When the weather outside is frightful, keeping warm with a hot beverage can be delightful! Because many favorite wintry drinks are sweetened, it’s easy to get carried away with sugar and calories. The two main sources of added sugars in the U.S. diet are sugar-sweetened drinks and sweet snacks, with sweetened beverages accounting for nearly half of all added sugars consumed. However, small changes in your drink order can equal big savings in calories and added sugar.
- Request less syrup. To find out how much syrup/flavoring is in a drink, go to the coffee shop’s website to see nutrition facts. For context, a single pump of flavored syrup can provide 5+ grams of added sugar.
- Try a smaller size. You can still enjoy your favorite drink, but with a fraction of the sugar! For example, we found a large (20 ounce) chai latte with 13 teaspoons of sugar; a medium (16 ounce) chai latte with 10.5 teaspoons; and a small (12 ounce) chai latte with 8 teaspoons of added sugar. Choosing a small chai latte instead of large cuts out 5 teaspoons of added sugar.
- Know your coffee shops’ lingo. Many shops use terms like “lightly sweet” or “skinny” to refer to drinks with less added sugar. Selecting a “skinny” or less sweet drink helps cut down on added sugar. For example, a medium iced skinny cinnamon dolce latte supplies only 2.5 teaspoons of added sugar compared to the 9 teaspoons found in a regular medium-sized version.
- Reconsider coffee toppings. While whipped cream, caramel and/or chocolate drizzle toppings are decadent and tasty, they add a heap of empty calories and added sugar. Going “light on whip” or skipping syrups can cut out calories without compromising flavor.
- Mix it up. Consider occasionally switching up a sweet drink order with a seasonal unsweetened tea. Simply reducing the frequency of ordering sweet drinks is an effective strategy for cutting down on sugar.
- DIY. When you make your drink yourself, you can more easily control how much sugar you add. Check out our riff on a rich chocolately classic—healthier hot chocolate! Our version has less than half the sugar of a Starbucks short hot chocolate.
Reasons to cut down on added sugar
Sugar-sweetened beverages aren’t as filling as food, so it’s easy to drink a lot of calories without even knowing it! Because sugar-sweetened beverages have calories and few essential nutrients, they are considered “empty calories.” In excess, empty sugar calories can be a contributor to the development of many diseases, including obesity, type 2 diabetes and some types of cancers.
Added sugars increase flavor, add color, improve texture, and can be used for preservation. Don’t worry—there is room for some sweets and treats in a healthy diet. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend consuming less than 10% of calories from added sugar each day. For someone who needs 2,000 calories per day, 10% equals 50 grams of added sugar. However, the American Heart Association has more stringent guidelines for added sugar, recommending women consume less than 24 grams per day and men less than 36 grams per day. Some drinks can reach higher than 70 grams of added sugar in a 16-ounce serving. The tips above will keep your added sugar in check!
For delicious recipes, nutrition tips, and cooking and nutrition classes, go to the Kendall Reagan Nutrition Center website. More health tips are also available at the College of Health and Human Sciences Pinterest board.