfort in a cup. First, you have to be mindful of what you choose, but there are some great Starbucks drinks for diabetes on the menu. Second, by requesting just a few small changes to many of their popular drinks, they can be made low carb. If you want a few easy changes, then check out my recommended swaps!
Before we talk about low carb drinks, we should talk about what we mean by that.
What is a low carbohydrate drink?
So what exactly is ‘low carb’? There is no formal definition. Keto followers often consider low carb as 5 grams or less. Those following a low carb lifestyle may use 15 grams or less as a target.
You may or may not be counting your carbohydrates. Either way, carbs are counted in either grams or servings. You might also hear them referred to as a ‘choice’. This is, however, just another way of saying serving. Diabetes Canada and the American Diabetes Association both count one serving as 15g of carbs.
So for the purpose of this post, a low carbohydrate drink is up to 15 g of carbohydrates.
A note on carbohydrate counts
But wait, let’s clarify the source for these carbohydrate counts. First off, the numbers are estimates and keep in mind the brands for products and their availability may be region specific. This means actual carbohydrate counts may be different depending on where you live.
Also, shout out to my local Starbucks barista who took the time to share the nutrition facts for milks and syrups with me. She also poured out the volume of milk and syrup in a grande so I could confirm portion size. Four pumps of syrup measured out to 2.5 tablespoons and the milk measured out to 375 ml.
And as you probably know, Starbucks nutrition information is also found readily on their app and website. But neither the app or the website updates the nutrition content based on any changes you make to your drink.
So based on the nutrition information you’ll find below, this means a grande drink would have 25g of carbohydrates coming from syrup (or 6 to 7 g of carbs per pump). For sugar free syrup, there’s 0.25g carbs in each pump. However, Starbucks nutrition information for a grande drink is based on 2 tablespoons of syrup (20g carbohydrates) which is less than what I measured.
Now without further ado, let’s take a look at the best Starbucks drinks for diabetes!
Starbucks Drinks for Diabetes
Let’s divide Starbucks drinks for diabetes into two types. We’ve got options that are 0 to 5g of carbs and options that are 6 to 15g of carbs. Unless otherwise stated, the carb count is based on a grande, the most popular size ordered.
0 to 5g carbohydrates
If you’re craving a warm beverage:
- Dark roast coffee with 2-4 pumps sugar free vanilla syrup and splash of milk of choice
- Espresso macchiato with 1 pump of sugar free vanilla syrup
- Tea with splenda and a splash of milk of choice
- Americano with 2-4 pumps sugar free vanilla syrup, milk of choice, and cinnamon
Or if you’re yearning for a cold drink:
- Cold brew coffee with stevia and a splash of milk of choice and cinnamon
- Nitro cold brew with 2-4 pumps sugar free vanilla syrup and almond milk
- Vanilla sweet cream nitro cold brew
- Iced coffee sweetened with 2-4 pumps sugar free vanilla syrup and a splash of milk of choice
6 to 15g carbohydrates
- Tall iced oat latte, 14g carbohydrates
- Iced flat white with whole milk, 13g carbohydrates
- Iced passion tango tea, 11g carbohydrates
- Vanilla sweet cream cold brew, 14g carbohydrates
- Iced latte with 2% milk, 13g carbohydrates
- Tall latte with 2% milk, 15g carbohydrates
- Latte with almond milk and 2-4 pumps sugar free vanilla syrup, 9g carbohydrates
- Cappuccino with 2% milk and stevia, 14g carbohydrates
- Almond milk steamer with 2-4 pumps sugar free vanilla syrup, 9g carbohydrates
- Blonde Americano Misto, 12g carbohydrates
*carbohydrate counts are estimates based on nutrition information provided by Starbucks
Now that you have a good list to choose from, you can also tailor your own drink by making some swaps. Firstly, take a look below for some ideas on how to modify Starbucks drinks for diabetes. After that, we’ll look at all the variables in your coffee that can increase blood sugars.
Coffee and Blood Sugars: What the Research Says
Ok, it is time for a bit of science! Let’s dive into the impact of coffee and diabetes.
Neither coffee or tea itself has any sugar, but you know that perk you get after your morning cup of joe? That’s caffeine working its magic with your hormones, which can raise your blood sugars (1, 2, 3). However, your response to coffee is very individual.
