Is There Any Heart-Healthy(ish) Food at Starbucks?

When I mentioned doing this (unsponsored) review on social media a few days ago, a few Starbucks skeptics said that there wouldn’t be much beyond bananas, black coffee, or maybe a plain latte.

We all know food from home is ideal, but sometimes life just gets in the way, and I’m in Starbucks often enough to see that people aren’t just ordering coffee. So I set about hunting for heart-healthy(ish) food — items with vegetables, fruit, whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, or other sources of protein, without too much sodium or sugar.

Do you have to order something heart-healthy at Starbucks? Of course not. By all means, order what appeals to you, even if you’re trying in general to address cardiac risk with food. One meal or snack won’t make much difference. I’d rather see you satisfied than having something because you feel you “should”.

But if you’re interested in my two cents, here are a few menu items that stood out:

Balanced meals:

  1. Chicken and Quinoa Protein BowlQuinoa is the only 100% whole grain food I found at Starbucks, and it comes with lettuce, tomatoes, and other veggies, as well as enough protein and fibre to keep you going for a while. The sodium and sugar are a little higher than ideal, but lower than most of the alternatives.

  2. Egg & Cheese or Cheese & Fruit Protein Boxes – Fruit! Plus enough cheese, eggs, or other goodies to make it a sizeable snack or small meal, with a reasonable amount of sodium. Unfortunately, if you read the small print, you’ll see that the bun or crackers look whole grain but are mostly white flour, with some other grains and seeds added for good measure.

  3. Spinach & Feta Wrap with Egg White – That’s a mostly, but not 100% whole wheat wrap, with a decent amount of spinach and protein. It’s not necessary to limit yourself to egg whites, and this is one of the higher sodium options I’m including (830mg), but otherwise it’s a pretty nutritious little entree. Steaming hot and satisfying too. (Tried this one.)

Snacks and sides:

  1. (Half a) Sprouted Grain Bagel – These also have more white flour than sprouted grains and seeds, but they’re still one of your best bets if you’re in the mood for baked goods. Like most bagels, they’re equivalent to eating about 3 slices of bread, so for most of us, half is plenty, if you can split with a friend or save the rest for later. That helps with the sodium too (520mg). Combine your half with fruit, a plain latte, or avocado spread.

  2. Egg White & Red Pepper Sous Vide Egg BitesMany people can use more protein during the day, and these egg bites are the only ones without processed meat. Again with the egg whites, but they were tasty anyhow, thanks to the fire-roasted red peppers, Monterey Jack cheese, and uh, salt. This is another one with about 25% of our daily sodium, so maybe don’t combine with a bagel. Perhaps with fruit or oatmeal instead?

  3. Whole-grain oatmeal – I really wanted to like this. Steel-cut oats made without sugar and just a little salt. But even using both the “nut medley” and dried fruit packets, along with a splash of cream, I still found it tasted like glue. Terrible texture, and so bland! Given that the dried fruit adds about 5 teaspoons of sugar, I’m tempted to try it again with the nuts and add just a teaspoon or two of sugar.

  4. Fruit & Yogurt Parfaits – They’re a bit high in sugar, but you’ll get a decent amount of nutrition — protein and calcium, some fibre, and vitamins — in the bargain. Read the labels, some are higher than others. And only about half of the the sugar is added sugar, with the rest naturally occurring in the blueberries, strawberries, and milk/yogurt.

  5. Banana – Had to include it, although they seem to always be kind of black, if you don’t mind that. Or you could just grab a couple of mandarins on your way out the door.

What about…?

Here are a few other options I didn’t include and why. But again, if something here is what you’re most in the mood for, go for it! You’re not eating out every day, right?

  1. Muffins – Again, these are mostly white flour, despite some having small amounts of whole grains, blueberries, or bran. And most have 6-7 teaspoons worth of sugar. More of a treat than a breakfast.

  2. Sandwiches – Disappointingly, they were all made with white bread and get up to the neighbourhood of 1000mg of sodium. You may find a smattering of vegetables in some, but not much to get excited about here. Even the Black Bean Wrap with Quinoa had just 5g of fibre. (Compare that to 13g in the only slightly bigger Fiesta Wrap at Freshii.)

  3. Other egg bites, breakfast sandwiches, and protein boxes – Not included because I stayed away from processed meat. While it seems to be fine to have it once a week or so, I’m trying to help people identify alternatives here.

Note that there is regional variation in Starbucks’ food. The Canadian nutrition information online doesn’t include all of the current menu items online, so I went in and took a few clandestine pictures and used the labels actually on the food. If something wasn’t labeled or on the Canadian website, they directed me here, although that’s the US site. I did my best. 

Bottom Line

Like most restaurants, whole grains are in short supply at Starbucks. Most of the food has too much sodium, and the treats too much sugar to make this an everyday stop. But I bet you knew that already.

That’s why eating food prepared at home is generally preferred for heart health. But if life brings you hungry to Starbucks, there are a few more options than just the bananas and black coffee.

But if you’re seeking coffee and a bite, honestly, I’d hit a local chain like (in Calgary) Good Earth or Phil & Sebastian, where you’ll find freshly made, locally sourced food, with menu items like avocado toast, lentil stew, and actual whole-grain bread. Mmm… who should I review next?

Comments and questions welcome here.

As always, this review was 100% unsponsored. I paid for the food I sampled, although I did use the free wifi.

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