How to Order at Starbucks Drinks for Diabetes Management
What Starbucks drinks can I order if I’m trying to manage my blood sugar?
When it comes to ordering drinks from a restaurant, like Starbucks, when you have diabetes, it can be tricky to know how much sugar it contains or how it’s going to affect your blood glucose numbers. The challenge with sugar-sweetened beverages is that they often contain a big dose of sugar that is quickly absorbed, thus causing a spike in your blood glucose. Starbucks drinks can easily contain 50 grams of sugar, which would not be ideal. So let’s talk about how to order Starbucks drinks for diabetes management.
Can Starbucks drinks really affect my blood sugar that much?
Let’s first talk about carbohydrates and blood sugar. Carbohydrates, like starch and sugar, are broken down in the body and converted into glucose. Glucose enters the bloodstream and the pancreas responds with insulin to help get the sugar where it needs to go. The more sugar a food contains (versus starch), the quicker your blood sugar will rise. So a piece of bread which is mostly starch will not raise blood sugar as quickly as something like soda which is all sugar. A drink from Starbucks could potentially raise blood sugar quickly due to its sugar content.
This matters with diabetes because when blood sugar rises quickly, it takes a lot of insulin to get the sugar into the cells. Often the sugar will build up in the bloodstream for a long period of time because insulin resistance inhibits the insulin from being as effective. This becomes a problem when sugar is elevated frequently throughout the day, thus increasing your A1C, and increasing your risk for other conditions like heart disease, stroke, and kidney disease.
Check out the other blogs in our “What to Order With Diabetes” series
How much carbohydrate should Starbucks drinks have if I have diabetes?
This will vary person to person, so if you have questions about your specific circumstances, check with your dietitian. For most people with diabetes, a meal consists of about 30-60 grams of carbohydrate, and a snack has between 15-20 grams of carbohydrate. For the purposes of this blog, I’m aiming for less than 20 grams of carbohydrate per drink. Depending on the drink, the carbohydrate content will vary depending on the type of liquid used in the drink as well as any added flavors.
A tall caffe latte with 2% milk and no flavorings is 15 grams of carbohydrate. If you were to choose soy milk instead, it would be 10 grams of carbohydrate. A tall cappuccino with 2% milk has 9 grams of carbohydrate while one with soy milk has 7 grams of carbohydrate. Moral of this story? You can save some carbs by ordering soy milk (and happen to like the taste of soy milk).
Flavorings aren’t out of the question, but they can add up quickly. 1 pump of regular syrup adds 5 grams of carbohydrate while 1 pump of sugar free syrup adds 0 grams of carbohydrate. So if you have a tall latte and you get the automatic 3 pumps of syrup, now your drink contains 30 grams of carbohydrate.
What can I order for less than 20 grams of carbohydrate?
While you can certainly check your favorite drink on the Starbucks website, and get a sense of how many carbs it contains, the website does NOT update the nutrition facts depending on the type of milk you choose or the number of pumps you use. So keep that in mind. We rounded up a few of our favorite drink options that are less than 20 grams of carb.
1. Grande Vanilla Sweet Cream Cold Brew (made with a splash of sweet cream and 2 pumps vanilla syrup) 14 g carbs (swap it for sugar free vanilla syrup to reduce by 10 g carb)
2. Grande Honey Almondmilk Cold Brew: (made with splash of almond milk, 2 pumps honey blend sweetener) 11 g carbs
3. Tall Soy Latte with 1 pump desired syrup: 15 g carbs
4. Tall Pineapple Matcha Drink (2 pumps pineapple ginger syrup instead of 3): 16 g carbs
5. Grande Americano with 2 pumps desired syrup: 17 g carbs (add a splash of half and half for minimal carbs)
6. Caffe Misto (made with 2% milk) with 2 pumps desired syrup: 20 g carbs
7. Tall London Fog Latte (2 pumps vanilla syrup instead of 3): 17 g carbs (can also order SF vanilla syrup instead)
8. Grande Iced Latte with 2 pumps sugar free syrup: 13 g carbs
What about frappuccinos? This one is a little harder to estimate because I’m not sure how much carbohydrate is in each pump of the frappuccino blend. However, if you want to make some swaps to reduce the carbs in your favorite frap, you can opt for 1 pump instead of 2 (for a tall), or swap it out for sugar-free vanilla syrup.
We also can’t forget, it’s PSL season! For those who don’t know, that’s the pumpkin spice latte. People go crazy for it. The unfortunate part, if managing blood sugars, is that a grande pumpkin spice latte is 52 grams of carbohydrate. That’s pretty significant if you’re stopping by Starbucks on the reg. I would suggest getting a latte, misto, or americano and adding 2 pumps of pumpkin sauce, and sprinkling with a little cinnamon.
We are firm believers that we can make all foods fit, even if trying to manage blood sugar. Will the occasional drink with 40-50 grams of carbohydrate completely de-rail you from your health goals? No. But if you like to stop at Starbucks frequently, it may be beneficial for you to consider cutting back on the sugar-sweetened beverages and making some swaps.
Feeling confident about Starbucks, but not so sure about other restaurants? We’ve covered what to eat for diabetes management at Chickfila, Chipotle, and Panera!
Blog reviewed and updated November 2022
An award winning recipe developer, Dietitian Kaitlin’s mission is to empower others to reach their health goals by encouraging them to get back into the kitchen. Co-author of Nourished: 10 Ingredients to Happy, Healthy Eating and Cooking with Diabetes.