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A nutritionist shares the best things to order at Starbucks — and what to skip

Making a Starbucks run? Here are the healthiest picks.
Indianapolis - Circa June 2017: Starbucks Retail Coffee Store. Starbucks Inclusion Academy prepares people with disabilities for retail jobs XIII
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Whether you’re hitting the road for an adventure or just traveling around town, you can be sure you’ll encounter a Starbucks en route. It’s reassuring to know that you can count on something healthy to eat no matter where you are. That’s the beauty of Starbucks. Still, there are some menu options you may want to skip. Here are the best things to eat at Starbucks and a few items you'l want to eat less often.

What makes a healthy meal at Starbucks?

Restaurant meals are typically higher in sodium and saturated fat and lower in vegetables, fruits and whole grains compared to meals eaten at home. But since we all eat out from time to time, here are some reasonable targets to consider when eating at Starbucks:

  • Meals have at least a serving of vegetables or fruit, or ideally, even more.
  • Grain-containing meals and snacks include whole grains, preferable as the primary grain ingredient.
  • Sodium content is 800 milligrams or less — just above a third of the maximum you should have in a day.

What to order at Starbucks

When you’re hungry for a meal, here are some healthy options.

Hot breakfast

Spinach, Feta, and Egg White Wrap

Granted, this offering has a bit more sodium than our target, but it gets points for the predominantly whole grain wrap. It also has a filling combo of fiber and protein, with 20 grams of the latter. While this meal contains veggies, it probably doesn’t contain enough to count as a full serving. Still, some are better than none. And you could pick up a banana at the counter to bolster your produce intake.

Turkey Bacon Cheddar & Egg White Sandwich

Turkey bacon is processed meat, so this might not be the best choice for regular breakfasts. But if you’re choosing between this and one of the other breakfast sandwiches, this sammy is a better option because it’s lower in sodium and higher in whole grains than the others. Plus, the 17 grams of protein will fill you up. Pair it with a fruit cup or banana to get some produce in.

Classic Oatmeal

This menu option is a perfect away-from-home alternative to making oatmeal at home. It comes with sides of dried fruit and nuts, which, along with the oats, supply 4 grams of fiber and 5 grams of protein to fill your belly. It also comes with a side of brown sugar, which you can skip or add sparingly. If you have a heartier appetite, grab some extra nuts and fruit to have with your oats.

Lunch

Chicken & Quinoa Protein Bowl with Black Beans

This meal meets the mark for veggies but exceeds our sodium target. That’s to be expected when eating out. Still, we’re fond of the combo of antibiotic-free chicken and plant-based protein, which, all told, provides 27 grams of this filling nutrient. The bowl also has an impressive 9 grams of fiber.

Chickpea Bites & Avocado Protein Box

Sodium under 800 mg? Check. A serving of veggies? Check. It’s nice to find a meal that meets these healthy targets and has 13 grams of fiber and 15 grams of protein. This box is probably filling enough for a moderate appetite, but if your appetite is larger, have it with a fruit cup on the side.

Grilled Chicken & Hummus Protein Box

Here’s another meal that meets our sodium limit and veggie requirements. A minor nitpick: The naan is made with refined grains (in other words, processed white flour). However, you’ll still get 7 grams of fiber from this lunch box. If you want a side dish, try the fruit cup or a banana.

Snacks

Siggi’s Yogurt Cup, Vanilla

This lightly sweetened yogurt has 15 grams of protein for just 110 calories. Have it with the fruit salad for a more filling snack or a light breakfast. If you’re making a meal of it, buy the nuts, too. The extra crunch will make your meal more filling, with more fiber and healthy fat.

Squirrel Brand Classic Almonds

This sleeve of almonds contains more nuts than a standard portion, but you can save half for later and pair your almonds with any of the fruit options. About 80 percent of Americans don’t meet their fruit requirements, but since Starbucks has at least three different varieties, it’s easy to have some with your snack.

What to skip at Starbucks (or go easy on)

While there are plenty of healthy options on the Starbucks menu, there are, of course, some less healthful ones. When you’re routinely eating nutritious whole foods —especially plant foods like vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, and whole grains — a sugary treat or white bread bagel isn’t a big deal. However, if most of your meals are high in added sugars and refined grains and low in whole plant foods, it can potentially lead to health problems down the line. So eat these menu options less often, but when you do eat them, stay present while enjoying them, and move on to healthier fare at your next meal or snack.

Drinks

On its own, coffee is an antioxidant-rich drink that can help you feel energized and focused. However, many of the add-ins, including the plant-based milks, are heavily sweetened, so your coffee drink may be closer to dessert than a light mood lift. It’s generally better to avoid these drinks since they can quickly put you close to or over the recommended daily sugar targets of 25 grams per day for women and 36 grams per day for men. Case in point: The Honey Almond Milk Flat White has 24 grams of sugar. The Cinnamon Dolce Latte has 40 grams of sugar. And the Strawberry Funnel Cake Frappuccino has 51 grams of sugar. For comparisons’ sake, the chocolate chip cookie at Starbucks has 31 grams of sugar.

Baked goods

Certainly, a baked good here and there can be part of a healthy diet. But if a Starbucks baked good is an everyday breakfast or snack, it’s probably a habit that could use some attention. The refined grains and added sugars don’t fill you up, so you’ll be hungry shortly after eating. Foods made with these types of carbs are also linked to less energy and attention. These ingredients are also associated with inflammation that can promote health problems from cancer to Alzheimer’s disease.

It’s probably obvious, but smaller portioned treats are preferable to bigger ones. For example, the Birthday Cake Pop has 170 calories and 18 grams of sugar compared to the 480-calorie Chocolate Brownie with 37 grams of sugar. For an even tamer sweet treat, try the Rip Van Wafel from the packaged snack selection. According to Starbucks’ website, it has 8 grams of sugar. The Vanilla Biscotti with Almonds is another option, with a reasonable 10 grams of sugar.