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What Nutritionists Think About Starbucks’ Three New Plant-Based Drinks

Health + Wellness
A Starbucks barista prepares a drink at a Starbucks Coffee Shop location in New York. Ramin Talaie / Corbis via Getty Images

By Cathy Cassata

Are you getting your fill of Starbucks' new Almondmilk Honey Flat White, Oatmilk Honey Latte, and Coconutmilk Latte, but wondering just how healthy they are?


Celebrity chef and spokesperson for DayTwo, Devin Alexander said if you're trying to lose weight, or watch your sugar intake or the amount of caffeine you consume, staying away from these is your best bet.

"I generally don't believe it's the best idea to consume a significant number of calories via beverages," she told Healthline.

Because the American Heart Association recommends that women consume only 25 grams of sugar in a day and men consume only 36 grams, she said these drinks can put you over the limit or close to it.

The 16-ounce Almondmilk Honey Flat White contains 24 grams of sugar, the Oatmilk Honey Latte has 28 grams, and the Coconutmilk Latte has 12 grams.

As far as caffeine goes, the 16-ounce or Grande-sized drinks for all three beverages contain more caffeine than many energy drinks.

"Red Bull contains 111 mg while Rockstar contains between 160 and 240 mg of caffeine per can. Two of these three [Starbucks] drinks contain 150 mg while the other contains 195 mg," said Alexander.

Despite all this, if you still plan to try the drinks as a pick-me-up or treat, she said to go with the 8-ounce option.

Here's what nutritionists have to say about each of these new menu items.

Almondmilk Honey Flat White

The fact that this drink only has 3 ingredients is a good thing said Erin Palinski-Wade, nutritionist and author of "Belly Fat Diet for Dummies."

"You know what you are getting with this drink. Since it is [mostly] made from almond milk with a touch of honey, the added sugar content isn't very high when compared to many coffee drinks. The combination of almond milk, espresso, and honey make this plant-based drink without large amounts of saturated fat that can hide inside many similar drinks made with cream or whole milk," said Palinski-Wade.

Still, she said the honey blend adds sugar and a Tall (12 oz) drink packs 120 calories — more calories and added sugars than black coffee.

Alexander agrees, noting that there are about 16 grams of sugar in 1 tablespoon of honey.

"Based on the ingredients [listed], Starbucks is using sweetened almond milk in the drink. [Stating it has] 'a hint of honey' doesn't suggest at least a tablespoon. Though in order to taste it amidst espresso, you would need a significant amount to create a honey flavor at all," she said.

Oatmilk Honey Latte

With 200 calories and 32 grams of carbs per 12-ounce serving, this drink contains the highest level of calories, added sugar, and fat of the three choices.

However, Palinski-Wade said the plant-based drink is low in saturated fat and contains a source of fiber.

"The addition of oat does provide a source of fiber, however with just 2 grams, the filling fiber won't offset the excess calories provided by the sugar in the drink. The addition of the honey topping along with the honey blend drive up both the calories and added sugar," she said.

To cut down on the sugar level, she said opt to remove the honey topping and ask for the drink to have one Honey Blend instead of two.

Coconutmilk Latte

The 12-ounce Tall size of this drink contains only 3 ingredients and provides 100 calories.

While this drink is lower in calories than many coffee drinks and provides a vegan-friendly option for people looking to add more plant-based foods and drinks to their diet, Palinski-Wade warned the amount of saturated fat in this drink is worth noting.

"The level of saturated fat is higher than other plant-based beverages due to the coconut. Each serving contains 5 grams of saturated fat, which should be moderated in those looking to improve blood lipid levels," she said.

Because the drink contains a significant level of added sugar from the coconut milk and flavorings, she said it's best to consider it a treat versus an everyday or multiple times a day indulgence.

Alexander added that while the Coconutmilk Latte is the most sensible of the three, it doesn't add any nutritional value.

"There is virtually no protein, half the carbs come from sugar, and there are 7 grams of saturated fat [in the 16 oz]," she said.

