Coffee · THM FP Recipes · THM S Recipes

An Unofficial THM’s Guide to Starbucks

Ah Starbucks. The call of the Siren draws us in with that welcoming aroma and the promise of caffeine. But if you’re trying to stick to the trim and healthy path it can be a real stumbling block. The already seemingly confusing jargon of espresso language mixed with S, E, and FP can be overwhelming!


Hopefully, this guide can be of some help. I have barista’d at a few different coffee houses, but I spent the bulk of my experience at Starbucks for 2 years. This post is not sponsored or affiliated with the authors of Trim Healthy Mama, nor by Starbucks. I just want to put some helpful information in your hands to make convenience coffee easier!

Breaking Down the Drinks

It’s easy to walk into a coffee shop and get confused by the many different names, sizes, and variations of drinks!

Most drinks consist of two simple ingredients, espresso and milk. Espresso is just coffee that’s been brewed under high heat and pressure in an espresso machine. Milk is usually steamed for hot drinks and left cold for iced drinks.

A latte is shots of espresso, steamed milk with light foam, and you can add flavoring. Technically, mochas, white mochas, and the specialty holiday drinks are just flavored lattes. A cappuccino at Starbucks is just like a latte except it has heavy foam instead of light foam. As adding warm foamed milk to a cold latte isn’t a great idea, you can order an iced latte, which uses just cold milk, but iced cappuccinos aren’t common. The flat white is similar to a cappuccino as it has more foam than a latte, but it calls for a shorter brewed espresso shot called “ristretto”. The short brew time produces a sweeter tasting espresso shot.

A Starbucks caramel macchiato is like an upside down latte. It comes with milk and vanilla flavor, espresso shots on top, and “marked” (which is what macchiato means) with caramel sauce. An espresso macchiato is just foamed milk marked with espresso shots, and the new (to Starbucks) latte macchiato is milk topped with espresso minus the flavorings of a caramel macchiato.

To my knowledge, the iced tea and coffee available at Starbucks is brewed without sweetener, but specify “unsweetened” when ordering as some stores may add the syrup automatically.

The Americano is a yummy variation to brewed coffee. It’s simply espresso shots cut with water to the consistency of brewed coffee. I find they have a smoother, richer taste than brewed hot or iced coffee. I enjoy one iced with a splash of cream as a favorite treat!

I’m not going to go into details about Frappuccinos, because, unfortunately, there isn’t a way to have one that is on plan. Frappuccinos use a syrup base and even the “light” version is still loaded with sugar. Learn to embrace the fat-stripping frappas and other yummy blended drinks in the Trim Healthy Mama Cookbook to get your frozen coffee fix!

The Cafe or Tea Misto

I do want to spend a second acquainting you with the lesser known “mistos”. These drinks are a handy trick to enjoy the flavors of your favorite off plan drinks in a way that also cuts a few unnecessary calories!

A cafe misto is simply half brewed coffee and half steamed milk. You can dress it up with sweetener, flavors, etc, to get the feel of your old favorites.

What About The Milk?

If you’ve been following the THM way you know that whole, 2%, and even non-fat milk don’t have much of a place in this lifestyle. And that’s okay! There are some ways to enjoy yummy coffee on the go AND stay on plan.

So, regular cow’s milk is out- what about soy and coconut milk? While I applaud Starbucks for being a forerunner of offering alternative milks, the sad reality is that both soy and coconut milk are pre-sweetened and full of other undesirable fillers. Maybe that will change someday, but for now you’re left with two options: heavy whipping cream or half-and-half.

Breve lattes, which are lattes made with half-and-half, have been widely recommended as a good choice on the THM plan. However, it has been brought to my attention that the amount of whole milk present in half-and-half really makes it more of a crossover. There are about 10 carbohydrates in a cup of half and half, and even a tall latte will have more than a cup of half-and-half. The book authors now recommend a breve latte to be used more as a rare treat as opposed to a daily habit.

So breve lattes are out, what’s a girl to do? That’s where the cafe misto I mentioned before gets a chance to shine. a 12 oz (tall) cafe misto will have about 6oz of coffee and 6oz of half-and-half which puts it around 7-8 carbs. Still a little high, but much better than a latte! You can do even better by just ordering a brewed coffee and asking for it to be topped with a little steamed cream instead of an entire misto.

Another option is to use heavy whipping cream. Don’t feel weird asking for it, it’s very commonly used. It has about 5 carbs per 6oz serving, but it is higher in calories. Not that we want to be militant about counting calories but neither do we wish to abuse them.

