The holiday season is upon us, and for many, this time of year means cozying up with a warm drink in hand. Starbucks never fails to delight us with a lineup of festive and flavorful Christmas beverages in their signature red cups. But are there healthy Christmas Starbucks drinks?
While these seasonal drinks are known for their indulgent flavors and comforting warmth, it’s possible to enjoy them in a healthier way. As a dietitian, I’ll offer some tips to choose more nutritious options at Starbucks for a guilt-free holiday season.
The Power of Choice in Creating Healthy Christmas Starbucks Drinks
Before we dive into specific drink options, it’s important to highlight that Starbucks offers a range of customization and choices. This empowers you to make healthier selections to match your dietary preferences, whether you’re focused on reducing sugar, calories, or dairy.
In general, you can request fewer pumps of syrup as each pump has about 30 calories and 7.5 g sugar. (There are generally 4 pumps in a Grande and 3 in a Tall). You can also skip the whipped cream to save yourself about 70 calories and 7 grams of fat.
Choosing sugar-free syrup or nonfat milk instead of whole milk is also a great way to get a drink with fewer calories. Don’t hesitate to communicate your preferences with the barista at Starbucks or other coffee shops, and they’ll be happy to help create the perfect drink for you.
Classic Christmas Coffee
Starbucks holiday drinks are a classic of the season to most of us, but because they are often high in calories and sugar it’s best to enjoy them in moderation. The key is to be mindful of the toppings and additional ingredients.
Still want festive flavors but less sugar and calories in your seasonal beverages? Here’s how to adjust some of your favorites to achieve healthy Christmas Starbucks drinks:
Peppermint Mocha Latte
Introduced in 2002, the Peppermint Mocha has been a favorite for over 20 years! It features Starbucks Espresso Roast with steamed milk, mocha sauce, and peppermint-flavored syrup, topped with whipped cream and dark chocolate curls.
A Grande latte comes in at a hefty 440 calories, 16 g fat, and 54 g sugar. Because it has both syrup and mocha sauce, the sugar content of this drink is extremely high.
To make it a little more nutrition-friendly, get a smaller size and ask for fewer pumps of syrup and mocha sauce. You can also skip the whipped cream to lighten up your drink.
Toasted White Chocolate Mocha
Similar to the Peppermint Mocha, this drink has both a sauce (white chocolate mocha sauce) and a syrup (vanilla syrup) plus whipped cream, so it comes with lots of calories and sugar. A Grande is 420 calories, 15 g fat, and 55 g sugar.
And also similar to the Peppermint Mocha, you can make it less of a diet bomb by getting a smaller size, fewer pumps of syrup and mocha sauce, and skipping the whipped cream.
Chestnut Praline Latte
The Chestnut Praline Latte combines espresso, steamed milk, chestnut praline syrup, and chestnut praline crumbs on top.
A Grande in this one provides 330 calories, 14 g fat, and 38 g sugar. To make this option a bit healthier, request fewer pumps of syrup, and consider swapping out the whipped cream for a dollop of steamed milk foam.
Caramel Brulée Latte
The Caramel Brulée Latte is another holiday favorite, featuring espresso, steamed milk, caramel brulée sauce, whipped cream, and caramel brulée bits.
A Grande iced version of this latte comes in at 400 calories, 16 g fat, and 44 g sugar. Again, you can ask for fewer pumps of sauce and skip the whipped cream to cut back on sugar and calories.
Another sweet treat to get you in the holiday spirit, the Eggnog Latte has 450 calories, 18 g fat, and 52 g sugar. This latte contains eggnog, milk, espresso, and nutmeg. It’s hard to whittle down the calories since eggnog is made from eggs, heavy cream, milk, and lots of sugar.
Iced Sugar Cookie Almondmilk Latte
Back for the third year is the Iced Sugar Cookie Almondmilk Latte, which combines Starbucks Blonde Espresso, with sugar-cookie flavored syrup, ice, and almond milk, topped with red and green sprinkles. This one is available hot, iced, and as a Frappuccino®.
This treat comes in a bit lighter than some of the others with a Grande containing 150 calories, 3.5 g fat, and 25 grams of sugar. Still, opting for fewer pumps of syrup is a good idea to bring the total grams of sugar down.
Oleato Gingerbread Oatmilk Latte
For those of us who value the health benefits of olive oil, Starbucks is introducing the Oleato Gingerbread Oatmilk Latte in some stores.
This option is a bit higher in fat at 20g for a Grande, and has 350 calories and 21 g sugar. You can still opt for fewer pumps of syrup to get the sugar content down, but this one might be a good option for you if you enjoy a gingerbread latte and the taste and smoothness of olive oil.
Want to learn about some of the health benefits of olive oil? Check out our post Cold Pressed Olive Oil vs Regular: Which is Better?
Prefer hot cocoa to coffee? The Hot Chocolate starts off a bit better than some of the lattes with 370 calories, 37g sugar, and 16g fat for a Grande.
