By Corey Lewis, CPT, CSCS
Winter is here, and you know what that means: pumpkin spice is everywhere you look. The last few years have seen some—er, creative uses of the mega-popular blend. Really, were pumpkin spice kale chips necessary? Although some reviews of pumpkin spice-flavored Spam say it’s better than you’d expect. The good news is that with a little creativity, you can find some healthy hot drinks at Starbucks and Dunkin’.
Let’s face it: it’s going to be difficult to top the much-beloved pumpkin spice latte. This is because it’s available now at Starbucks, Dunkin’, and market-savvy independent coffee shops everywhere. As such, we’re all eager to indulge in the iconic autumn drink. Be careful before you order that first delicious venti with extra whip. It might contain as many calories and grams of fat and sugar as a full-size candy bar. There’s nothing wrong with treating yourself to a favorite fall or winter treat. But, making a few adjustments to your order can keep you from sabotaging your healthy eating plan. This is especially true if you’re a daily coffee drinker. Here, we’ll give you some suggestions for healthier hot beverages from your favorite coffee stores. As a bonus, we’ll include some recipes you can prepare on your own.
If you’re a die-hard fan of Starbucks, you’re in good company. In addition, you probably already know that the baristas are ready and willing to customize your order. This is true, whether you’re avoiding potential allergens or simply minimizing the calories in your hot beverage.
If you’re in search of healthy hot breakfast drinks, your options are nearly endless. Restaurants and coffee shops follow the latest wellness trends. So, they’re likely to cooperate with your requests. Ask for skim (non-fat) milk or creamier 2%, instead of whole milk or half-and-half. Choose an artificial sweetener (or delicious sugar-free vanilla or cinnamon syrup) instead of sugar. Skipping the whipped cream entirely is always a smart choice. But if you’re really craving it, ask your barista for just a tiny dollop rather than the royal treatment. And if you’re just dying to begin your morning with a full-fat, super-sweetened coffee treat, you can always order a short. Yes, short is a real Starbucks order size: 8 ounces. It likely won’t be the most nutritious thing you’ll consume today. But, it does less damage than its grande and venti cousins.
Starbucks makes it easy for you to find delicious and healthy fall or winter drinks that suit your dietary needs. You can even plan your drink before you enter the store. Their online drink menu is interactive, allowing you to experiment with options like beverage size, toppings, and sweeteners. Therefore, if you’re savvy, you’ll be able to custom-design a beverage that fits your healthy lifestyle. Also, their web site offers a handy list of favorite light seasonal hot drinks. These won’t leave you feeling like you’re missing out.
Here are a few of my favorite Starbucks drinks on the lighter side:
You might not necessarily think of Dunkin’, the ubiquitous coffee and donut shop, as a destination for the health-conscious. After all, there’s nothing diet-friendly about your average gooey jelly donut. Yes, even those poppable Munchkins, while small, can add up quickly. It was just in January of this year, however, that the company officially dropped Donuts from its name. They did this to reflect the fact that its coffee drinks and sandwiches are equally important parts of its menu. So if you’re in search of a delicious lower-calorie coffee drink, keep an eye out for those iconic orange and pink letters. As it turns out, Dunkin’ offers some great options too.
Dunkin’ has adopted many of the same strategies for attracting and retaining an increasingly diet-conscious clientele as its rival Starbucks. These strategies include helpful nutrition information and a full drink menu. You can adjust any drink available at any one of its 11,000+ stores worldwide. Do so by size, milk type, and add-ons like flavors and toppings, and watch the drink’s nutritional profile adjust accordingly.
Again, swapping out whole milk or half-and-half in favor of trimmer options like skim or 2% is an easy way to lower your intake of calories and fat. The site will even make easy “smart swap” suggestions for you. Instead of sugar (or a sugary “swirl” flavoring option), try a no-calorie sweetener like Splenda. Pair this with one of Dunkin’s delicious fat- and calorie-free flavor shots, like French vanilla, hazelnut, or toasted almond. Or, if it’s a delicious seasonal flavor you’re after, indulge in a delicious pumpkin spice coffee or latte. Be sure it’s made with skim milk and no added sugar. Dunkin’s “swirl” flavors, including pumpkin spice, are sweetened. So, you likely won’t miss one or two of those little white packets anyway.
Try these Dunkin’ drinks when you are craving coffee but don’t want to throw off your diet:
As fall quickly becomes winter, you may find that you’re less inclined to leave the comfort of home for a warm and delicious beverage. The good news is that you can easily prepare your own healthy hot drinks (and save money, too). Keep a small carton of skim or 1% milk in your fridge to add to coffee drinks. Or, choose a popular non-dairy alternative like almond or soy milk. And while you’re in the kitchen, keep in mind that healthy teas can have some amazing benefits.
These will be especially useful in the chilliest months. Simple lemon tea sweetened with honey, for instance, is great for symptoms of a seasonal cold. Chamomile tea is perfect for relaxation and a good night’s sleep. Note that Roman chamomile and many other herbal teas are not recommended during pregnancy. So, if you’re expecting, stick to other hot drinks without caffeine. Instead, try decaf coffee or decaf green tea, until after you’ve delivered your baby. Be sure to check with your health care provider for an approved list of safe tea choices.
If the winter doldrums (or something more serious) are getting you down, pair your healthy hot drinks with the best mood-boosting foods. These include eggs (they’re not just for breakfast!) and salmon (even the canned stuff is tasty and good for you).
Salmon makes for an easy lunch or dinner on whole-wheat bread or in a salad). Don’t forget to add lots of leafy green vegetables! Note that green tea, with its many benefits, makes our top 8 list. With significantly less caffeine than regular coffee and black tea, it can be a great option. It’s a wise choice if you’re trying to cut back and reduce the jitters. In turn, it can help to improve your mood if you’ve been feeling less than stellar.
Remember that a consistently healthy diet can make a huge difference in your mood and energy level. This is especially important in the months of decreased natural sunlight exposure.
Stay well, and enjoy this season of hot drinks!