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Top 10 Lighter Options from Starbucks

Updated on July 1, 2015

A lot of people may think of Starbucks as a once-in-a-while treat, but there are customers who come in every day to sate their sweet tooth or get their caffeine fix. Whether you're looking to cut back on your daily caloric intake, or you're just curious about what lower calorie option you might try next time you want to treat yourself, this list will explain how to customize Starbucks drinks without loading up on calories.


Starbucks refereshers are like a sweet, fruity iced tea. They come in Valencia Orange, Berry Hibiscus, and Cool Lime. They're made with unroasted coffee beans, so while they taste nothing like coffee, they have a nice little kick to them. They have a sweet, fruity base and added in bits of the corresponding fruits.

I put the refershers on this list because they satisfy the sweet tooth better than an iced tea or even iced tea lemonade, and they don't have many calories or much sugar because they are sweetened with Stevia. A Venti Valencia Orange Refresher has the most calories of the bunch, and it has 140. It also has 34g of sugar; the Berry Hibiscus has 100 calories and 24g in the same size, and the Cool Lime is the lightest with only 20g and 80 calories.

These drinks have some fun variations. They mix and match really well with the iced teas. Normally, they are made with their fruit concentrates and water, but iced tea can be substituted for an extra kick of flavor for no extra calories.

Skinny Latte

True skinny lattes come with nonfat milk and sugarfree syrup substituted. To give you an idea of the difference this makes, a Grande flavored latte with 2% milk and regular sugar syrup has 250 calories, 6g of fat and 37g of carbs. A Grande skinny latte has 120 calories - a little less than half - no fat and 18g of carbs. These substitutes make a big difference.

Lattes that are offered in a skinny version include the Cinamon Dolce, Vanilla, Caramel and Hazelnut. Seasonally, there is a skinny version of the Peppermint Mocha, as well. Mixing the flavors can add an interesting spin on things. One common mixture is Sugarfree Vanilla with Sugarfree Hazelnut to make a rich French Vanilla.


Starbucks offers three flavors of smoothes - strawberry banana, chocolate banana, and orange mango banana. These are only available in a Grande size, and it might seem strange that they've made my list; they have about 300 calories a piece, much more than the lattes and cups of coffee I've been describing. However, they are a very sweet and filling treat.

It's important to note where your calories are coming from. Most Starbucks drinks that have a high calorie count are loaded with sugar and fat. The smoothies are a bit of a better choice. Each smoothie comes with one whole banana blended in, and it contains two scoops of protein powder. There isn't much milk in them at all, and they are flavored with a fruit puree instead of a sugary syrup. Fruit naturally has a lot of sugar, but if you're craving something sweet, it's better to go for natural sugars than processed ones, in my opinion.

You can, of course, customize these smoothies. I prefer mine with just one scoop of protein. I also like to have it made with no milk - instead, I mix the strawberry and orange mango purees.

Iced Coffee and Cold Brew Iced Coffee

This is my number one recommendation for people looking to get a quick caffeine fix, regardless of their attitude towards calories. Starbucks offers a dark roast iced coffee and a new, more mild cold brew iced coffee. These can be customized however you please, which gives you direct control over how many calories you're ultimately taking in.

Unsweetened and with no additions, a cup of any sized iced coffee has minimal calories. A Venti (Large) iced coffee with nonfat milk added only has 40 calories in a 24 oz drink.

Starbucks offers packets of sweeteners that you might commonly find elsewhere; equal, sweet 'n low, and splenda. There are also packets of agave meant to be served with blueberry oatmeal, but I know that most baristas are happy to give these out free of charge if you'd like to add it to your cup of coffee.


Well, that might sound overly simple, but there are a lot of ways to dress up a plain cup of Starbucks coffee. Clocking in at only 5 calories per any sized cup,(per Starbucks' own nutrition facts,) it might be well worth experimenting with this classic. Starbucks offers a mild, medium, and dark roast via various brewing method.

A quick and easy substitute to get more out of your cup of coffee is to upgrade it to a Caffe Misto. This drink is half hot coffee and half steamed milk. The addition of so much milk will bump up the calorie count a bit, but if you pick nonfat milk and stick to a Grande (medium) size, you're only looking at 70 calories overall.

You can dress up your plain coffee with a lot of different toppings, syrups, and creamer choices. These might bump up your calorie and sugar intake, but less so than if you were having a latte with the same add-ins.

This suggestion is my favorite for people who have a little bit of a sweet tooth - order a plain cup of coffee, and control how much of your favorite syrup is added. For example, a Grande (medium,) would normally get four pumps of, let's say, vanilla syrup. If you just want a hint of sweetness to get going, try halving that or even just getting one pump of vanilla syrup. That little bit of sugar makes a lot of taste difference without bogging you down with calories.


The Americano is a drink with an interesting history. It is made with shots of espresso, diluted with hot or cold water. This drink was created during World War II. American G.I.s were unaccustomed to the way espresso shots were served, so they would dilute the espresso with hot water to make a more familiar, Americanized cup of coffee.

