MealEnders Blog

Seasonal Coffee Drinks–What’s Really in Them?

By Tami Lyon, MPH, RD
November 24, 2015

Seasonal Coffee

We’ve all heard about the Starbucks red cup controversy. And while America finds itself up in arms about what’s printed on the outside of our coffee cups, few give any thought to what’s lurking inside these contention-causing drink holders, especially when it comes to our favorite seasonal coffee drinks.

Though nothing gets you in the mood for the holidays more than a festive seasonal coffee, these seemingly innocuous hot beverages may be destroying your diet.

Below, we’ve compiled a bubble-bursting list of the worst holiday drink from each coffee chain and help you keep up your healthy eating habits throughout the holiday season.

But first, we have a few rules for this comparison.

Number one: we’re sticking to hot drinks only. Because (a) tis the season, and (b) including cold blended drinks will throw each coffee chain completely off the charts.

Number two: we’re comparing 12oz drinks, whatever your coffee-chain-of-choice chooses to call it. At Starbucks, it’s a Tall.

Number three: we’re assessing the whole milk version of each seasonal coffee, because that’s usually the coffee shop’s default.

Number four: we’re only looking at seasonal selections.

Starbucks: Peppermint Mocha and Caramel Brulee Latte

There’s a time when it comes to calorie-dense seasonal drinks at America’s favorite coffee chain. A Tall of both the Peppermint Mocha and the Caramel Brulee Latte at Starbucks weigh in at 370 calories and 42 grams of sugar. So, it’s easy to understand how these drinks are so delicious. However, it’s not all bad. These drinks do manage to pack in 10 grams of protein, though you’d be much better off fulfilling your protein needs with two eggs, which amount to 12 grams of protein at just 150 calories.

Instead, try drinking: a regular cup of drip coffee with a pump of Starbucks’ Peppermint Syrup or Caramel Brulee Syrup. You’ll get the same seasonal tastes with less than 10 percent of the calories and sugar of the specialty option. Plus, you’ll also save a few bucks.

Peet’s: Eggnog Latte

Made with steamed eggnog, a small cup of this seasonal favorite clocks in at 450 calories and an astounding 52 grams of sugar. That’s essentially a full meal’s worth of calories, with an overload of sugar and practically none of the nutrients (though it will help meet your recommended daily calcium intake). In fact, a 12 oz Peet’s Eggnog Latte contains nearly four times as much sugar as a serving of vanilla ice cream. However, Peet’s gives you the option to replace one-third of the eggnog in your latte with your choice of milk. When that choice is whole milk, which abides by our comparison rules, the calorie count goes down to 360 and sugar down to 39 grams. And though this almost seems healthy compared to the eggnog version, don’t be fooled: it still contains a fifth of the recommended calories per day for a middle aged female, and a few (14) too many grams of sugar (and that’s assuming you get no other sugar that day from other foods, which is nearly impossible).

Instead, try drinking: an Eggnog Cappuccino. It’s not on Peets’ menu, but with half the amount of milk, it’ll help reduce your eggnog consumption (thereby cutting calorie intake)–and you can still indulge in that classic seasonal coffee flavor.

Caribou Coffee: Chai Nog Latte

At Caribou Coffee, it’s easy to overload on calories. Most specialty drinks at this Midwestern coffee chain are basically sugar with a splash of coffee. But hands down, the Chai Nog Latte wins the sugar-packed contest. A Small adds up to 440 calories, and a cavity-inducing 66 grams of sugar. And that’s before topping it off with whipped cream.

Instead, try drinking: a Hot Cinnamon Spice Tea. Add milk for a creamier taste and sweeten it yourself with a tablespoon of honey or a packet of sugar.

Being health conscious doesn’t mean that you need to sit out the holidays. However, it’s important to take note of what foods you’re putting into your body. After all, holiday weight gain isn’t just from indulging at a couple of holiday parties. it’s the cumulative effect of our indulgence throughout the season and our sedentary winter ways.

*Individual Results May Vary