If you choose a Tall instead you get the total down to 293 calories and about 30g sugar. Skip the whipped cream and you are closer to 200 calories and 9g fat.
Starbucks also offers a Skinny Hot Chocolate that uses “skinny mocha sauce” and sugar-free vanilla syrup that comes in at 170 calories, 17g sugar, and 1.5g fat.
This does however contain additives like carrageenan and xanthan gum (which are thickeners) to take the place of all that sugar, so still best to drink in moderation.
Wondering what xanthan gum even is? See our post Psyllium Husk vs Xanthan Gum: Which is Better for Your Needs?
Iced Gingerbread Oatmilk Chai
More of a tea drinker? There’s an option for you! The Iced Gingerbread Oatmilk Chai.
Made with Starbucks chai concentrate, chai syrup, and oat milk, this one comes in at 360 calories, 10 g fat, and 45 g sugar. Your best bet here once again is to opt for a smaller size and request fewer pumps of syrup.
Now you know how to adjust the calories, sugar, and fat to create healthy Christmas Starbucks drinks, but what milk should you choose?
What is the Best Milk to Choose to Create Healthy Christmas Starbucks Drinks?
Is it just me, or does anyone else find choosing a milk extremely complicated? So many options! You can go with traditional dairy or multiple varieties of plant-based alternatives.
What is the best milk to choose at Starbucks? Their default option is a 2% dairy. You can also request whole, nonfat, half and half, heavy cream, or vanilla sweet cream.
2% milk will give you about 130 calories, 8 g protein, and 5 g fat (3 g saturated). It also provides about 25% of your daily calcium and vitamin D.
If you prefer a plant-based milk you have several options, all of which are fortified with calcium and vitamin D. However, they vary quite a bit on other nutrients. You can choose:
If you have dairy or soy allergies, oatmilk can be a good choice for you. It is a bit lower in calories (80) and fat (4 g) than dairy and also provides 2 g of fiber. However, it is lower in protein (about 2.5 g/cup).
And while there are concerns about glyphosate (a widely used herbicide sprayed on crops that can have negative effects on the human nervous system)(1) in oat products, Starbucks uses Oatley brand oatmilk which has been found in testing to not contain glyphosate.
However, oatmilk can cause more of a spike in blood sugar because most of the fiber from the oats is removed when oat milk is produced. In addition, the main sugar in oatmilk is maltose (vs lactose in dairy) which causes blood sugar to rise and can interfere with glucose readings (2).
So if that is a concern to you, you may want to choose another option.
Almond milk is generally the lowest in calories (30) and fat (3 g), but also contains very little protein (1 g/cup).
There are also concerns about pesticide residue on almonds. Starbucks uses Califia Almond Milk which gets a 4.5 score (out of 10) from the Environmental Working Group (3).
Soy milk has about 110 calories and 4 g of fat. It contains the most protein of any of the plant-based options (8 g/cup). However, it does have added sugar.
Starbucks has its own special organic blend of soy milk. Their soy milk is sweetened with evaporated cane juice and vanilla flavoring so go easy on other syrups if you choose this option.
Their soy milk also contains other additives, some of which are controversial like carrageenan, a thickener that may have adverse effects on gastrointestinal health (4).
Starbucks uses Single Origin Sumatra Coconut Milk, which is made from water and coconut cream. It is 80 calories per cup, with 5 g fat but only 2 g of protein. It also contains added sugar, so this may not be the best option if you are watching your sugar intake.
In addition, it contains ingredients that aren’t necessarily considered natural, including carrageenan, gellan gum, corn dextrin, xanthan gum, and guar gum.
Phew! Lots to think through! Focus on the nutrients that are of biggest concern to you when making your decision.
Benefits of Crafting Healthy Christmas Starbucks Drinks
The American Heart Association (AHA) estimates that Americans currently get 17 teaspoons of added sugar on average every day. This corresponds to roughly 270 calories and little nutritional value.
According to the AHA, we should strive for no more than 9 tsp (36g or 150 calories) for men and no more than 6 tsp (25g or 100 calories) for women (5).
Too much added sugar is associated with heart disease, diabetes, tooth decay, and obesity. Beverages rank among the leading sources of added sugars; soft drinks are the primary offenders, but sweetened coffee and tea also play a part.
So while I enjoy a festive drink as much as the next gal (Chestnut Praline no whip is my seasonal fav), we do need to consider them treats rather than everyday drinks.
By making small changes, you can savor the holiday season without sacrificing your health goals. Remember, moderation is key, and it’s all about finding the balance between enjoying the flavors of the season and maintaining your well-being.
Cheers to healthier and more festive holidays!
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Kate is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and certified yoga instructor with a Master’s in Public Health. She loves to share what she has learned about nutrition and yoga to help people live healthier, more balanced lives. When not working on this blog or teaching yoga, Kate is usually spending time with family and friends or reading a good book.