It’s no surprise that some coffee shop drinks can seriously break the calorie and sugar bank. America’s fall favorite is no exception: Starbucks pumpkin spice latte with whole milk packs 270 calories, five grams of saturated fat and 37 grams of sugar. That’s more than a Snickers bar — and it doesn’t even include whipped cream. Of course, that doesn’t mean you have to order a boring cup of black coffee to avoid the unhealthy trap. We scoped out sneaky, healthy ways to boost the benefits of your caffeinated beverage. Some hacks go off-menu, so don’t be afraid to speak up to slim down your drink.
7 Secrets to Slim Down Your Coffee Order
1. Make Your Own Flavors
Obviously, coffee beans don’t grow in hazelnut, vanilla, blueberry or coconut varieties. The flavored syrups used to give your morning brew some zing can rack up extra calories, not to mention artificial sweeteners, colorings and “a slew of other ingredients that are hard to pronounce,” says Marjorie Nolan Cohn, RDN, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “While these ingredients have been deemed safe by the FDA, I like to err on the side of caution and avoid them completely.”
“You’ll slash 70 calories ordering down from a 12-ounce tall whole milk regular latte to a short.”
Instead, Cohn suggests skipping the syrup and choosing spices, like cinnamon, clove, ginger cardamom or even cocoa.
Another option (at least at Starbucks): chile pepper. Studies show that capsaicin — the component of chile peppers that makes them firey — might contribute to weight loss and improved heart health. And thanks to Starbucks’ new chile mocha, it’s now available behind the counter.While the whipped cream-topped espresso drink is more of an indulgence, you can ask your barista to add a dash of chili powder to your basic Starbucks brew.
2. Keep It Short
Many coffee shops have a smaller size than what’s on the menu. It may sound crazy to specifically order less of something in our supersized country, but hear us out. Referred to as a “short” at many shops (like Starbucks), the eight-ounce cup helps with portion control. That’s especially beneficial if you tend to get the caffeine jitters, says Cohn. Plus, it can help you cut back on calories and sugar. For example, you’ll slash 70 calories ordering down from a 12-ounce tall whole milk regular latte to a short. You’ll also feel très European with small cup in hand.
3. Know Your Sugars
Trying to cut back? Artificial sweeteners unfortunately won’t get the job done. Some research suggests that non-nutritive sweeteners such as aspartame (Equal), saccharin (Sweet’N Low) and sucralose (Splenda), which are 180 to 300 times as sweet as sugar, may actually trick your brain into craving more dessert-like foods and drinks.
Cohn recommends avoiding sugar substitutes altogether, stressing that table sugar is fine in moderation. Organic agave and honey — which are popping up on more and more public coffee counters — are also OK, says Cohn. (Just remember, women shouldn’t exceed six teaspoons of added sugar a day and men nine teaspoons, according to American Heart Association recommendations.
Another good bet that won’t leave you missing the sweet stuff: Dark chocolate. At Peet’s Coffeee & Tea, you can order a dark chocolate latte and the barista will steam unsweetened cocoa powder (hello, antioxidants!) right in with the milk before adding it to espresso, according to a company spokesperson.
4. Ask About Your Milk Options
Not everyone can stomach dairy, but many coffee shops don’t advertise all their non-dairy “mylk” options, either. Take Dunkin’ Donuts, for instance, who introduced almond milk in 2014 at a majority of its stores, but only recently made the milk substitute available at all of the chains nationwide. Some java outposts offer lesser known milk alternatives, like La Colombe, where you can enjoy your coffee the hippy way — aka with hemp milk. Other healthy options available upon request are coconut and rice milks, says Cohn.
If you don’t have a dietary restraint, feel free to sip cow’s milk though. “Real milk is OK — in fact, you can even add the fat back in,” says Cohn. “If there were an option for organic cow’s milk, that would be best.”
5. Sip on a Cold Brew
Once reserved for small, trendy coffee shops, cold brew is now a drink for the masses. Starbucks, Peet’s and Dunkin’ Donuts have all jumped on the bandwagon. While iced coffee is generally just a chilled version of the hot stuff, cold brew coffee is steeped for 12 hours or more, giving it a smoother, less bitter taste. In fact, cold brew’s slightly sweeter flavor makes it a good option for enjoying without added sweetener or milk. Plus, it packs 10 calories or less in 12 ounces.
RELATED: The 7 Worst Iced Coffee Orders
6. Stick to Low-Cal Options
Speaking of low-cal, Starbucks offers a range of drinks (some special order) for under 150 calories. Drinks like the Caffé Americano (espresso and hot water) obviously cut down on your energy intake. But order a short, skim peppermint mocha and it’ll satisfy your taste buds without shooting your daily calorie count up 300 points. Other solid, flavorful options: a caramel macchiato with skim milk, nonfat chai tea latte and a skinny mocha Frappuccino.
7. Upgrade Your Whip
If you’re used to ordering a “no whip” latte or blended drink, now you don’t have to. At Peet’s, you can get any drink topped with dairy-free whipped coconut that has about a third less fat and calories than traditional whipped topping. It’s also made fresh at the shop, using coconut cream and a bit of simple syrup, charged with nitrogen dioxide. The whipped coconut cream was originally a limited-time offer, but it became so popular they kept it around. All you have to do is ask!