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Why Nutritionists Say Dunkin’s ‘Charli’ Coffee Should Only Be an Occasional Treat

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The “Charli” coffee drink at Dunkin’ has fewer calories than other specialty coffees, but nutritionists warn it’s loaded with sugar. Getty Images
  • The “Charli” coffee drink at Dunkin’ is popular with fans of TikTok star Charli D’Amelio.
  • The cold brew with caramel swirls and whole milk has fewer calories than other specialty coffee drinks, but nutritionists say it’s loaded with sugar.
  • They advise coffee drinkers, especially those in their teen years, to make drinks like the Charli an occasional treat.

Charli D’Amelio has more than 86 million followers on her TikTok and 6 billion likes on her videos.

Now the 16-year-old social media star also has a specialty namesake drink in partnership with Dunkin’.

D’Amelio’s social media clout is undeniable.

This week, for example, her revelation that she has an eating disorder was widely covered.

For many of her fans, the “Charli” is their coffee drink of choice.

Devotees have been ordering the Charli — a medium Dunkin’ cold brew with whole milk and three pumps of caramel swirl — for years.

Now, with the company formerly endorsing and branding the beverage and making it available both at stores and as an order-ahead option on the company’s mobile app, it’s fair to ask:

Just how healthy is this fad beverage?

Compared to other specialty drinks, like Starbucks Frappuccinos (59 grams of sugar and more than 400 calories) or a pumpkin spice latte (52 grams of sugar, 14 grams of fat, and 380 calories), the Charli is relatively healthy.

The medium-sized drink clocks in at 200 calories, with 1.5 grams of fat and 41 grams of sugar.

That sugar might be cause for concern, however, says Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, RDN, a nutritionist who leads the Wellness Institute at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio.

“It’s really the sugar that concerns me with any specialty coffee drink since typically 100 percent of it is considered added sugar,” Kirkpatrick told Healthline.

“In many of these drinks, they exceed daily limitations. This is a concern for both adults and teens as sugar impacts them both the same by increasing the risk of heart disease, weight gain, and inflammation when consumed in large amounts, and especially when it replaces healthy whole food options,” she said.

The American Heart Association recommends that men consume no more than 37 grams, or 9 teaspoons, of added sugar daily, while women should consume only 25 grams, or 6 teaspoons, daily.

Put another way, “the 41 grams of sugar in [the Charli] is the equivalent of taking three cups of coffee and pouring 10 packets of sugar in it,” Katie Ferraro, MPH, RDN, CDE, a dietitian and nutrition communications consultant, told Healthline.

So, the Charli is on the sugary side. But how likely is it to become a daily drink among D’Amelio’s fans and non-fans who are simply looking for a new coffee formulation?

For Nicolette Pierre, a 21-year-old from Middletown, New York, the Charli hit the spot.

“Results came in. The drink was really good,” she told Healthline. “Ever since I started drinking iced coffee almost 7 years ago, I always get the same thing: caramel iced coffee with cream and sugar. This was the very first time I tried a new coffee and I actually liked it.”

Pierre follows D’Amelio on TikTok but didn’t decide to try the drink until she saw it trending on Twitter.

Meanwhile, D’Amelio’s direct promotion drew Niah P., a 19-year-old attending college in Buffalo, New York, to try the drink.

“I consider myself a fan,” she told Healthline. “She’s a great dancer. Of course, I don’t personally know her, but she seems like a sweet, funny, and genuine person through TikTok.”

The Charli is pretty close to Niah’s usual iced coffee double-double (2 teaspoons of sugar and two creams) with a shot of caramel from Tim Horton’s but not as sweet, she says.

And she just might be making the switch from Tim’s to Dunkin’.

“Since it’s not as sweet as I usually make mine and tastes just as good, I’d prefer the Charli,” she said.

If you like cold, sugary coffee drinks, it seems the Charli might be worth a try.

Just don’t make it a daily drink, nutritionists advise.

That goes double for teens, Kirkpatrick says.

“Teens are still growing, which means they require a set amount of healthy fats, protein, and complex carbs each day. They also require plenty of vitamins and minerals,” she said. “Given this, consuming too many sugary drinks could in fact fill them up and essentially replace healthier calories.”

Ferraro agrees.

“I’d caution teens, if that is the target market, that this is a ‘sometimes food’ to be enjoyed on occasion,” she said. “This drink has 10 teaspoons of added sugar, so it’s more sugar in a drink than you should have in a day.”

For Pierre, that’s just how she sees it.

“I used to get an iced coffee almost every day,” she said. “I recently invested in a Keurig machine, but every once in a while it’s good to spoil yourself.”