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How to save calories at Starbucks

By Lisa Gosselin, January 21, 2011 - 12:03pm

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I can clearly remember my last fully loaded Caramel Frappuccino. It was about four years ago. I’d taken a red-eye flight, stopped off to buy the sweet, icy 24-oz. coffee drink at Starbucks and started driving to the office. On the way, I had to call our senior nutrition advisor Dr. Rachel Johnson, professor of nutrition and food sciences at the University of Vermont, to discuss her next story for us.

“What are you thinking of writing about, Rachel?” I asked, one hand on the wheel, the other on the whipped-cream-topped drink next to me. I took a sip.

“Beverages,” she quickly replied. “Do you know how many calories we get from drinks and how much they contribute to obesity?”

I cleared my throat. “Um... no?”

And then (I kid you not) she said: “Do you know how many calories some of those giant Starbucks drinks with whipped cream have? Some have more than 500!” I nearly spewed the coffee across the windshield. Was she telepathic? I glanced at the driver in the car next to me, to make sure it wasn’t her. (Read Rachel’s article here: Winter Drinks That Fuel Weight Gain.)

The next time I was in Starbucks, I looked it up: sure enough, that 24-oz. Caramel Frappuccino with full-fat milk and whipped cream? 440 calories and 6 grams of fat.

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This can help explain why I was somewhat horrified to hear that Starbucks, a company that has recently made a move toward providing healthier options, announced it will be offering “Trenta” (31-oz.) iced coffee drinks starting in May. That’s nearly a QUART of coffee! (That’s as much or more than you should be drinking in a whole day—in one drink!)

Now coffee has its health “perks,” as Joyce Hendley writes in an article in the upcoming March/April issue of EatingWell Magazine. The health benefits are associated with 2 to 4 (8-ounce) cups of coffee a day. Studies have shown that drinking one to five cups a day can help reduce your risk of dementia and ward off Alzheimer’s. It may help to lower your risk of diabetes and some studies show that coffee’s antioxidants can reduce inflammation in the arteries, which may also decrease your risk of a stroke. (Can coffee cure a headache? Get the Truth About 5 Natural Kitchen Cures here.)

Recipes to Try: Greek Iced Coffee and More Delicious Recipes with Coffee

But seriously, would you want to work with/talk to/sleep with someone who had just ingested the equivalent of 4 cups of coffee in one sitting? I’d just as soon listen to Alvin & the Chipmunks in fast forward.

Some downsides: if you are sensitive to it, coffee can cause irritability. Boiled or unfiltered coffee (such as that made with French presses, not brewed coffee) contains higher levels of cafestol, a compound that can increase LDL or “bad cholesterol.” And if you’re having trouble sleeping, it might make sense to cut down on caffeinated coffee or to drink it early in the day (it takes at least 6 hours for coffee to clear your system). The sleep-robbing effects of coffee may worsen as we age, too, a recent study suggests.

Take Our Poll: If you had to choose, would you rather have a cup of coffee or a good night’s sleep?

But perhaps the best reason to resist the 31-oz. “designer” coffee drinks? Often there’s more to them than just coffee and water. If I had skipped the whipped cream and gone with nonfat milk (an option) on that 24-oz. Caramel Frappuccino, I could have brought the damage down from 440 calories to 320 calories and the fat down from 6 grams to 0.

Or if I had gone with the Iced Skinny Latte (which uses a sugar-free sweetener and nonfat milk), I could have had a 24-oz. drink for just 110 calories, with no fat. Or I could have just ordered a regular-size drink.

Of course, that takes some careful reading of calorie counts. Actually, I may have another solution: Next time I go to Starbucks, maybe I’ll bring two extra cups and shout out from the line, “Hey, anyone want to share a Trenta three ways with me?”


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TAGS: Lisa Gosselin, Food News Blog, Food & health news

Lisa Gosselin
Lisa Gosselin is the former editorial director of EatingWell Media Group.

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