But what you put in your coffee is just as important!
For your milk choices, there are two things that are going to change how carbs are absorbed into your body: fat and protein.
First, Let’s take a look at cow’s milk. Cow’s milk is a carbohydrate, but it also contains protein. Since it contains protein, this helps your body digest the sugar more slowly.
If you’re a fan of cream, Starbucks carries half and half and heavy cream. One tbsp of heavy cream has 0g carbs so it likely won’t raise your blood sugar, but it is higher in calories.
Looking at Starbucks’ most popular milk options, from lowest to highest in carbs, per 250ml:
- Almond: 60kcal, 5g carbohydrates, 2g protein, 4g fat
- Soy: 100kcal, 8g carbohydrates, 7g protein, 4g fat
- Coconut: 90kcal, 9g carbohydrates, 1g protein, 6g fat
- 2%: 130kcal, 12g carbohydrates, 9g protein, 5g fat
- Lactose free: 90kcal, 13g carbohydrates, 9g protein, 0g fat
- Oat: 150kcal, 18g carbohydrates, 3g protein, 7g fat
You can see that almond milk is the lowest in carbs, while oat milk has the highest amount of carbs.
Of course, any sugar added to your cup of joe is going to raise your blood sugar. A small amount in your coffee is okay. Keep in mind the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends no more than 10% of your calories coming from added sugar (4).
If you’re adding sweeteners like splenda and stevia, you probably already know they are calorie free. Because they are hundreds of times sweeter than sugar, you don’t need a lot. They likely won’t raise your blood sugars because they’re not digested (5), but only you can be the ultimate judge of that.
But what about syrups? Starbucks offers by default their flavored classic syrup, however you can also request their sugar free vanilla syrup. A typical grande latte contains 4 pumps of syrup. This means choosing the sugar free option will drop the carbs in your drink by about 27g!
Here is the nutritional breakdown between their sugar free and classic syrup. Ingredients that can raise blood sugars are in italicized bold*.
|Starbucks vanilla syrup (2 tbsp)||Starbucks sugar free vanilla syrup (2 tbsp)|
|Ingredients||Sugar, Water, Natural Flavor, Potassium Sorbate (preservative), Citric Acid||Water, natural flavor, maltodextrin, citric acid, xanthan gum, sucralose, potassium sorbate (preservative)|
|Calories||80 kcal||0 kcal|
|Carbohydrates||20 grams||1 gram|
*based on nutrition facts from starbucks.com
I bet you’re thinking right now, ‘But how can a sugar free syrup increase my blood sugars?’
Well, the answer is it contains a thickener called maltodextrin. Sugar from maltodextrin can be absorbed in your small intestine (6) which can affect your blood sugar.
The research says sugar free syrups and sweeteners like sucralose are not likely to have a big impact on your blood sugars (7). However, you know your body best and know how they affect you.
Last of all, let’s talk about toppings. Some can raise your blood sugars and some don’t. For example, a caramel macchiato has a cross hatch drizzle, which is basically all syrup. This will be much higher in sugar than a latte with cinnamon on top.
Toppings that increase blood sugar:
- Sweetened whipped cream
- Chocolate curls
- Drizzles (e.g. spiced apple, caramel), sugar-based toppings (e.g. caramel brule, chestnut praline)
Toppings that don’t increase blood sugar:
- Pumpkin spice
- Cocoa powder
Putting it all together
By now you should have a good idea of how Starbucks drinks can affect your blood sugar. There are a lot of things in coffee that can affect your blood sugars, and the only way to know is to check your blood sugars. Also, this is where an appointment with a Registered Dietitian can help you find the right balance if you need a hand.
Just because you have diabetes, you don’t have to give up all the things you love. However, with just a few tweaks, you can still enjoy your favorite drinks. It’s also ok to just treat yourself once in a while!
Customize your drink to your preference and carbohydrate target. If you’re choosing almond milk and a sugar free sweetener, you’ll likely stay under 15g carbohydrates even if you order a venti. Just watch the toppings.
If you’re wondering how your drink will affect your blood sugars, then check your levels 2 hours after. This is typically when your blood sugars will be at their peak.
Do you have a favorite low carb Starbucks drink? Leave a comment here and let us know what it is!