Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Starbucks iced coffee is heavy on the syrup and light on the truth

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It may be getting a little cool for cold brew (no, not beer, coffee brewed with cold water basically a sort of iced coffee) but we recently had a belated summer heatwave here and I thought I might switch-up my usual Starbucks latte order for an iced beverage. I thought I might get a cold brew. You know, nice and refreshing. I knew that I would have to look closely at the options to get something without added sugar because as I’ve ranted about before, sweetened is the ridiculous default option for iced coffee at Starbucks.

I love having the Starbucks app because I can order ahead, walk over from work, and have my drink ready to go. So as I head out from the office I start perusing the menu for a nice cold beverage option. I see “vanilla sweet cream cold brew” which sounds great but clocking in at 110 calories isn’t exactly what I’m looking for. There’s also “Narino 70 cold brew” which is really what I’m looking for at 3 calories, no added, sugar or cream. Just to keep my options open though (maybe I want a little something extra), I scroll down the menu and see “iced coffee” which sounds great. It’s “lightly sweetened” which sounds perfect. Just a touch of sweetness would be a nice treat.

How much sugar would you say “lightly sweetened” means? A teaspoon? Maaaybe two teaspoons? How about FIVE teaspoons??! That’s correct, a “lightly sweetened” iced coffee from Starbucks contains 5 freaking teaspoons of sugar. That’s one teaspoon less than the recommended maximum daily amount of added sugar for an adult woman so forget having any other treats. Just one so-called “lightly” sweetened iced coffee and put a fork in me because I’m done.

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Anyway… I got so annoyed when I saw that, I ended up not ordering anything and just making a coffee (black, no sugar) when I got back to the office because if I’m going to have a treat I want it to be something better than a Starbucks coffee. And if you want your treat to be a Starbucks coffee, that’s cool too, but I just wanted to make sure you were aware that the “lightly” sweetened iced coffee is heavy on the misleading description and light on the accurate advertising.

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Fattening fructose

As dietitians we’re fond of saying that your body treats all types of caloric sweeteners the same way. A recent article in Nutrition Action magazine made me wonder if this is actually true. I know that many people prefer to use more “natural” sweeteners such as honey, agave nectar, and maple sugar in place of granular sugar. As the nutrition facts panels don’t break the sugar down into its components (e.g. fructose, glucose, galactose, etc.) how do we know that our body is treating all of these sweeteners in the same manner? And how do we know that these sweeteners are affecting our bodies in the same way? Included in the article (sorry, it’s not published online so I can’t share a link) is information on research studies showing that fructose may increase liver, muscle, and visceral fat. These types of fat, especially liver and visceral, can contribute to insulin resistance and diabetes. The studies showed that it didn’t take much added fructose to create increases in fat stores. It’s advisable to avoid over-consumption of added sugars and naturally sugary beverages (such as fruit juice) regardless of the type of sugar present (added or naturally occurring) but it might also be worthwhile to pay more attention to the breakdown of the sugars in your sweeteners. Vegans beware: agave nectar is extremely high in fructose.

The following chart shows the breakdown of sugars in various sweeteners (I essentially copied this from the Nutrition Action article):

Sugar Breakdown


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Sweetener Sabotage

I’m back! I have to admit, the thing I missed most over the holidays was ranting to all of you. I’ve managed to collect a few topics to rant about but as always, I am open to questions and suggestions.

Today at work I was wading through my inbox and checking out the occasional article that caught my eye. I started reading this one about New Year’s resolutions. While I don’t think her resolution is necessarily the greatest the thing that caught my eye was an innocuous seeming comment about choosing to eat healthier: “…have cut sugar from my diet whenever possible (I now take honey in my tea and coffee).” Great that the author is cutting back on sugar, most of us consume far too much, but replacing it with honey is not a huge dietary improvement. Now, honey has been touted as a remedy for many ailments and in some cases it may actually provide benefits. However, spoonful for spoonful, honey provides slightly more calories than sugar (22 versus 16 per approximately one teaspoon). Yes, it undergoes less processing and therefore contains trace amounts of minerals not found in sugar, but replacing it for sugar in tea and coffee is not going to provide a huge health benefit, especially if your resolution is to lose weight. Your best bet is to learn to enjoy your coffee and tea without sweetener.