It’s officially that time of year: We’re making our list and checking it twice, and saying goodbye to pumpkin spice lattes and hello to peppermint mochas.
Yep, it’s officially holiday-themed latte and mocha season at every coffee chain, but we took a look at the items on Starbucks’ popular menu in particular. Just how bad (or good) are those chestnut praline and salted caramel lattes? Which holiday coffee beverages are perfectly fine holiday treats, and which ones are full-fledged sugar and calorie bombs? Here’s what nutritionists had to say, plus some advice for making these drinks a little healthier (because honestly, none of them are too great!).
Iced Sugar Cookie Almond Milk Latte: B+
No, you won’t find this at every coffee chain. But if you happen to swing by a Starbucks, you can be sure that this beverage won’t wreak much havoc on your health.
“At only 150 calories, 3.5 grams of total fat, 0 grams of saturated fat and 25 grams of added sugar, this is a nice treat that will not totally ruin your day of nutrition intake,” said Kylene Bogden, a registered dietitian and wellness adviser for Love Wellness.
But registered dietitian Tracy Lockwood Beckerman noted that the almond milk has a surprising downside. “It pulls in the lowest amount of protein, so it’s more likely to leave you hungry afterwards and craving more sweets,” she said.
Starbucks uses a syrup that contains a whopping 38 grams of sugar, but some coffee shops use a spice blend that contains much less. Always read the nutrition facts if you’re being careful about your sugar intake.
Again, depending on where you go, a chai latte can either be pretty good for you or pack way too much sugar and no health benefits.
“Because chai tea is typically a blend of top-notch spices like black tea, cinnamon, cloves, ginger and cardamom, it’s likely to contain the most health perks like improved circulation, heart health and digestion,” Beckerman said. “However, places may use chai tea concentrate, so it may not truly contain enough of the herbs and spices to lead to any health benefits.”
At Starbucks, chai comes in the form of a syrup that’s loaded with sugar. A grande chai latte from Starbucks, for example, contains 42 grams of sugar. That’s way more than the recommended amount for adults — added sugars should be no more than 10% of your daily caloric intake, according to the USDA’s dietary guidelines.
Beckerman’s advice? Only get chai lattes from coffee shops that don’t use a concentrate.
Bogden refers to the peppermint mocha as a “human health bomb,” noting that a grande peppermint mocha at Starbucks contains 54 grams of sugar. But if you visit a coffee shop that uses real peppermint instead of peppermint-flavored syrup, you may be able to get some health benefits.
“Besides fresh breath, peppermint can improve digestion, congestion and may even help with headaches,” Beckerman said. “Plus, the antioxidants in peppermint may be able to improve immunity, too.”
Nutritionally speaking, the eggnog latte doesn’t look great at first glance. As Bogden noted, a grande at Starbucks has the most saturated fat across the board and 52 grams of sugar (yikes).
The eggnog latte is by no means healthy, but Beckerman did note that there are some nutritional benefits — one being that it has 17 grams of protein. “Because we are working with the egg whites and milk, we are left with more robust nutritional makeup like vitamin A and D and a heftier protein profile than most of the other beverages,” she said. “Because of that, you are more likely to walk away more full and satisfied.”
Chestnut Praline Latte: D
The Starbucks chestnut praline latte is packed with sugar (although not the most sugar, at 39 grams for a grande). But Beckerman noted that it really doesn’t come with any health benefits, other than protein from the milk.
Sorry, salted caramel latte lovers, but Bogden deemed this one the absolute worst holiday beverages at Starbucks: “470 calories, 10 grams of saturated fat, 59 grams of sugar — that’s more than double the daily recommended intake for added sugar.”
Beckerman echoed this, adding, “Typically made with milk and caramel syrup or caramel sauce, this is a sugar-loaded beverage with little to no nutrition perks. You’ll be getting a little bit of protein thanks to the dairy milk, but nutritionally speaking, this one is pretty meek.”
Hacks for making your holiday beverages healthier
If you’re feeling a little bit down after finding out just how … not great a lot of these holiday coffee beverages are, worry not: With a few simple hacks, you can make your favorites a bit healthier.
“With any of these lattes, the best idea is to kindly ask your barista for half the amount of flavoring pumps to reduce the amount of added sugar, no whipped cream, and to adjust the milk to your dietary and health preferences,” Beckerman said. “You can also ask them for the smallest size possible so you can get a dose of the goodness without it bogging down your health.”
Or better yet, Bogen said, make these beverages at home.
“In order to mass-produce these lovely little drinks, these companies must order ingredients in bulk,” she said. “Tons of preservatives are added to basic ingredients when you buy them in bulk — for example, you will find additives like potassium sorbate and carrageenan in Starbucks whipped cream. When you make them at home, these delicious drinks can be made almost entirely from whole foods.”
A little indulgence, especially around the holidays, is always a good idea. Should you have most of these holiday coffee drinks every day? Probably not — but with a tweak or two or smaller size, you should free to sip away (in moderation!) this December.