(note- it has been suggested you can use a splash of non-fat milk in an E setting. Feel free to try that if you wish, but it does need to be a tiny splash, and it won’t be as satisfying as some of the S ideas I have below. I rarely go out for coffee so I like to make a treat of it when I do!)

Sugar-Free Flavors

Just a quick note on this before I share some yummy ideas of what to order!

Starbucks offers SF options of vanilla, hazelnut, cinnamon dolce, and caramel. These syrups are made with Splenda as the sweetener. (The skinny mocha is referred to as a sugar free sauce, but as of last time I checked it does still contain a small amount of sugar and should be avoided.) Splenda is not a recommended sweetener and some people have adverse reactions to it. It is your personal choice if you desire to use a Splenda-sweetened syrup from time to time. It’s still low-glycemic, you can still stay on plan. I don’t recommend having it everyday.

You can always bring your own homemade syrup or sweetener and flavor extract and add it to your drink yourself. Please do not ask the barista to add it for you. It is against the health code in many places to take unknown ingredients behind the counter as it could create a cross-contamination issue. If you ask them anyway and they tell you no, please don’t make an issue out of it. They are just doing their job and could get in trouble if they disobey the rules. Okay? Thanks!

Fuel Pull Orders

Now that we’ve laid a bit of a foundation, you may be wondering how to put it all together. Never fear! These handy lists as well as the graphic below can be your guide!

The following drinks fit into a Fuel Pull setting. Don’t make an entire snack or meal of these drinks but use them along with any meal of your choice.

Brewed coffee or tea, hot or iced, black

Hot or iced americanos, black

Espresso shots, black

Feel free to add SF flavor, sweeteners, or even a splash of almond milk from home to keep these as Fuel Pull drinks. If you don’t add almond milk you can also use these as sippers. I recommend ordering iced Passion tea and using it in GGMS!

S Orders

These drinks work in an S setting. Once again, have these with a nutritious meal or snack!

Adding cream (half-and-half or heavy cream, specify your preference when ordering) to coffee or tea, hot or iced

Cafe or tea mistos made with heavy cream or breve

Breve lattes, flat whites, etc, (probable crossover)

Lattes, flat whites, etc, made with heavy cream (do so sparingly, very caloric)

Adding cream to hot or iced americanos (my  favorite!)

Adding cream to espresso shots


(feel free to save this image to keep it handy!)

Fun Drink Combos

Here are some ideas to replace some of your old favorites! These are all S drinks

Old Drink                                            New Drink!

Vanilla Latte                                  Breve cafe misto with SF Vanilla or your own vanilla flavor

Iced Vanilla Latte                          Iced coffee or americano with cream and SF vanilla

(feel free to do the above with SF caramel, hazelnut, and cinnamon dolce flavors)

White Mocha                                 Breve cafe misto, add my white mocha sauce recipe

Iced White Mocha                        Iced coffee or americano with cream and white mocha sauce

Caramel Macchiato                     Unless you make an on-plan caramel sauce to add to your drink, your best bet is a SF caramel misto or iced coffee. If you are inspired to make a caramel sauce, order a SF vanilla latte or iced coffee and top with your sauce!

Chai Tea Latte                              Chai tea misto with SF vanilla, breve or with heavy cream. You may have to specify you want a brewed chai tea bag with half (or topped with) steamed cream. Some baristas struggle with this one as it’s not super common so be prepared. This is also yummy to try with Earl Grey tea!

Iced Chai Tea Latte                      I’ve got nothing, except try The Shrinker in the THM cookbook!

I know this has been lengthy but I also hope it’s been helpful. Feel free to ask any questions!


9 thoughts on “An Unofficial THM’s Guide to Starbucks

    1. There are not, I’m afraid. The frappuccinos are made with a syrup base that contains sugar, even the “light” version. The Fat-Stripping Frappa from the Trim Healthy Mama Cookbook is a great, customizable substitute you can make at home!


  1. OMG, that’s a detailed guide, it looks like you done a ton of research before writing this. It’s really good to see all info at single blog post. Many of us always think Starbuck can affect our diet plan. Now a day’s my sister trying to lose some weight and she is a coffee addict like me, I run a coffee blog so she always ask me for some guide about healthy coffee. I am going to share this with her, as is Starbuck frequent user and will also use some of your ideas in my blog posts, hope you will not mind.


  2. what would you recommend for someone whose “go to” is a mocha? Not a white mocha….but plain old (or caramel) mocha


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