Ah, the magical time of the year where coffee shops switch out their boring cups for red ones, create a winter wonderland atmosphere, and convince us to spend $6 on a holiday drink. While a Peppermint Mocha or Eggnog Latte may be exactly what you crave during those cold December days to lift your holiday spirits, they can pack in a ton of extra empty calories, fat and sugar. Since we know it can be a challenge to maintain weight during the holidays (stay tuned for my upcoming blog post), specialty drinks are one area that we can limit and modify to help keep our weight, blood sugar, and overall wellbeing in check.

While I don’t usually encourage fixating on numbers when it comes to food, I don’t think that many people understand what goes into a holiday drink. I looked up the Starbucks Beverage Nutrition Information (found on their website) and posted the nutrition facts of a few classic holiday drinks here:

Caramel Brûlé Latte, Grande, 2% milk, whip: 440 calories, 13g fat, 54g sugar

Gingerbread Latte, Grande, whole milk, whip: 360 kcal, 18g fat, 38g sugar

Eggnog Latte, Grande, soy milk: 460 kcal, 19g fat, 48g sugar

Peppermint Mocha, Tall, 2% milk, whip: 350 kcal, 13g fat, 42g sugar

Peppermint White Chocolate Mocha, Venti, whole milk, whip: 710 kcal, 26g fat, 99g sugar (YIKES!)

Pumpkin Spice Latte, Tall, 2% milk, whip: 300 kcal, 11g fat, 39g sugar

As you can see, these drinks are just as much or even more calories than a whole meal, and account for more added sugar than should be eaten over the whole day! Add in a holiday cookie, and your quick coffee break can wreck serious havoc on your health goals!

I don’t mean to scare you and turn you off of your favourite holiday drinks, but just wanted to outline these facts, as they were even surprising to me! But have no fear; here are some tips for modifying these festive lattes to make them a little bit healthier!

1. Seasonal drinks. Holiday drinks may only be marketed at the start of #pumpkinspice season (early September), but are actually available all year round! A similar latte base is used for most drinks, but the flavour is altered based on the combination of syrups and toppings. If you want a Peppermint Mocha in the middle of July, chances are your barista can make one for you (it may not come in a red cup, but it will taste the same!) Therefore, the excuse “I need to drink a lot of these during the holiday season while they’re available” is NOT valid!

2. Skip the whip! I know that the crushed candy cane and gingerbread crumble sit perfectly on that mound of creamy whip, but it adds about an extra 80 calories to the drink! There’s no rule that says you have to get whip in order to have the toppings. Alternatively, ask the barista to spray less on top.

3. Type of milk. To cut down on calories and fat, ask for skim or 1% milk rather than whole milk. While soy milk is a great non-dairy alternative, it is not much lower in calories than low fat milk (a common misconception). Coconut milk is high in saturated fat, so should be enjoyed in moderation. Lastly, nut milks are a low calorie and fat alternative, but contain little protein and may not steam or froth as well.

4. Cut down on the syrups. Even a Tall sized drink has 3 pumps of syrup, and that number increases as the cup size does. Because the syrups are such a concentrated source of flavour and sugar, asking for half sweet (aka half the pumps) will likely still be flavourful and sweet enough. You can also ask for sugar-free syrups or add spices at the counter (cinnamon, nutmeg, etc).

5. Cup size. Of course we all have those days where even a Venti coffee doesn’t seem like enough to wake us up. However, as listed above, this size is like eating more than a meal, but with little nutrients and satiating calories. A more appropriate portion size would be a short or tall, and rather add an extra espresso shot for that caffeine boost without the additional calories.

6. Limit a holiday drink to once per week. I get that a daily Starbucks may be part of your morning ritual, which is hard to break. But 1 holiday drink per day, can add up to $30 and 1000 extra calories per week!! Therefore, limiting these special drinks will really save both your financial and caloric budget. Instead, aim for drip coffee, teas, or unsweetened skim milk lattes the rest of the week.

7. Make it yourself! There’s no denying that homemade is always the best option in terms of taste, nutrition, and cost. Here is my recipe for a healthier peppermint mocha:

  • 1 bag chocolate mint tea (President’s Choice has a version), steeped
  • ¼ cup skim milk, frothed (using a milk frother or on the stove)
  • 1 tsp unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp crushed candy canes
  • Boil water and steep tea in a mug. While steeping, froth milk. Once frothy, pour on top of tea. Sprinkle cocoa powder and crushed candy canes on top of milk.

Final message: There will be plenty of opportunities to enjoy holiday drinks and festive treats at upcoming parties. Have these treats only during that time, where you can savour the taste and truly enjoy the experience, rather than mindlessly sipping your coffee while working.

Happy Holidays!