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For my UK and cold weather crowd, WINTER IS HERE and Christmas is nearly upon us.  Tinsel and santas are popping up in stores, Christmas music is filling the supermarkets, gyms are gathering dust and Gingerbread Lattés are hitting the cafés.

Just today Action on Sugar (AoS) posted an article on the sugar and calorie content of seasonal hot drinks, and this story was picked up by most media outlets.  So I just thought I’d pick up on this, look at the data, and offer my advice.

One headline figure from this article was that the most sugar rich of all seasonal coffees was the Starbucks Venti Gingerbread Latté, made with oat milk, coming in at a whopping 57g of sugar and 523 calories.  Sugar simply is not very good for you for a whole host of reasons.  Needless to say, if you’re trying to stay healthy, I’d recommend avoiding this drink.

AoS also highlighted the huge sugar content in many hot chocolates, with one topping out at a staggering 94g of sugar per cup, though this was an exception.  I think most people are pretty aware that hot chocolate is not a healthy choice, so I won’t dwell on them much here. What I think will surprise many people, and surprised me, is that many seasonal hot drinks like Gingerbread Lattés are comparable in calorie and sugar content to many hot chocolates.

Is there any difference between coffee shops?

Sticking with Gingerbread Lattés here, yes, there is a difference.  Action on Sugar collated the calorie and sugar content of most drinks, but coffee sizes and milk types were all over the place, so I’ve gone back to the source to adjust for this variation.  It did look like Starbucks were the worst offenders and Pret one of the best, but was this just because AoS were comparing the 650ml Venti from Starbucks to the 330ml small from Pret?

Assuming, you get a 500ml Gingerbread Latté (most café’s medium size) and opt for semi-skimmed milk, in order of calories, from least to most:

EAT: 136 calories and 23 g of sugar

Nero: 225 calories and 32g of sugar

Costa: 340 calories and 21g of sugar (includes the whipped cream)

Starbucks: 317 calories and 37g of sugar

Pret: 436 calories and 34g of sugar (includes the whipped cream)

For comparison, an equivalent cappuccino contains about 180 calories and about 18g of sugar.

If you’re looking to lose weight, but just love your Gingerbread Lattés, it looks like EAT and Nero are the best bet (though Nero does pack a day’s sugar in one cup), with Costa providing quite a lot of calories, but a relatively low quantity of sugar, making Costa potentially the healthier choice.  The calorie content of the Costa and Pret versions include the whipped cream topping (I couldn’t find the values without). Skip the cream, and Costa looks like it could be the healthier choice.

What can I do if I want to keep drinking seasonal drinks?

I think treating yourself occasionally is perfectly fine in a balanced training and fitness plan.  Keeping fit and healthy should be enjoyable.

If you want to keep drinking seasonal lattés, I’d recommend making them an occasional treat, not an everyday thing.  Swapping whole milk for semi-skimmed, or semi-skimmed for skimmed drops the calories by about 75 calories per 500ml (150 calories going skimmed from whole).  The same goes for regular lattés and cappuccinos.

If you want to go for a non-dairy alternative, barista oat milk is the most calorific option, at 300 calories and 20g of sugar per 500ml, about the same as whole milk.  Unsweetened barista almond milk is only 70 calories and no sugar, while soy is around 160 calories and 8g of sugar per 500ml. This makes almond milk the lightest non-dairy choice.

One final suggestion: go small.  Smalls are often half the size of the large, so half the calories, half the sugar.

If you did want that Gingerbread Latté from Starbucks, but you went small (tall), and got almond milk instead of oat milk, you’d be looking at about 200 calories and 20g of sugar.  So long as you don’t get much additional sugar in your diet, that’s a treat you can easily work into a healthy lifestyle.