Think Twice Before Ordering These Starbucks Holiday Drinks

They're finally here! Along with cooler weather, warm sweaters, sugar cookies, and Hallmark's annual Countdown to Christmas, Starbucks' holiday beverage lineup and their festive red cups have become a big part of our annual holiday celebrations. It's a small wonder then that many of us get a little bit giddy when the time comes that we can all start knocking back coffees in festive flavors like Peppermint Mocha, Caramel Brûlée, and Chestnut Praline Latte.

But, just because they fill us with good cheer and make the dark days a bit brighter doesn't necessarily mean that they're good for us, particularly because those yummy flavors come with a cost denominated in excess sugar and empty calories. It's the reason Dr. Elizabeth Klingbeil, a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist who also works as an Assistant Professor at Johnson & Wales University, tells Mashed that, while we might be tempted to indulge a little (or a lot) because these drinks are only available for a limited time, it's always wise to recognize these festive treats for what they are: beverages to be enjoyed occasionally ... You know, like treats.

"I think that it's always good to view sweetened beverages as a 'treat,'" Dr. Klingbeil says. "Besides the large amount of added sugars they usually provide, our bodies are really bad at measuring calories consumed via beverages/liquids. Our stomachs don't stretch as much, and we digest them quickly, decreasing the amount of satiety that we gain from any calories in drinks." Meaning you won't stay full from a Peppermint Mocha, which contains 440 calories, the same way you would from a Cranberry Bliss Bar, which contains only 290 (via Starbucks).

Some holiday drinks are "naughtier" than others

Dr. Elizabeth Klingbeil also tells Mashed that, like all treats, some of Starbucks' festive drinks are "naughtier" than others on the holiday menu. The nutritionist warns readers that "The Peppermint Mocha, Caramel Brûlée Latte, Chestnut Praline Latte, and Toasted White Chocolate Mocha all contain the highest amounts of calories and saturated fats. A 16-ounce size of these drinks provides around 50% of [the] daily saturated fat limit. Added sugars and saturated fats offer little nutritional benefits, and research shows that excessive intake of these nutrients may increase your risk for diabetes, heart disease, and other obesity-related health conditions." 

Of all the options on the Starbucks holiday drink menu, Dr. Klingbeil suggests staying away most from two drinks: the chain's Peppermint Mocha and Toasted White Chocolate Mocha. "There's only about a 20-calorie difference between them and they both have 10 grams of saturated fat," she says. There is, however, a "nice" option on the Starbucks holiday menu. Dr. Klingbeil recommends anyone trying to avoid empty calories order the Iced Sugar Cookie Almondmilk Latte. This drink made history in 2021 as the coffee chain's first dairy-free holiday drink. "This drink has no saturated fat and contains 25 grams of added sugars (in a grande 16-ounce size)," which is much less than other options on the menu, Dr. Klingbeil shares.

Enjoy coffee drinks in moderation, according to our expert

Dr. Elizabeth Klingbeil also says there is still a way to enjoy these drinks without breaking your daily calorie bank. "Three very easy swaps you can make to any Starbucks order to decrease your saturated fat and added sugars [include] switching to skim milk rather than 2% or whole; either decreasing the pumps of sweetener/syrup or asking the baristas to use sugar-free syrup flavors; and lastly, the third way you can decrease the sugar and fat content is by removing any toppings, like whipped cream, chocolate shavings, or sugars." (Starbucks fans have been suggesting other ways to customize the new Sugar Cookie Almondmilk Latte as well, though we doubt any of these were created with nutrition in mind. One TikToker recommends adding a caramel drizzle to the drink, while another suggests upping the cream factor with the addition of the chain's sweet cream cold foam.)

Even with these tweaks, Dr. Klingbeil isn't inclined to recommend anyone enjoy these Christmas coffees on a daily basis. "If someone is drinking Starbucks coffee every day of the week, I'd try to encourage them to avoid drinks that are high in added sugars and saturated fats most days," she notes, adding that "the most important thing to consider is moderation. There are technically no 'good' or 'bad' foods. Individuals should prioritize moderation and balance of their current diet to promote a healthy approach to eating. So basically, go enjoy that holiday drink you've been excited about — but maybe, don't drink it every day this week."