There’s a chill in the air in most parts of the country, and these cold, cloudy days mean only one thing for many of us: warm, comforting, and spiced fall drinks. From the queen of fall—the Starbucks pumpkin spice latte—to more down-home drinks like mulled wine and hot chocolate, there are plenty of options to warm your belly and your mood this season.
However, spiced and sweetened drinks often contain too much sugar, says registered dietitian Kate Ingram. “Right now, according to the American Heart Association, Americans consume an average of 17 teaspoons of added sugar per day,” Ingram tells Yahoo Life. “This translates to about 270 calories and zero nutrition.”
Ingram points out that the American Heart Association recommends that men eat no more than 9 teaspoons (36 g, or 150 calories) of added sugars and that women and children eat no more than 6 teaspoons (25 g, or 100 calories) per day.
However, you can still enjoy your favorite sweetened and spiced fall beverages. “While all of these drinks are good as an occasional treat, we have to think of them as just a treat — not an everyday drink,” says Ingram.
Do you feel like you can’t give up your favorite sweet drink? You don’t have to do that. “You can try eating it smaller, get a smaller version or tweak the contents to reduce the sugar bomb effect. If you tweak the ingredients, your taste buds will adapt within weeks, so less sugar will satisfy your sweet tooth.”
Also worth noting: As for fall drinks that many of us are making ourselves, Yahoo Life asked experts to look at some recipes and give us their take, and it’s no surprise that drinks you make yourself are often lower in sugar and calories.
Here’s what Ingram and other nutrition experts think about fall’s most popular drinks — ranked from highest to lowest in sugar content — and how you can still enjoy them without overdoing it on sugar. Read on to see how your favorite cold-weather drink stacks up.
1. Starbucks hot apple cider
Warm apple cider, whether from Starbucks or a local apple farm, is a classic fall drink. However, most applesauce contains shocking amounts of sugar, and this includes Starbucks’ version, which contains twice the recommended amount, notes registered dietitian Meredith Mishan.
“Hot apple juice may seem like a healthy option, but this 16-ounce drink contains 70 grams of sugar,” Mishan tells Yahoo Life. “That’s more than 16 teaspoons. The sugar in this drink comes from the cinnamon syrup, caramel sauce, and vanilla syrup-based whipped cream. If you skip the whipped cream and caramel sauce, you can reduce the sugar in this dessert, which is basically a drinkable dessert.”
2. Starbucks Mint Mocha
If pumpkin spice isn’t your thing, this delicious dessert from Starbucks might be your favorite. However, Mishan tells us that this drink contains more sugar than people might expect.
“A Starbucks Large Peppermint Mocha has more sugar than a pumpkin spice latte — 54 grams,” she says. “That’s 13 teaspoons of added sugar! I would recommend my clients limit this beverage. It definitely shouldn’t be a daily treat.”
Mishan says you can also order smaller amounts of syrup and skip the whipped cream, which contains more syrup. “This can help reduce the overall sugar and calorie content,” she says.
3. Starbucks pumpkin spice latte
The release of this drink means fall for many, even if temperatures are still in the 70s, and one sip gives a lot of warm feelings. However, Ingram warns, it’s not a great idea to have one every day.
“The Grande Pumpkin Spice Latte is not your health friend,” she says. “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 the little protein you get from milk.
Ingram suggests cutting back and cutting back on some of the toppings, so you can enjoy all the fall flavor without all the sugar. “You could try ordering a tall drink instead” — which has 300 calories, 38 grams of sugar and 12 grams of fat — “but that’s still a huge drink,” she says.
Ingram says skipping the whipped cream saves about 70 calories and 7 grams of fat. You can also order drink-less pumps. She says there are generally four pumps in a grande and three in a tall, and each pump contains about 30 calories and 7.5 grams of sugar. “So a tall person with two pumps and no whipped cream has about 200 calories, 30 grams of sugar, and 5 grams of fat,” she says.
4. Starbucks hot chocolate
Most of us know that hot chocolate is more of a treat than an everyday beverage, but if not, the numbers don’t lie, Ingram says. However, compared to some other popular fall drinks, “hot chocolate starts out a little better with 370 calories, 37 grams of sugar, and 16 grams of fat per serving,” she says.
Ingram explains that it is easy to reduce this. “Similar to a latte, you can opt for a tall drink instead for 293 calories and about 30 grams of sugar,” she says. “Without the whipped cream, you’re closer to 200 calories and 9 grams of fat.”
5. Instant hot chocolate
When craving a warm cup of comfort at home, many look no further than a packet of instant hot chocolate. But since they contain about 28 grams of sugar, Ingram recommends not doing it too often. “Instant hot chocolate still contains a day’s worth of sugar” for women, she says. “It also contains corn syrup, hydrogenated coconut oil and other additives.”
Better option? Do it yourself. “Why not make your own from scratch? With cocoa powder and the milk of your choice, you can control the amount of sugar in your hot chocolate and avoid other ingredients,” says Ingram.
6. Espresso martini
This classic drink is back and seems to be on every menu in town, and most of us can’t get enough of it, especially when the weather turns cold. However, like many delicious cocktails, the espresso martini is high in calories and sugar, says registered dietitian Amy Fox.
“The calories in an espresso martini can add up and be high for a single drink,” she tells Yahoo Life. “It also contains 23 grams of sugar. That’s a lot to consider.”
Fox says it’s okay to enjoy if this is your favorite cocktail, but she recommends switching to another drink if you’re ordering a second round or making adjustments to the recipe. “Pick one and then move on to a lighter cocktail option,” says Fox.
“You can also lighten up any espresso martini by switching up the liqueur base,” she adds. “Instead of using a traditional coffee liqueur, try a lower-sugar or sugar-free alternative. Use strong coffee or espresso instead of relying solely on the coffee liqueur.” This gives you control over sweetness and reduces the need for additional sweeteners.
7. Homemade hot drink
Again, drinks you make yourself at home, such as hot drinks, are likely to be lower in sugar and calories.
“Hot Toddy is a relatively low-calorie option compared to other holiday drinks and sweetened cocktails,” says Fox. “This drink contains about 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 hot food doesn’t contain any.
8. Homemade mulled wine
There are few things better than the scent of cinnamon and spice in the air as wine gently warms on the stove, and according to Fox, this is a fall drink you can enjoy that has less sugar than most of the season’s cozy beverages.
Fox points out that a standard serving of mulled wine contains about 13 grams of sugar and 175 calories. “Enjoying a glass of mulled wine during special occasions can be part of a balanced lifestyle,” she says. “But drink carefully and in moderation. If you’re concerned about the sugar content, try making it with red wine. Red wine generally has less sugar than white wine or blend wines.”
9. Homemade hot buttered rum
The calorie bomb in this Hot Buttered Rum Drink is the butter, which is also what makes this drink so creamy and comforting. However, as Fox points out, it has the lowest sugar content on our list.
“Hot buttered rum is a classic drink for the colder months,” she says. The drink contains approximately 316 calories and 11 grams of fat, which is a high percentage for one drink. The sugar content on the lower side is less than 5 grams.
If you want to make your hot buttered rum drink healthier, Fox suggests using low-fat dairy alternatives or reducing the butter in the recipe.
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