With a chill in the air settling in over much of the country, it only means one thing — Cozy and warming fall drinks for many. From the autumn queen of all drinks, the pumpkin spice latte, to more homey beverages like hot chocolate or mulled wine, several choices are to warm your belly and brighten your fall mood.
However, according to Kate Ingram, a registered dietician nutritionist, sweetened and spiced drinks frequently have too much sugar. “Currently, according to the American Heart Association, Americans consume an average of 17 teaspoons of added sugar every day,” says Ingram. “This translates to about 270 calories and zero nutrition.”
Ingram emphasizes that the AHA recommends men aim for at most nine teaspoons of added sugars, with women and children ingesting at most six teaspoons daily.
But you can still enjoy your favorite spiced and sweetened drinks. “While all these drinks are fine as an occasional treat, we really have to think of them as just that — a treat — not a daily beverage,” says Ingram.
If you feel you must give up your favorite drink, you don’t have to. “You can try having it less often, having a smaller version, or adjusting the contents to decrease the sugar bomb effect. And if you do modify the ingredients, your taste buds will adjust in a matter of weeks so that less sugar will satisfy your sweet tooth.”
Here are how some of your favorite fall drinks stack up.
Homemade mulled wine
There are few things better than the smell of spices and cinnamon in the air as wine gently warms on the stovetop, and it is a fall drink you can enjoy that’s lower in sugar than most cozy seasonal beverages.
A standard mulled wine serving contains approximately 13 grams of sugar and 175 calories. If you imbibe, enjoy it during special occasions, drinking mindfully and in moderation. If you are concerned with sugar content, try to make it with red wine. Red wine generally has a lower sugar content than wine blends or white wines.
Starbucks hot apple cider
A warm apple cider is a classic fall drink. But, must ciders contain shocking amounts of sugar, including Starbucks’s version, which contains double the amount of the recommended amount,” according to Meredith Mishan, registered dietician nutritionist.
“A hot apple cider may sound like a healthier option, but his 16-ounce drink contains a whopping 70 grams of sugar,” said Mishan. “That’s more than 16 teaspoons. The sugar in this drink comes from cinnamon dolce syrup, caramel sauce, and the whipped cream, which contains vanilla syrup.” If you skip the caramel sauce and whipped cream, you can cut down on the sugar, which is basically a drinkable dessert.
Instant hot chocolate
When you crave a warm cup of comfort, many look to a packet of instant hot chocolate. But, with 28 grams of sugar, Ingram recommends not drinking it often. “Instant hot chocolate still has a day’s worth of sugar” for women, she says. “It also contains corn syrup, hydrogenated coconut oil, and other additives.”
What is a better option? Make it yourself. “Why not make your own from scratch? With cocoa powder and the milk you choose, you control the sugar in your hot chocolate and other ingredients,” says Ingram.
Starbucks peppermint mocha
This sweet treat may be your holiday drink of choice. But Mishan says this drink has more sugar than people may expect.
“A grande peppermint mocha from Starbucks has even more sugar than pumpkin spice latte — 54 grams,” says Mishan. “That’s 13 teaspoons of added sugar! I would recommend my clients to limit this beverage. It definitely should not be an everyday treat.”
According to Mishan, you can also ask for fewer syrup pumps and skip the whipped cream flavored with more syrup. “This can help decrease the overall sugar and calorie content,” she said.
Homemade hot buttered rum
The massive calorie bomb in buttered rum is the butter, which makes this drink so comforting and creamy. But it has the lowest sugar comment on this list.
Hot buttered rum is a classic drink in chillier months. The drink contains around 316 calories and 11 grams of fat, considered high for one drink. The sugar content is on the lower side, at under five grams.
To make a hot buttered rum a bit healthier, use lower-fat dairy alternatives or reduce the butter in the recipe.
Starbucks pumpkin spice latte
The launch of this Starbucks autumn drink signals fall for many. However, Ingram cautions that having every day isn’t a great idea.
“A Grande Pumpkin Spice Latte is not super-friendly to your health,” said Ingram. “At 390 calories, 50 grams of sugar, and 14 grams of fat, it’s like a small meal with almost no nutritional value,” except for some protein from the milk.
Ingram suggests cutting back and downsizing on a few extras to enjoy the fall flavors minus the sugar. “You can try ordering a Tall instead.” A tall has 300 calories, 12 grams of fat, and 38 grams of sugar, “But that’s still a heavy beverage,” said Ingram.
By skipping the whipped cream, you can save about 70 calories and seven grams of fat, according to Ingram. Additionally, you can request fewer pumps of syrup. There are typically four pumps in a Grande and three in a Tall, says Ingram, with each pump having about 30 calories and 7.5 grams of sugar. “So, a Tall with two pumps and no whipped cream comes in at around 200 calories, 30 grams of sugar, and five grams of fat.”
This classic drink is back and seems to appear on many restaurants’ menus. However, like many delicious cocktails, the espresso martini packs a sugar and calorie punch, says Amy Fox, registered dietician.
“The calories in an espresso martini can add up and are high for one drink,” said Fox. “It also has 23 grams of sugar. This is a considerable amount to be mindful of.”
Fox says that while it is okay to indulge if this is your favorite cocktail, she recommends switching it up for a different drink if you have a second round or making recipe adjustments. “Go for one and then move to a lighter cocktail option.”
Fox added, “You can also lighten up any espresso martini by swapping the liquor base. Instead of using a traditional coffee liquor, try a lower-sugar or sugar-free alternative. Use strong-brewed coffee or espresso instead of relying solely on a coffee liqueur. This allows you to control the sweetness and reduce the need for additional sweeteners.”
Starbucks hot chocolate
Most know that hot chocolate is more of a treat than a daily drink, but if not, numbers don’t lie, according to Ingram. Compared to other fall drinks, however, “hot chocolate starts off a bit better with 370 calories, 37 grams of sugar, and 16 grams of fat for a Grande,” she said.
However, it’s easy to cut back, explains Ingram. “Similar to the lattes, you could opt for a Tall instead to get down to 293 calories and about 30 grams of sugar,” she said. “With no whipped cream, you are closer to 200 calories and 9 grams of fat.”
Homemade hot toddy
Drinks you make yourself at home, including a hot toddy, are more likely to be lower in calories and sugar.
“The hot toddy is a relatively low-calorie choice compared to other holiday drinks and sweetened cocktails,” said Fox. “This drink contains around 13.7 grams of sugar, which is a fair amount and important to keep in mind. When it comes to fat, the good news is that the hot today contains none.”