When it’s cold outside, a warm cup of something cozy is delightful, but all the added sugar from your favorite holiday drinks can lead to holiday weight gain as well as longterm health problems like diabetes. Added sugar isn’t the devil, but should be used judiciously where it counts most and ideally not consumed every day. Unfortunately, America’s most popular chain restaurants and cafes make it all too easy to mindlessly guzzle tons of sugar in holiday-beverage form.
The daily recommended max on added sugar, according to the American Heart Association, is 6 teaspoons for women (25 grams, 100 calories) and 9 for men (36 grams, 150 calories). Keep reading for an honest look at how much sugar, fat and calories your favorite holiday drinks are packing, along with LIVESTRONG-created healthier holiday drink recipe alternatives that will leave you feeling warm and cozy this winter.
1. Hot Cocoa
Hot chocolate on a cold day is one of life’s greatest pleasures. But if you happen to indulge in a hot cocoa from the Cheesecake Factory, just know that this “treat” contains 53 grams of sugar, or more than double the day’s recommended limit for added sugar for women, not to mention a full meal’s worth of calories (780 calories).
A Grande Eggnog at Starbucks comes with a whopping 59 grams of sugar and 540 calories. Unless you’re an elite athlete with unusually high calorie requirements, this probably doesn’t fit into your daily energy needs (and even if you are an elite athlete, there are more nutritious ways to get your calories). At the very least, because Starbucks drinks are customizable, you can choose to have fewer pumps of sweetener, a lighter milk or forego the whip cream.
Alternatively, you can save yourself 400 calories and 52 grams of sugar by making a batch of this eggnog recipe, which doesn’t skimp on the indulgent ingredients like whole milk and whiskey, it just asks you to savor a smaller portion. If you want to make it a mocktail (which will cut down the calories even more), sub in an ounce of pure vanilla extract plus three ounces of water for the whiskey.
3. Pumpkin Spice Latte
The holiday season just isn’t complete without a #PSL. In theory, enjoying antioxidant-rich seasonal spices in a warm beverage is a good thing. Research suggests that ginger, an essential component of pumpkin spice, has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties. But the Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte also contains 13 teaspoons of inflammatory sugar and 430 calories. Save 300 calories and 37 grams of sugar by trying this vegan version of the drink recipe that somehow still manages to be frothy and rich.
4. Matcha Tea Latte
Matcha is giving green tea new popularity, and it’s a trend that health professionals can support. A recent review of nearly 50 studies found that the plant compounds in green tea (including matcha) helped people stay alert (thank you caffeine) but also calm (thank you L-theanine). This combination improved performance in multi-tasking as well as sustained attention and memory, which sounds like exactly what we need during the busy holiday season.
5. Hot Toddy
There are many variations, but the classic hot toddy recipe revolves around some type of whiskey, honey, lemon juice and hot water. As far as warm and cozy drinks go, choosing something along these lines over a chocolate or eggnog beverage is generally a smarter choice. However, it’s still important to beware of portions and how much sugar is added. A similar drink to the hot toddy from Cheesecake Factory contains close to 300 calories and 31 grams of added sugar.
The hot toddy is a simple drink that you can make at home, no mixology credentials required. Try this recipe that includes black tea for oxidative-stress fighting polyphenols and added flavor.
6. Chai Latte
7. Turmeric Latte
The turmeric latte, or “golden milk” latte, is all over the internet thanks to the emerging science on curcumin’s anti-inflammatory properties (curcumin is the bioactive component of turmeric). Surprisingly, turmeric lattes aren't yet readily available at chain restaurants and cafes. But it's only a matter of time until we see the drink on every chain cafe menu in the U.S., given that Starbucks has already added a turmeric latte to its menu at locations in the greater London area.
Until then, there are powders and recipes galore, as well as some bottled versions, such as one from Rebbl, which comes in at a reasonable 140 calories and 10 grams of sugar. The question is whether turmeric lattes even need that much sugar to taste good.
Personal taste (or tolerance) for sweetness may vary, but we've found that reducing the sugar in every recipe we've ever seen by 25 percent causes minimal to no noticeable difference in taste or texture. Give our recipe a try and you be the judge — it could save you 80 calories and 7 grams of sugar.