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Try These Four Festive Lower-Sugar Beverages This Holiday Season

Gloved hands holding a mug of hot chocolate

The holiday season provides an amazing backdrop for spending time with friends, family, and loved ones. For many of us, our holiday gatherings wouldn’t be complete without sampling a favorite seasonal food or beverage.

So how do we enjoy this special time of the year while still working toward our wellness goals? Some simple strategies include moderating portion sizes, maintaining a consistent exercise schedule, and getting creative with healthful ingredient substitutions.

But perhaps one of the best ways to savor the holiday season without sacrificing health is through our beverage choices. You may be surprised to learn that many of the season’s most popular beverages also top the charts in calories and sugar!

The current Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend we limit our calories from added sugars. Added sugars contribute calories, but not necessary nutrients to our diets. While enjoying the festivities this year, keep an eye out for these sugary drinks and consider the swaps below:

Hot Chocolate

A medium hot chocolate from a chain coffee shop can easily contain approximately 300 calories and 45 grams of sugar. The calories climb when whipped cream and flavored syrups are added.

Try making your own hot chocolate instead.

Over low heat, whisk 2 tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa powder and a few drops of vanilla flavored liquid sugar substitute into 1 cup of fat free milk. Lactose intolerant? By using unsweetened almond or cashew milk instead, you’ll reduce this sugar-free beverage to just 35 calories per cup!


Traditional eggnog is made by combining egg yolks, sugar, and whole milk with a variety of spices. This combination creates a beverage with anywhere from 300 to 400 calories and an average sugar content of about 30 grams per 12-ounce serving.

Consider a low fat, premade eggnog as your healthful holiday swap. You can find one in your grocer’s dairy aisle.

Warm the beverage and add your own cinnamon and nutmeg to cut the calories and sugar in half.

Pumpkin Latte

One of the most heavily advertised beverages of the fall and winter season is the pumpkin latte. With versions sold at most cafes, the pumpkin latte is everywhere!

But did you know that a medium pumpkin latte made with whole milk and topped with whipped cream can contain approximately 350 to 400 calories and upwards of 55 grams of sugar?

Downsize to a small and swap whole milk for 1% to significantly reduce the total calories, while still getting 8 to 10 grams of protein. Skip the whipped cream and request pumpkin spice seasoning instead of flavored syrup to cut the sugar content by more than 75 percent.

Spiced Hot Apple Cider

Hot spiced cider is typically prepared by adding brown sugar, rum, and seasonings to apple cider.

The addition of sugar and alcohol leads to a beverage with approximately 280 calories and around 40 grams of sugar per 12-ounce serving. Exchange calories for even more flavor by adding cinnamon sticks, orange zest, and/or cloves instead of sugar.

Also keep in mind that each fluid ounce of an alcohol like rum has about 65 calories. For recipes that call for alcohol, use half the amount or omit it altogether for a flavorful, family-friendly beverage.

Make these simple swaps throughout the holiday season to limit your sugar and calorie intake without sacrificing flavor or fun.

Happy Holidays from the Penn Medicine Bariatric Surgery Team!

About this Blog

Learn about bariatric surgery and get the support you need to continue on your weight-loss journey. We offer workouts, recipes and tips from Bariatric Surgery program team members, and stories from patients like you.

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