For comparison, she notes that in her "The Biggest Loser Cookbooks," her meals needed to have 3 grams of saturated fat or under, and in her diabetes-friendly cookbook "You Can Have It," meals had a max of 2.5 grams of saturated fat.

"At least if someone who loved this combo were to order a Short (8 ounces), it wouldn't be too detrimental [with 3.5 grams of saturated fat]," she said.

Healthier Alternatives

The good news for Starbucks lovers is that the brand offers many options that are lighter in calories and sugar compared to these three drinks, said Alexander.

However, she suggested looking to beverages outside of the coffee house for truly healthier alternatives.

"There are amazing drinks out there that are sweetened with zero calorie natural sweeteners, and there are even numerous brands of honey/stevia blends and honey/monk fruit blends which would allow someone to recreate these drinks for a fraction of the calories and sugars — the sugar is my biggest concern," she said.

Palinski-Wade agreed, reiterating that the three plant-based beverages should be consumed occasionally.

"They are still sugar-sweetened beverages. However, when compared to many other sugar-sweetened beverages and coffee drinks, the Almondmilk and Coconutmilk drinks are lower in calories and added sugars," she said.

Reposted with permission from Healthline.

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Guillain-Barre syndrome occurs when the body's own immune system attacks and injures the nerves outside of the spinal cord or brain – the peripheral nervous system. Niq Steele / Getty Images

By Sherry H-Y. Chou, Aarti Sarwal and Neha S. Dangayach

The patient in the case report (let's call him Tom) was 54 and in good health. For two days in May, he felt unwell and was too weak to get out of bed. When his family finally brought him to the hospital, doctors found that he had a fever and signs of a severe infection, or sepsis. He tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 infection. In addition to symptoms of COVID-19, he was also too weak to move his legs.

When a neurologist examined him, Tom was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre Syndrome, an autoimmune disease that causes abnormal sensation and weakness due to delays in sending signals through the nerves. Usually reversible, in severe cases it can cause prolonged paralysis involving breathing muscles, require ventilator support and sometimes leave permanent neurological deficits. Early recognition by expert neurologists is key to proper treatment.

We are neurologists specializing in intensive care and leading studies related to neurological complications from COVID-19. Given the occurrence of Guillain-Barre Syndrome in prior pandemics with other corona viruses like SARS and MERS, we are investigating a possible link between Guillain-Barre Syndrome and COVID-19 and tracking published reports to see if there is any link between Guillain-Barre Syndrome and COVID-19.

Some patients may not seek timely medical care for neurological symptoms like prolonged headache, vision loss and new muscle weakness due to fear of getting exposed to virus in the emergency setting. People need to know that medical facilities have taken full precautions to protect patients. Seeking timely medical evaluation for neurological symptoms can help treat many of these diseases.

What Is Guillain-Barre Syndrome?

Guillain-Barre syndrome occurs when the body's own immune system attacks and injures the nerves outside of the spinal cord or brain – the peripheral nervous system. Most commonly, the injury involves the protective sheath, or myelin, that wraps nerves and is essential to nerve function.

Without the myelin sheath, signals that go through a nerve are slowed or lost, which causes the nerve to malfunction.

To diagnose Guillain-Barre Syndrome, neurologists perform a detailed neurological exam. Due to the nerve injury, patients often may have loss of reflexes on examination. Doctors often need to perform a lumbar puncture, otherwise known as spinal tap, to sample spinal fluid and look for signs of inflammation and abnormal antibodies.

Studies have shown that giving patients an infusion of antibodies derived from donated blood or plasma exchange – a process that cleans patients' blood of harmful antibodies - can speed up recovery. A very small subset of patients may need these therapies long-term.

The majority of Guillain-Barre Syndrome patients improve within a few weeks and eventually can make a full recovery. However, some patients with Guillain-Barre Syndrome have lingering symptoms including weakness and abnormal sensations in arms and/or legs; rarely patients may be bedridden or disabled long-term.

Guillain-Barre Syndrome and Pandemics

As the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps across the globe, many neurologic specialists have been on the lookout for potentially serious nervous system complications such as Guillain-Barre Syndrome.

