Most of us look forward to taking a break from work to enjoy ourselves with family and friends during the holidays. Then, we treat ourselves to unhealthy holiday drinks.
Holiday parties, family get-togethers, and evenings out are great for securing our social connections. However, if we’re not careful, it can also do serious damage to our health.
Of course, no one wants to be told to count calories at this time of year but consider this: researchers recently reported that in all three countries studied ― the United States, Germany, and Japan ― people gained weight around the holidays. Worse, half of that weight gain was still there the following summer.
Other studies have shown similar results. In 2000, researchers found that weight increased significantly during the holiday period compared to the rest of the year and was not reversed during the spring or winter months.
Gaining a pound or two would be no big deal if we were able to lose it come January, but that’s not what usually happens. Instead, at least some weight — usually more than we think — hangs around for good. Year after year, we gain a little more, increasing the risk that we will become overweight within five to 10 years and have to deal with all the health consequences.
It’s not only middle-aged or older people who have to worry about it. A University of Oklahoma study found that even college students weren’t immune to weight gain during the holidays. In other words, it starts early.
So, how do we keep a lid on calorie counts without taking all the joy out of the holiday season? There’s one simple thing you can do, which is to cut back on the fancy drinks.
Yes, they’re tasty and often warm and cozy, but most are chock full of calories, sugar, and other unhealthy holiday drinks. Outside of holiday candy and treats, special holiday drinks are often to blame for winter weight gain.
If you can avoid them for the next few weeks, you could skate through the holidays without gaining a pound. You don’t always have to abstain completely. In many cases, you can substitute a healthier but just-as-tasty alternative.
7 Unhealthy Holiday Drinks — and Tips to ‘Make Them Better.’
Seven of the most common unhealthy drinks served during the holidays are the following. We tell you why they’re bad for you and how, if you can’t resist, you can “make them better.”
Avoid unhealthy holiday drinks with cream and those with dessert names like pumpkin pie when trying to watch your weight. These usually have more calories than others. Choose a small size and ask your beverage maker to “make it skinny.” Finally, if you make them at home, you can control fat and sugar content better.
1. Full-fat Eggnog is an Unhealthy Holiday Drink
Yes, it’s traditional and tasty, but one cup has about 340 calories, 19 grams fat, and 21 grams sugar. It takes about an hour of exercise to burn off that many calories.
For the average 2,000-calorie daily intake, the recommended fat intake is 65 grams, which means that one cup of eggnog spends about 30 percent of your daily allotment. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends no more than 37.5 grams of sugar daily for men and 25 grams daily for women. That one cup of eggnog pretty much shoots that too.
If you add alcohol to that cup, you’re only increasing the damage. An eggnog latte is a worse unhealthy holiday drink. The typical tall size from Starbucks, even if you use skim milk, will cost you 350 calories and a whopping 39 grams of sugar.
To make it better: Make a regular cup of coffee and add a little eggnog to it, using it like cream. You can also mix it with low-fat milk in a 1:1 or 2:1 ratio of milk to eggnog to lighten up the fat, sugar, and calories. Look for low-fat eggnog alternatives or make your own healthier eggnog at home using low-fat milk, egg whites, and vanilla extract.
2. Holiday Drink Peppermint Mocha & Pumpkin Spice Latte
The peppermint mocha is one of the most popular drinks over the holidays. Unfortunately, if you choose the regular 16-ounce size, you’ll swallow 470 calories and 22 grams of fat, including 13 grams of unhealthy saturated fat.
The pumpkin spice latte is not much better, with 410 calories and 17 grams of fat per 16-ounce serving. It’s best to think of most specialty coffee drinks as treats rather than coffee.
Enjoy them occasionally for dessert if you like, but don’t think of them as a replacement for your regular morning jolt of caffeine. If you are addicted, you can make adjustments.
To Make It Better
Order the small size, skip the whipped cream and use nonfat milk. Ask your server for the “skinny” version, which typically includes skim milk and sugar-free syrup. That will take you down to about 220 calories and 2 grams of fat and save you the saturated fat.
3. White Russian and Mudslide
This unhealthy holiday drink is smooth and creamy, these are treasured holiday favorites, but they will do a number on your waistline if you let them. They typically contain Kahlua, vodka, and heavy cream. One white Russian, for example, contains about 360 calories.
A Mudslide, a white Russian with the addition of Bailey’s Irish Cream and chocolate syrup, can be as high as 755 calories, along with 32 grams of fat and 80 grams of sugar at Applebee’s. Studies show it is even more likely to be fattening than regular sugar. slide usually contains high fructose corn syrup in that chocolate syrup.
Another version It’s better to think of this one as a shake rather than a side beverage. Plus, the mudslide usually contains high fructose corn syrup in that chocolate syrup, which studies show is even more likely to be fattening than regular sugar.
