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Easy Swaps to Make Your Holiday Latte Healthier

Ordering healthier versions (that still taste delicious) is easier than you think!

Art Credit: Remilla Ty

The twinkling trees, the smell of home cooking, the cozy knit scarves—the holiday season may really be the most wonderful time of the year. And as the medley of festive lattes continues on even past December 25, who would disagree? But do you know what’s in that caffeinated cup of goodness? Most of these drinks are jam-packed with sugar and preservatives—not exactly the healthiest options for your afternoon pick-me-up. Luckily, ordering healthier versions (that still taste delicious) is easier than you think. Here’s a breakdown of three popular holiday drinks and simple swaps to make them better for you.

Gingerbread Latte (16 ounces):
Steamed Milk, ½ Cup Espresso, Gingerbread Syrup, Whipped Cream, Molasses

Vanilla Chai Tea Latte (16 ounces):
Steamed Milk, Spiced Black Tea, Vanilla Syrup, Whipped Cream

Peppermint Hot Chocolate (16 ounces):
Steamed Milk, Mocha Syrup, Whipped Cream

01. Mind the milk.
A standard 16-ounce hot chocolate is made with rich whole milk. Instead, opt for skim or soy milk, which will cut the cholesterol in half. Passing up whole milk can also save you at least 20 milligrams of sodium, a substance that contributes to hypertension and increased heart disease risk when frequently consumed. The average American diet is already extremely high in sodium, so it never hurts to limit intake as much as possible, even in your festive drink.

02. Skip the whipped cream.
This part is like the icing on the cake. Although a dollop makes a tasty topping on your holiday latte, whipped cream is teeming with saturated fat—up to 7 grams of it, if not more. Whipped cream is also the epitome of processed food, as it’s full of high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), artificial flavoring, and preservatives such as potassium sorbate. Essentially, it’s really just a ton of chemicals—something we could certainly do without.

03. Order sugar-free syrup.
Syrup brings in that quintessential holiday flavor, but it also adds a hefty dose of sugar. A 16-ounce Gingerbread Latte made with gingerbread syrup has approximately 40 grams of sugar. Natalie Weiss, RD, LDN, points out, “That’s about the same amount in a [regular] Coca-Cola can, and almost twice the daily recommendation of 25 grams [of sugar].” For a lighter version, request sugar-free syrup. If that isn’t available, or if you don’t like artificial sweeteners, request half the usual amount. Baristas often add two to four pumps of syrup, so asking for just one or two will improve your drink’s sugar content while still leaving that festive flavor you crave.

If you’re up to the challenge, try occasionally skipping the flavored syrup all together. This might turn your drink into a not-so-holiday latte, but forgoing the extra artificial caramel coloring, HFCS, and preservatives might be worth it. Studies have shown that a substance found in caramel coloring, 4-methylimidazole, may be potentially carcinogenic. And other than to dye food products brown, it doesn’t serve a purpose. Syrup is a cocktail of chemicals; limiting the amount that you ingest over time is a great way to be more cognizant of what you are consuming.

04. Size down.
Ordering a smaller beverage makes all the difference. “You’ll still get your fix, without the extra calories and sugar,” explains Natalie Robertello, MS, RD, CDN, of Catholic Medical Partners in Buffalo, New York. For instance, downsizing from a 16-ounce Vanilla Chai Tea Latte to a 12-ounce will cut at least 8 grams of sugar. If you must order a larger size, do so with a balanced approach. Weiss has a great rule of thumb: “If you’re wondering how these drinks should fit into your diet, put them in the dessert category.” This outlook will remind you that it’s possible to enjoy these liquid sweets and still treat your body well. Remember: Indulging in moderation is a healthy move in itself.

Commit to making these swaps and you could end up cutting out plenty of unnecessary sugar and addititives. With so many treats up for grabs this holiday season, sipping smart is a small way to make a big investment in your health. Treat yourself wisely!