7 Healthier Alternatives to Your Favorite Cozy Holiday Drink Recipes

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.

Cozy holiday drinks don't have to be loaded with sugar. (Image: @kayp via Twenty20)

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

Warm up this winter with less calories and less sugar with this healthier version of hot cocoa. (Image: LIVESTRONG.com/baibaz/iStock/Getty Images)

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).

Getting your cocoa fix at Starbucks is only slightly less offensive, considering a Grande Starbucks Hot Chocolate contains 43 grams of sugar and 480 calories. Somehow, McDonald’s crams 58 grams of sugar — more than Cheesecake Factory or Starbucks — into their 450-calorie hot cocoa.

For a healthier version of hot cocoa, try this recipe from nutrition expert Cynthia Sass, MPH, MA RD, CSSD. It's made with almond milk, sweetened with a bit of honey and has 16 grams of sugar per serving.

McDonald’s Hot Cocoa: 450 calories, 58g sugar, 17g fat

LIVESTRONG Hot Cocoa: 127 calories, 16g sugar, 3g fat

2. Eggnog

Delicious with or without the alcohol, it’s rich and creamy, but still light, thanks to the addition of egg whites. (Image: LIVESTRONG.com/Kate Young)

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.

Starbucks Eggnog: 540 calories, 59g sugar, 25g fat

LIVESTRONG Eggnog: 134 calories, 7g sugar, 10g fat

3. Pumpkin Spice Latte

You can make this delicious and natural homemade pumpkin spice latte, save yourself money, AND make it dairy-free and vegan (if you so desire). (Image: LIVESTRONG.com)

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.

Starbucks PSL: 430 calories, 52g sugar, 19g fat

LIVESTRONG PSL: 115 calories, 15g sugar, 3g fat

4. Matcha Tea Latte

This creamy matcha drink is packed with antioxidants and a hint of caffeine. (Image: LIVESTRONG.com)

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.

Try this drink recipe for a matcha tea latte that has under 100 calories and 13 grams of sugar. Compare that to the Grande version of the Matcha Green Tea Latte from Starbucks, which has nearly triple the calories and sugar.

Starbucks Matcha Tea Latte: 280 calories, 32g sugar, 11g fat

LIVESTRONG Matcha Tea Latte: 99 calories, 13g sugar, 4g fat

5. Hot Toddy

After a late afternoon of raking leaves or shoveling snow, cradle this fall favorite to warm your bones and nurture your soul. (Image: LIVESTRONG.com)

Hot toddies are a classic warm and boozy cold-weather drink that folklore insists helps cure the common cold. While there’s some evidence that the honey in that concoction can help relieve symptoms naturally, that’s as far as the research goes (sorry).

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.

Cheesecake Factory Bourbon & Honey: 290 calories, 31g sugar, 0g fat

LIVESTRONG Hot Toddy: 70 calories, 16g sugar, 0g fat

Get the recipe: Festive Hot Toddy

6. Chai Latte

Vegan chai latte is made creamy with the addition of arrowroot powder. (Image: Maggie Moon)

Chai spices are relatively new to the U.S. palate, yet the flavor is familiar since it’s built on warming spices, including cinnamon and nutmeg, that permeate traditional American winter treats. Research suggests that cinnamon improves blood sugar control in people with diabetes and pre-diabetes.

Starbucks Chai Latte: 270 calories, 42g sugar, 7g fat

LIVESTRONG Chai Latte: 95 calories, 11g sugar, 2.5g fat

Get the recipe: LIVESTRONG Chai Latte

7. Turmeric Latte

Turmerics bioactive ingredient is curcumin, which becomes 2000% more bioavailable to the body when combined with black pepper. (Image: Maggie Moon)

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.

Rebbl Turmeric Golden Milk: 140 calories, 10g sugar, 8g fat

LIVESTRONG Turmeric Latte: 60 calories, 3g sugar, 4.5g fat

Get the recipe: LIVESTRONG Turmeric Latte

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