To make it better: Try a “skinny” white Russian, which usually contains skim milk and weighs in at about half the calories. One made like this is only about 180 calories. You can also make one yourself with vodka, Kahlua, and almond or coconut milk instead of regular milk. Save yourself calories and fat.
4. Hot Chocolate is an Unhealthy Holiday Drink
Surely this one is innocent?
Well, it depends on what kind you get or make. The ready-mix kinds usually aren’t bad on calories — around 120 to 150 per cup — but they are typically full of sugar, preservatives, and partially hydrogenated fats.
It may be even worse if you get it at a coffee shop or specialty shop. Panera’s hot chocolate, which comes with caramel sauce and chocolate chip marshmallows, is about 490 calories with 62 grams of sugar. Starbucks’ grande hot chocolate isn’t much better, at 400 calories and 43 grams of sugar. A Dunkin’ Donuts medium hot chocolate will give you 330 calories and 43 grams of sugar.
To make it better: If you make your cup with low-fat milk and real unsweetened cocoa powder — add in a pinch of sugar and a drop of vanilla extract for flavor — you’ll end up with about 200 calories, and you won’t have all the preservatives and partially hydrogenated fats. Plus, you’ll benefit from the chocolate’s healthy antioxidants.
Ask for the skinny version made with skim milk at the coffee shop, and skip the whipped cream.
5. Hot Buttered Rum
This treat is made from rum, butter, hot water or cider, sweetener, usually brown sugar, and spices. Sometimes, ice cream is added.
It’s popular around the holidays because it’s warm and soothing and has a rich flavor. As you can imagine, however, butter adds fat and calories. Hence, the typical serving comes in at about 350 calories and 12 grams of fat, of which about 7.5 are saturated fat, which is more than a third of the recommended daily intake.
To make it better: Cocktail experts recommend using Butter Buds (a butter substitute) instead of real butter to cut down on fat and calories. You can also use an alternative sweetener and stick with water instead of cider to slim it down even more.
Although popular at any time, this drink — triple sec, tequila, and lime or lemon juice — can become even more popular during the holidays when bartenders add special flavors like cranberry, spices, pomegranate, chocolate, and more. However, one serving can contain up to 450 calories, mostly because of the high sugar content.
Frozen options are usually worse and can raise the calorie count to 500 or more.
To make it better: Ask your bartender to use less triple sec or Cointreau, to cut back on the tequila to reduce calories, and to use fresh lime juice instead of the sweetened version. Nix the sugar and sweetened syrup and dilute it with zero-calorie soda water.
7. Tom and Jerry
This cocktail is made of eggs, milk, sugar, rum, brandy, and spices and is usually served hot. It packs about 340 to 460 calories per 8-ounce glass. Some call it the “souped-up eggnog” because it lands in the same category when talking about calories, fat, and sugar.
To make it better: You can ask for skim milk to cut down on calories and fat and for low-calorie sweeteners.
5 Healthier Alternatives
To make it easier to enjoy a nice beverage without worrying about “making it skinny,” try these healthier alternatives that are much less likely to expand your waistline. Some also provide nutrients like antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals.
You also get healthy polyphenols from the grapes. These are typically much more reasonable in calories — about 100 calories per glass — and contain little to no added sugar. Be careful of the bubbles as they can cause headaches in some people and aren’t good for your teeth. It would help if you were sure to rinse after the party’s over.
Like champagne, wine has only about 100 calories per serving and has healthy antioxidants that can fight free radical damage and reduce disease risk.
Red wine contains resveratrol, which has been linked to reducing the risk of heart disease. Please don’t overdo it. The AHA recommends no more than one drink a day for women. No more than two per day for men.
3. Coconut Water Kefir
Coconut water is a delicious and refreshing low-calorie natural thirst-quencher. Research shows that it can help with hydration, diabetes, heart health, and more. The natural goodness of coconut water is increased further with the probiotics added from the water kefir culture.
4. Hot Toddy
This traditional holiday drink is made with tea, lemon, honey, cinnamon, cloves, and brandy. One serving usually contains about 150 to 160 calories but can be high in sugar, so cut back on the honey if you can. You’re also getting the healthy antioxidants in the tea and all the spices known to help reduce the risk of disease.
5. Sparkling Water
This is a good choice anytime, but unique flavors can give you the feeling that you’re indulging yourself over the holidays without hurting your health. Inside you’ll find carbonated water and often vitamin C, especially in flavors like pomegranate and lime. Regular sparkling water contains no calories, and most flavored versions don’t, either, but it’s always best to check or ask. Sometimes, adding real fruit to plain sparkling water is your best bet.
Rick Kaselj, MS
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