Though Guillain-Barre Syndrome is rare, it is well known to emerge following bacterial infections, such as Campylobacter jejuni, a common cause of food poisoning, and a multitude of viral infections including the flu virus, Zika virus and other coronaviruses.

Studies showed an increase in Guillain-Barre Syndrome cases following the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic, suggesting a possible connection. The presumed cause for this link is that the body's own immune response to fight the infection turns on itself and attacks the peripheral nerves. This is called an "autoimmune" condition. When a pandemic affects as many people as our current COVID-19 crisis, even a rare complication can become a significant public health problem. That is especially true for one that causes neurological dysfunction where the recovery takes a long time and may be incomplete.

The first reports of Guillain-Barre Syndrome in COVID-19 pandemic originated from Italy, Spain and China, where the pandemic surged before the U.S. crisis.

Though there is clear clinical suspicion that COVID-19 can lead to Guillain-Barre Syndrome, many important questions remain. What are the chances that someone gets Guillain-Barre Syndrome during or following a COVID-19 infection? Does Guillain-Barre Syndrome happen more often in those who have been infected with COVID-19 compared to other types of infections, such as the flu?

The only way to get answers is through a prospective study where doctors perform systematic surveillance and collect data on a large group of patients. There are ongoing large research consortia hard at work to figure out answers to these questions.

Understanding the Association Between COVID-19 and Guillain-Barre Syndrome

While large research studies are underway, overall it appears that Guillain-Barre Syndrome is a rare but serious phenomenon possibly linked to COVID-19. Given that more than 10.7 million cases have been reported for COVID-19, there have been 10 reported cases of COVID-19 patients with Guillain-Barre Syndrome so far – only two reported cases in the U.S., five in Italy, two cases in Iran and one from Wuhan, China.

It is certainly possible that there are other cases that have not been reported. The Global Consortium Study of Neurological Dysfunctions in COVID-19 is actively underway to find out how often neurological problems like Guillain-Barre Syndrome is seen in hospitalized COVID-19 patients. Also, just because Guillain-Barre Syndrome occurs in a patient diagnosed with COVID-19, that does not imply that it was caused by the virus; this still may be a coincident occurrence. More research is needed to understand how the two events are related.

Due to the pandemic and infection-containment considerations, diagnostic tests, such as a nerve conduction study that used to be routine for patients with suspected Guillain-Barre Syndrome, are more difficult to do. In both U.S. cases, the initial diagnosis and treatment were all based on clinical examination by a neurological experts rather than any tests. Both patients survived but with significant residual weakness at the time these case reports came out, but that is not uncommon for Guillain-Barre Syndrome patients. The road to recovery may sometimes be long, but many patients can make a full recovery with time.

Though the reported cases of Guillain-Barre Syndrome so far all have severe symptoms, this is not uncommon in a pandemic situation where the less sick patients may stay home and not present for medical care for fear of being exposed to the virus. This, plus the limited COVID-19 testing capability across the U.S., may skew our current detection of Guillain-Barre Syndrome cases toward the sicker patients who have to go to a hospital. In general, the majority of Guillain-Barre Syndrome patients do recover, given enough time. We do not yet know whether this is true for COVID-19-related cases at this stage of the pandemic. We and colleagues around the world are working around the clock to find answers to these critical questions.

Sherry H-Y. Chou is an Associate Professor of Critical Care Medicine, Neurology, and Neurosurgery, University of Pittsburgh.

Aarti Sarwal is an Associate Professor, Neurology, Wake Forest University.

Neha S. Dangayach is an Assistant Professor of Neurology and Neurosurgery, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

Disclosure statement: Sherry H-Y. Chou receives funding from The University of Pittsburgh Clinical Translational Science Institute (CTSI), the National Institute of Health, and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine Dean's Faculty Advancement Award. Sherry H-Y. Chou is a member of Board of Directors for the Neurocritical Care Society. Neha S. Dangayach receives funding from the Bee Foundation, the Friedman Brain Institute, the Neurocritical Care Society, InCHIP-UConn Center for mHealth and Social Media Seed Grant. She is faculty for emcrit.org and for AiSinai. Aarti Sarwal does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Reposted with permission from The Conversation.