Starbucks’ holiday drinks are here! We asked nutrition experts to highlight the Starbucks holiday drinks that are tastiest and totally worthy of the buzz—and won’t lead to a big blood sugar crash.
Just like the pumpkin spice latte’s launch is a harbinger of fall, red, to-go coffee cups have been ubiquitous between Halloween and the new year. It’s not just the Starbucks cups that have a cult following, though. Each year ushers in a new limited-edition menu featuring seasonal sips that are sure to make the season even sweeter.
While no December will ever feel complete without a glass of my friend’s homemade eggnog or my mom’s mulled wine, the Starbucks holiday drink menu is something I look forward to every year to help energize me through the party-filled, shopping spree-packed season.
I’m not alone: These festive beverages are a crowd favorite. “The holidays are filled with traditions and for many people enjoying a seasonal beverage from their favorite coffee shop like Starbucks is part of getting into the holiday spirit,” says Mary Stewart, RD, LD, a registered dietitian and the founder of Cultivate Nutrition in Dallas.
If you’re among the crowd who looks forward to tasting your way through the minty, cookie-inspired, or other cozy coffee drinks, big news: the 2022 Starbucks holiday line-up of drinks has been revealed. It’s no secret that the bevvies may not be the most nutritious picks. So we tapped Stewart, Lauren Manaker, MS, RD, LD, a registered dietitian and owner of Nutrition Now Counseling in Charleston, South Carolina, and Lauren Harris-Pincus, MS, RDN, a New Jersey-based registered dietitian, founder of NutritionStarringYOU.com, and author of The Everything Easy Pre-Diabetes Cookbook to help guide us through the most (and least) recommended Starbucks sips. Plus, get their tips for hacking a healthier Starbucks holiday drink.
The Best Starbucks Holidays Drinks, Ranked by Dietitians
These drinks can be a fantastic addition to commemorating the holiday season, true. “But some of these choices can be loaded with sugar and unhealthy fats,” Manaker explains. “They can certainly be enjoyed as a once-in-a-while treat, but drinking them every day may not be your best option.”
That doesn’t mean you need to skip them altogether, though.“All foods can fit into an overall healthy diet, unless there is a specific medical need or allergy that would cause someone to cut out a food or beverage entirely,” Harris-Pincus explains. “Most specialty Starbucks beverages, though delicious, are high in added sugars without much nutritional benefit except some protein, calcium, and vitamin D in the milk-based options.”
If you prefer to enjoy these seasonal beverages without modifications (we’re spilling dietitian tricks to give them a feel-good glow-up below), Stewart says her best advice is to order a small size like a Short (eight ounces) or a Tall (12 ounces).
That said, all of the nutrition information below is based on a grande (16 ounces) order, since that is often the default “medium.”
On the days you score your Starbucks holiday drink—regardless of the size or if you make any of the modifications below—it doesn’t mean you need to focus on restricting calories before or “working off” calories after.
“Focus on eating balanced meals throughout the day, and try to avoid the mindset of ‘saving calories’ in order to have a treat,” Stewart says. “This approach will help balance your blood sugar, give you steady energy and put yourself in a position to make healthier choices throughout the day.”
Ranked from least- to most- healthy by dietitians, we’re counting down and dishing up the facts about the latest crop of Starbucks holiday drinks. (Psst: If you’re planning to pair your drink with a snack, don’t miss our guide for how to eat like a dietitian at Starbucks.)
#6: Toasted White Chocolate Mocha
- Calories: 420 calories
- Fat: 15 grams (10 grams saturated)
- Protein: 15 grams
- Carbs: 56 grams
- Sodium: 380 milligrams
- Sugar: 55 grams
“This drink has a whopping 55 grams of sugar—far more than the maximum daily range set by the American Heart Association,” Manaker says, explaining why it ranks last in the line-up.
Excess sugar intake can spike risk for everything from heart disease and diabetes to dementia and premature signs of aging, which is why the American Heart Association (AHA) suggests that adults limit added sugars to 25 grams/6 teaspoons/100 calories for women and 36 grams/9 teaspoons/150 calories for men.
The Toasted White Chocolate Mocha also has nearly twice as much sodium as most of the other Starbucks holiday drinks, along with 10 grams (50 percent of an adult’s daily value) of saturated fat from the cocoa butter, cream, and palm kernel fat.
Over time, a diet with this combo of high sugar, high sodium, and high saturated fat “can contribute to obesity, metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and more,” Stewart says.
#5: Caramel Brulée Latte
- Calories: 410 calories
- Fat: 14 grams (9 grams saturated)
- Protein: 12 grams
- Carbs: 61 grams
- Sodium: 340 milligrams
- Sugar: 48 grams
With four pumps of caramel sauce and a topping of whipped cream, the Caramel Brulée Latte clocks in just below the Toasted White Chocolate Mocha’s high calorie, fat, saturated fat, and sugar content. That means this Starbucks holiday drink delivers stats that look more like dessert than a drink. (Which, tbh, is fine if that’s what you’re going for!)
“If you are sensitive to salt or need to limit your sodium intake due to blood pressure or cardiovascular health, this is a beverage to be cautious of,” Stewart says, since it has more than twice as much sodium as the next selection.