Starbucks' Americanos are made in this same, familiar way. They have a strong and rich espresso flavor, and they are as much of a blank canvas as a regularly brewed cup of coffee.

Hot Tea

Recently, Starbucks started carrying Teavana brand hot teas. There are a variety of vibrant flavors that come equipped with no starting calories or sugar added. There are the familiar cups of tea - an English Breakfast, a plain Green tea, and an Earl Grey - and then there are new and exciting blends - like Pineapple Kona Pop or Peach Tranquility. These teas might not give you a kick of caffeine, but they are all flavorful and unique.

Iced Tea and Iced Tea Lemonade

Starbucks offers three flavors of iced tea. There is the decaf Passion Tango iced tea, which has a tropical, fruity and floral flavor with strong notes of mango. Then, there is the Jade Citrus Mint green tea, which is a refreshing green tea with hints of mint and lemongrass. Finally, there is the English Breakfast iced tea, which is a familiar but flavorful black tea.

Of course, you can get these teas completely unsweetened, but even with the full amount of sugar added, they're not so bad. A Venti (large) sweetened iced tea clocks in at 150 calories, and has 39g of sugar.

You can order these iced teas made with lemonade instead of water, which will add a little more sugar, but a lot more flavor. A Venti sweetened tea with lemonade has 220 calories and 57g of sugar. However, this is not entirely the lemonade's fault - an unsweetened Venti tea lemonade only clocks in at 70 calories. If you want just a little bit of sweetness and like the tang of lemon, an unsweetened tea lemonade may be the way to go.

My recommendation is to cut back on the sugar, or to try sugar substitutes like splenda. Additionally, if you commit to adding lemonade, you don't have to do the whole amount - it's common to ask for just a splash.

One of my favorite types of iced teas from Starbucks is a black iced tea with sugarfree vanilla syrup added. It's a great sweet treat for next to no calories.

Latte or Cappuccino

One thing to bear in mind as you try to navigate Starbucks' menu and pick out the healthiest option is that everything listed is fully customizable. If you love your creamy Latte or Cappuccino, there's no reason to deny yourself the treat.

You might consider substituting for a lower fat or lower sugar milk. The default for a Latte or Cappuccino is 2%, and both Coconut Milk and Nonfat milk have less calories. If you want to get totally crazy, you can even mix different kinds of milk. A popular option is to cut Soy with Nonfat; the Soy milk has more sugar and fat than even 2%, but it also has a lot of flavor and sweetness. Instead of getting a full Soy Latte, you can mix half Soy with half Nonfat to cut down on some excess sugar and fat.

Possibly the simplest solution with this menu item is to try a smaller size. Starbucks offers as small as an 8oz size for hot drinks, and a 12oz size for cold drinks. A Grande Latte comes with two shots of espresso, but the calories come from the milk; you can order an 8oz Latte with two shots and cut your amount of milk in half.

Light Frappuccinos

Finally, I have to include the light Frappuccinos. Sometimes, the only thing you want from Starbucks is a Frappuccino, and these can get loaded up with sugar, fat, and calories really quickly. Fortunately, most of them have a light version that only has 1/3 of the sugar of the original.

Light based Frappuccinos are available in any coffee based Frappuccinos, and they are made with skim milk and a special light base that is the thickener and sweetener for the blended beverages. To make a light Frappuccino even lighter, you can also substitute sugarfree syrups. For example, a Caramel Frappuccino Light actually has regular caramel syrup in it, and you can substitute that out for the sugarfree.

Personally, I don't have much of a problem with the light base, but I know a lot of people are sensitive to the taste of Splenda. So, I have some recommendations to cut down on calories without sacrificing flavor.

First, leave off the whipped cream. I know it's heartbreaking, but this is the source of a lot of sugar, calories, and fat. For example, a Grande Double Chocolaty Chip Frappuccino has 270 calories, 6g fat and 51g carbs without whipped cream. Adding whipped cream brings the total all the way up to 400 calories, 17g fat and 55g carbs. That's 130 calories and 11g of fat for just a topping of whipped cream.

You can save a little more in the calorie and fat department by opting for a lighter milk. I think this is the best way to start cutting back. The texture of the Frapp may be a little less creamy, but it will still taste awesome.

Finally, consider less complex flavors. A Java Chip will have more calories than a Mocha Frapp because there are more ingredients in the Java Chip. A Caramel Frappuccino is a classic sweet treat, and a Caramel Ribbon Crunch Frappuccino is still based on the caramel flavor but has tons more sugar and fat.


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    • Rachelle Williams profile image

      Rachelle Williams 

      3 years ago from Tempe, AZ

      Wonderfully visual hub, and informative too...Now I know what I should consider when I get a jonesing for Starbucks!

    • Tanya Fitzmorris profile image

      Tanya Fitzmorris 

      3 years ago from Brantford Ontario Canada

      Here I was thinking you can't have Star Bucks without killing the waistline!


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