Why Dietitians Don't Freak Out About the Unicorn Frappuccino (or Churros, Pumpkin Spice Lattes, etc.)
People are FREAKING OUT about the new Unicorn Frappuccino from Starbucks. Only available through April 23rd, it starts off "sweet and fruity transforming to pleasantly sour." You can swirl it "to reveal a color-changing spectacle of purple and pink." People are heading to Starbucks in droves, demanding this pink and blue drink with "magical" sprinkles.
After release of the Unicorn Frapp, an interesting internet backlash ensued. People were quick to criticize Starbucks and the amount of sugar in their limited edition beverage.
This meme is for a Venti sized Unicorn Frappuccino. The Grande (medium) has 59 grams of sugar.
Yes, this is a lot of sugar. Fifty-nine grams is the equivalent of almost 15 teaspoons, or 5 tablespoons of sugar. That's over 1/4 cup of sugar. Yes, it's a lot.
But is anyone surprised?
I am the first to say that the Unicorn Frappuccino and any of the blended beverages at Starbucks are hardly "healthy." What gets me more than the sugar is the other strange ingredients and artificial flavors, but that's a completely different post! I just think that the internet backlash on the "evil" qualities of this drink are a bit extreme and feed into our "good versus bad" mentality around food. Here's why:
1. Helloooooooo - it's a pink and blue sparkling drink topped with whipped cream and magic fairy dust. Did we expect it to be a low sugar option? Furthermore, is anyone drinking it because they think it's going to be the healthiest part of their day? No. Consumers want to know what the hype is about and are curious about a limited offer product. I'm pretty sure most well-informed adults know that it's not a low-sugar health drink.
2. The Grande Gingerbread Frappuccino has 58 grams of sugar - almost exactly the same as the Unicorn Frapp. It should be no surprise that most Frappuccinos are high in sugar.
3. Technically (and my dietitian friends will appreciate this), not all of the sugar in this beverage is added sugar. (Stay with me for a second.) The second ingredient is milk, which is inherently high in lactose - yup, a sugar. You can't take the lactose (sugar) out of milk. Anything made with milk/yogurt or fruit will contain sugar, even if it's not added sugar. Seeing a sugar content on a label doesn't automatically make a product "unhealthy."
4. Does anyone really drink a Venti...or a Grande for that matter? I've had sips of some seasonal Frapps and they are HUGELY sweet - so much so that I am done after a taste or two. Sometimes enjoying a few bites or drinks of something we really want to try satisfies our cravings and allows us to experience something new without putting us into a sugar coma (or literally causing diabetes, like some of these memes have suggested).
5. The sugar shaming has gotten a little out of hand and is borderline offensive. Every post I see on social media of someone excited about this drink is peppered with comments about how much sugar it contains. Why don't we do that for donuts or ice cream or other sweetened beverages? Friend is in Hawaii enjoying shaved ice? Why aren't we looking up its sugar content? What about this Unicorn Frapp makes it OK for people to point out how "unhealthy" something is? I constantly see foods on social media...but I don't go around commenting about their healthfulness (or lack thereof) or shaming the poster about the amount of sugar in their snack. We eat for reasons other than health, and that's OK.
The more you get to know the Feeding Littles philosophy (perhaps through our online courses), the more you will learn that freaking out about the healthfulness of a food, especially one that's not eaten very often, is counterproductive. Kids pick up on our food neuroses and begin to internalize our good versus bad mentality, which can set some kiddos up for struggles with food down the road. If you don't think obsession with healthy foods is a problem, I urge you to read more about orthorexia, or sit with me every day as I work with clients whose lives revolve around food.
Moral of the story? Serve your family tasty, mostly healthy foods and leave some wiggle room for "play foods" (a term coined by Elyse Resch, author of Intuitive Eating). When you eat, pay attention to your food and try to savor the flavors. Don't freak out about a cookie or Frappuccino here or there; sit, enjoy the food, and try to take in the flavors and the experience. Perhaps your taste buds love it but your stomach doesn't, so listen to that signal and make a choice about how that food makes you feel physically. Keep your language around food neutral so that your kids don't think that there are "good foods" and "bad foods." Let them have their fill when you serve desserts without commenting on every bite.
As for me, will I try the Unicorn Frapp? Probably not - but that's mainly because I don't like tart flavors. Chocolate Lava Cake Frappuccino? You best believe I'd have some of that!
Megan and Judy, co-owners of Feeding Littles, bring you helpful info on food, nutrition, picky eating, and feeding young children. Megan McNamee MPH, RDN is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist based in Scottsdale, Arizona. Judy Delaware, OTR/L is an Occupational Therapist specializing in feeding therapy with children 3 and under in Boulder, Colorado. Megan and Judy are both moms of two and love helping families develop a healthy appetite for all foods!