Holiday Drinks High in Calories

Lots of people look forward to the holiday-themed drinks churned out by coffee shops, like gingerbread or peppermint lattes. But those beverages often contain loads of hidden calories. KUHF health science and technology reporter Carrie Feibel sat down with a dietitian Ronda Elsenbrook of the Kelsey-Seybold Clinic to perform an eye-opening nutritional x-ray of typical caffeine concoctions.
Feibel: "Let’s start with this one, an eggnog latte from Starbucks. What can you tell me about this drink?"

Elsenbrook: "It’s their 20-ounce drink, so it’s going to be 630 calories and it’s got high sugar and a decent amount of fat in it."

The hidden culprit is frequently a flavored syrup. You’ll often see baristas pumping it into your beverage from a large bottle. Elsenbrook says it’s mostly just sugar or corn syrup.

Elsenbrook: "Each pump’s going to add about 20 calories and you can get anywhere from 3 to 6 pumps per cup. But you can select any amount you want."

Feibel: "How about this one, this is the White Peppermint Mocha from Starbucks."

Elsenbrook: "It’s gonna be the same situation. It’s a little bit higher in calorie. It’s about 700 calories, and it has 95 grams of sugar. A teaspoon of sugar is 5 grams, so we’re talking a lot of sugar in this product."

Elsenbrook says that we shouldn’t be eating a meal that large in one sitting — let alone getting 700 calories from one beverage.

Elsenbrook: "You could go and get a fast food meal, like a quarter pounder with cheese and fries and a drink for about that. And a large bucket, or a tub actually of the movie theater popcorn that people like to get at the movies, is only going to be about 630 calories, which is something similar to that eggnog latte."

Feibel: "Now this isn’t just about Starbucks, I also have here from Seattle’s Best Coffee, the sugar and spice latte. What can you tell me about that?"

Elsenbrook: "This one’s a little bit different, it’s actually higher in calories, it’s 790 calories for the 20 oz., but it had a little bit more fat. It has 33 grams of fat, whereas some of the other drinks didn’t have as much fat, it had more sugar."

This isn’t just a problem with holiday drinks either. Year round, coffee shops sell lattes, frappucinos and various coffee-based constructions that contain high amounts of sugar and fat. But Elsenbrook says you can scale back your drinks by following a few simple steps.

Elsenbrook: "Just consider getting a smaller coffee. So if you go from one of these 20 ounces to a 12, you’ve almost cut your calories in half. But your other options are also going to be to cut down on the flavoring. You can do a pump, and still get some flavor and just minimal sugar. You can go to a non-fat milk which will actually froth better, and you can skip the whipped cream.

Elsenbrook says that if you try this for a few weeks, your palate will adjust.

Feibel: "If I went in to Starbucks or any coffee shop and just got a plain black coffee, no milk added – does that have any calories?"

Elsenbrook: "No, it’s virtually calorie free and you can add maybe a little splash of cream or a splash of skim milk or something with just a matter of adding a few calories. Like 30 calories or so. So you don’t have to get a lot of calories if you can keep it simple. I’ll drink to that for the New Year."
Bio photo of Carrie Feibel

Carrie Feibel

Health & Science Reporter

Carrie Feibel is KUHF's health and science reporter. She comes to Houston Public Radio after ten years as a print reporter...