Nearly anyone who lives by the keto diet will tell you that eating out can be quite a challenge at first — and the same is true for those who can't live without their daily caffeine fix. While caffeine isn't totally off-limits for keto dieters, there's a very good chance that your favorite iced coffee or tea is loaded with ingredients that contain sugars and carbohydrates, especially if Starbucks is your go-to coffee hotspot. Sugar itself has a sneaky way of finding its way into most menu items at the popular coffee chain, and yet it's totally restricted for those on the keto diet, as it jeopardizes your body's ketosis state that you've worked so hard to maintain.
Unless your go-to order in the morning is a simple cup of black coffee, you'll have to hack your way through Starbucks' menu to enjoy something sinfully sweet while being completely devoid of sugar. Diehard Starbucks fans have already found many ways to dodge sugar and lots of extra carbs in the same manner, and many have already taken to social platforms to share their favorite keto-friendly Starbucks treat using the #KetoStarbucks hashtag. But if you know you'll be itching for a daily coffee or tea while attempting the diet, there's nothing better than being reassured by a professional on which drinks you can safely enjoy without relying on Instagram.
Enter Brierley Horton, MS, RD, a registered dietitian and nutritionist — she's spent quite a bit of time decoding the keto diet and says that understanding which Starbucks add-ons (from milk options to syrups) include added sugars is a must. "When you're following the keto diet, you need to be consuming less than 20g of carbohydrates — and nearly any of Starbucks' ingredients, from whole milk to plant-based milk, contain carbs," Horton shares, adding that you should consult Starbucks' master nutritional list beforehand. "While you can look at how much sugar each syrup or beverage contains if you'd like, keep in mind that sugars factor into your carbohydrate count, so you don't need to obsess over sugars as much as you do carbs in this case."
Horton has a few tips for ordering any beverage at Starbucks that all keto dieters should know; plus, a few drinks that are well-established favorites for all keto lovers.
How to order a keto-friendly drink at Starbucks:
It shouldn't come as a big shock, but black coffee is your friend at Starbucks, Horton says, and should be the base of every drink you order. You'll want to ask for the Pike Place Roast, which is free of carbohydrates altogether and is the best option for any keto dieter at the coffee chain. "The boring answer to anyone looking for keto coffee drinks at Starbucks is black coffee, mostly because carb allowance is so limited, you want to be eating carb-rich items that also have a strong source of fiber and other nutrients," Horton says.
Regardless of whether you choose a mixed drink or black coffee, Horton says it's best to keep the ratio of dairy in your cup less than (or equal to) coffee or espresso. And while the fat content in whole milk is more substantial than alternative milk, you'll want to rely on substitutions like coconut milk or soy milk, as these add-ons have less carbohydrates than traditional milk. "A short Café Misto, for example, has 3g of carbs when made with almond milk—that bumps up to 5g when made with whole milk, which is about a 10% difference in your daily allowance when on keto," she says. And since the keto diet is all about eating as much fat as possible — which is where most of your protein will come from, according to Horton — you should feel free to substitute cream, which contains a significant amount of fat and fewer carbohydrates in any given serving.
Finally, you'll need to swap your sweeteners and syrups for low-sugar varieties instead, Horton says. Starbucks offers a few sugar-free syrups (including classic vanilla) that do not contain additional carbohydrates and are made with sucralose, which is also known as Splenda. If you're angling to add a touch of sweetness to any drink without adding actual syrup, reach for stevia, which Starbucks' offers to customers as a complimentary add-on
What is the Starbucks White Drink?
It'll be one of the only keto-friendly options your barista may already be familiar with: Known officially as the "White Drink" by keto dieters, it's actually made from Starbucks' unsweetened Peach Citrus White Tea, heavy cream, and sugar-free vanilla syrup, according to Delish. While there are some sugar substitutes used in the creation of this white tea drink, Horton says that the drink shouldn't mess with your body's ability to maintain ketosis. "In larger amounts, those sugar-free syrups could still be contributing a small amount of carbs towards your daily limits. Be sure to find the lowest threshold of sweetness that you enjoy — no more than two or three pumps — and keep it light as possible. But indulging in these sugar-free varieties won't immediately risk your ketosis," Horton shares. "Plus, when you're eating keto, you'll notice that you've reset your taste buds and are cleaning your palette overall; a drink with six pumps of flavoring will taste very different than it used to, and you'll be satisfied with less sugar as it is.
Per Delish, you'll need to order an unsweetened peach citrus white tea and ask your barista to add heavy cream, plus a few pumps of sugar-free vanilla syrup, no water, and light ice in order to maintain the drink's signature thick consistency.
Other popular keto drinks at Starbucks:
With Hortons' tips in mind, you can decode many of the pre-made beverages at Starbucks and replace individual ingredients with keto-friendly supplements. One of Horton's top picks is an iced café mocha made with cream in place of milk alongside a light mocha drizzle (just under 1g of extra carbohydrates). "It's equal parts coffee and dairy, which is good, and adding whipped cream in place of milk helps reduce overall carb counts while adding around 8g of fat in a tall drink," she says. But there are a few orders that have become popular with keto dieters, leading them to share these orders online on platforms like Reddit and in under-the-radar Facebook groups.
One Starbucks barista took to Reddit to share their version of a keto-friendly caramel macchiato, which is normally packed with sugar and carbs. If you order an iced version, which uses less milk than a hot beverage, you can ask for a "skinny" macchiato made with almond milk and no caramel drizzle. Be sure to order a grande or tall size, however, as the amount of carbohydrates increases significantly when you upsize to a venti.
You might already be wondering: What about a classic frappuccino? According to Horton, a classic tall vanilla frappucino contains a whopping 48g of carbohydrates, which would knock anyone out of ketosis. And most "light" blended versions also clock in at over 20g. But if you choose to ditch all dairy products in favor of almond milk and swap in sugar-free syrups and cream, Horton says a tall frappuccino could feasibly contain as few as 15g of carbohydrates.
Other popular options include an iced chai tea latte, which is made with heavy cream (or half-and-half!) and two or three pumps of sugar-free vanilla syrup. Anything that has a dark coffee base is largely safe to try, too. An Americano can be enjoyed with heavy cream in place of other add-ons, Horton says, and you can customize your drink with a dash of cinnamon or nutmeg, as these natural flavorings are free of sugar. "Just remember your smart swaps and to keep the dairy components of your drink to a minimal, and you should sneak in your daily [Starbucks] run just fine," she says.
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