#4: Peppermint Mocha
- Calories: 440 calories
- Fat: 16 grams (10 grams saturated)
- Protein: 13 grams
- Carbs: 63 grams
- Sodium: 140 milligrams
- Sugar: 54 grams
With eight (!) pumps of sugary peppermint and mocha syrup in the mocha and whipped cream and chocolate curls on top, this drink recipe has 50 percent of your daily value of saturated fat.
The 4 grams of fiber and 13 grams of protein redeem it a bit in Stewart’s eyes, since both those nutrition facts “help balance the high level of sugar added to this beverage,” she says. “The good news is, there are many ways to make modifications to this beverage to fit your dietary needs and health goals.” (See our guidelines on how to make any Starbucks holiday drink healthier, below.)
#3: Chestnut Praline Latte
- Calories: 330 calories
- Fat: 14 grams (9 grams saturated)
- Protein: 12 grams
- Carbs: 42 grams
- Sodium: 160 milligrams
- Sugar: 38 grams
“While still hefty in the sugar and saturated fat categories, the Chestnut Praline Latte is lower than many of the other holiday-themed drinks,” Harris-Pincus says. “This has more than a full day’s worth of added sugars for women and kids but less than many of the other designer holiday drinks.”
The redeeming factor? The 12 grams of protein, about the equivalent of two eggs, which aids in balancing out all that sugar. (As a reminder, 38 grams is more than the recommended daily level for women and men.)
#2: Irish Cream Cold Brew
- Calories: 200 calories
- Fat: 11 grams (7 grams saturated)
- Protein: 2 grams
- Carbs: 24 grams
- Sodium: 25 milligrams
- Sugar: 24 grams
Given the salt content in the other beverages, Harris-Pincus finds the Irish Cream Cold Brew to be surprisingly low in sodium. “That said, the protein is lower than most, at 2 grams of protein, since the drink is made with cream rather than milk,” she explains.
This cold brew creation has the lowest sugar content of all of this year’s Starbucks holiday drinks, and after trying it herself, Stewart says this one is super satisfying.
“Although the Irish cream cold foam on top is a thin layer and contributes 11 grams of fat, it offers a lot of flavor and makes every sip creamy and delicious,” she says.
#1: Iced Sugar Cookie Almondmilk Latte
- Calories: 180 calories
- Fat: 6 grams (0 grams saturated)
- Protein: 3 grams
- Carbs: 32 grams
- Sodium: 160 milligrams
- Sugar: 27 grams
Looking for a low-calorie Starbucks holiday drink? Look no further than this cookie-inspired latte. Although it’s lower in protein than the previous five options (due to the low protein content of almond milk compared to dairy milk), Harris-Pincus deems it the lightest choice. The plant-based milk makes it the only vegan Starbucks holiday drink on the menu, but also means it has no saturated fat.
“This latte is a great non-dairy option because not only is it the lowest in calories, it also contains 27 grams of sugar which is nearly half of the sugar in some of the other seasonal Starbucks drinks,” Stewart says. “Bonus points for the sprinkles being free from artificial food dyes.”
How to Make Any Starbucks Holiday Drink Healthier
Now that you know the best choices nutritionally for the Starbucks holiday drinks ordered off the menu, here are a few tips to keep most of the flavor but significantly trim down on added sugars, calories, and fat in most of the drinks above.
- Pump less. Most of the Starbucks holiday drinks include about 3 or 4 “pumps,” or squirts, of syrup. “Each pump eliminated will save approximately 20 calories and 5 grams of sugar,” Harris-Pincus says. Often, one or two “will provide just enough sweetness without going overboard,” Stewart adds.
- Skip the whip. Doing so will trim 70 calories and 7 grams of fat from your total beverage tally. Or ask for “light whip” to save about half of that.
- Ditch the drizzle. Some drinks feature an extra drizzle of caramel or chocolate syrup on top. While it’s a pretty addition, it doesn’t add much by way of flavor but does in terms of sugar content.
- Modify your milk. “Switching to skim milk from 2%, whole, or cream will save a significant amount of calories and saturated fat,” Harris-Pincus confirms. “You can even ask for half skim and half 2% milk to bring some fat to the party for a better mouthfeel without consuming 50% of your daily saturated fat in one drink,” she suggests. Or request a plant-based milk like almond milk or oat milk, Stewart says.
- DIY. Another way to enjoy a healthy Starbucks holiday drink? Make it at home. Manaker likes to make her own Peppermint Mocha-esque creation by asking for a Grande black coffee with steamed skim milk, one pump of peppermint, and a sprinkle of cocoa.
The Bottom Line About Starbucks Holiday Drinks
The new Starbucks holiday drink menu features a wide range of flavors—and a vast difference in sugar, fat, and calorie content.
The dietitians we spoke to advise clients to mainly stick to traditional coffee and tea, “which is low in calories, sugar, and offers a cozy and satisfying taste,” Manaker says. That doesn’t mean these Starbucks holiday drinks need to be completely off-limits, though.
“One of the best questions you can ask yourself before indulging in a sweet treat is, ‘How will I feel after I consume this?’ Take time to visualize how you will feel after you consume the drink,” Stewart says “This process can help guide you as you decide if you want to enjoy a conscious indulgence now, or maybe wait for another time. Once your decision is made, move forward free from regret or guilt!”