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Posted on 02 November 2018 by Sarah Lawrence
Tags: health

How to Cut Sugar and Calories From Your Christmas Menu Coffee

Halloween is over, the clocks have gone back, and Christmas is only 7 weeks away. It is well and truly that time of year. That’s right – we’re talking about the launch of the Christmas drinks menus at all our favourite coffee shops, and the avalanche of articles denouncing the sky-high sugar content that follows. Whilst it is true that coffee shops’ Christmas menus are often very high in sugar and calories, it is also true that that is probably not going to stop you if you’re hell-bent on getting your Gingerbread Latte fix. There are many little tweaks to allow you to treat yourself to your favourite coffee shop Christmas drinks once in a while, and cut a few unnecessary calories at the same time.


First of all, why should we bother cutting sugar? Rose from our Yate clinic, advises that “sugar is pro-inflammatory and makes your body have to work harder to stop it being an acidic environment. Unused sugar spikes ask more of your body in order to maintain a constant blood sugar level – it’s like revving the engine and going nowhere”. Processed sugars mess with our energy levels, and our bodies can’t always keep up with the levels of insulin required to deal with it. This leads to a whole host of problems, from diabetes to weight gain.


Let’s get some coffee shop jargon out of the way; a standard ‘small’ size in a coffee shop comes in a 12oz cup, medium in a 16oz, and large in 20oz. Whilst coffee shops vary in their specific naming of these sizes (Primo, Medio and Massimo at Costa, Tall, Grande, Venti at Starbucks, and Regular and Grande at Caffe Nero), the cup volume size is standard across the board.

Costa and Starbucks in particular are making steps towards helping customers make healthier choices. Costa has been working to develop alternative recipes using Stevia instead of sugar, promising that “we will reduce added sugar in our drinks range by 25% by 2020”. Meanwhile, Starbucks has placed fresh emphasis on their ‘Short’ 8oz cup this Christmas to help with portion control. They have placed the Short size clearly on the menu boards for festive drinks in place of Tall as the ‘small’ size option, and are only offering the Christmas drinks in a range of Short, Tall and Grande – the option for a giant mug of sugary, calorific festive coffee has been literally removed.

As much as these chains are doing to improve the sugar content of their drinks, there are still ways you can improve it yourself whilst ordering.

  • The standard amount of syrup in a flavoured coffee or hot chocolate is 2 pumps for a small, 3 for a medium and 4 for a large; this amounts to 22, 45 and 67 extra calories respectively, and 5.4g, 10.8g and 16.2g of sugar. Ordering your caramel latte with less pumps of syrup cuts out unnecessary calories and sugar very easily. Better yet, order with sugar-free syrup where available.
  • Many coffee shops use whole milk as standard, while a few use semi-skimmed. Switching your milk to skimmed will reduce the calorie content by around 62 calories, and switching to soy will cut approximately 48. Keep in mind that switching to skimmed milk won’t help you cut down on sugar. Although lower in fat, skimmed milk has around 0.4-0.6g more sugar per cup depending on size. These are natural sugars found in lactose, which is more prevalent in the watery part of the milk than in the fat. Plant-based milks such as soy, almond or coconut are naturally lower in sugar, so these make a good alternative (and they don’t compromise flavour either).
  • Lose the cream! Almost every coffee shop sneakily adds cream on top of the majority of their Christmas drinks as standard, but this adds between 70-133 calories and around 1.5g of sugar on a small drink depending on the size and shop (plus up to 14g of fat!).

Here are some recommendations for lighter choices at three of the most popular high street coffee chains:




Costa’s Hot Spiced Apple, their take on gorgeously warming mulled cider, sits nice on the waist with only 71 calories per portion, but is only available in a small size due to its 13g of sugar (equivalent to over 3 teaspoons). Compared to the infinitely more indulgent Hazelnut Praline Latte, complete with cream and weighing in at a cool 303 calories and 28.8g of sugar in a small size, this is by far the lighter option. 13g is as much sugar as in a bowl of store-brand granola.





2316610a4e20433a3067c3c5c5280af7-starbucks-christmas-mugs-mug-starbucks-(3).jpgStarbucks’ Salted Caramel Brownie hot chocolate in Short size is 209 calories and 24.5g of sugar as standard, but holding on the whipped cream and getting your drink with soy or skimmed milk cuts this to 140 calories and 21.2g of sugar. This might not sound like a lot, but that 3.3g of sugar is almost an entire teaspoon’s worth. 21.2g of sugar in one drink is still not great (that’s still over 5 teaspoons of the stuff in a tiny cup!), but the small reduction makes a world of difference – not to mention the almost 7g of fat you’ll have saved too.

If you want to keep it really light but still festive at Starbucks, the Latte with Cinnamon Spice comes in at 120 calories and 15.8g of sugar as standard, and only 106 calories and 13.1g when made with soy. Almond milk is less still – only 79 calories and 12.2g of sugar, and still just as delicious (plus the gorgeous nutty layer to the flavour profile). Similarly, the Gingerbread Latte sans cream and with soy, coconut or almond milk makes a not-terrible 150 calorie drink.


Caffe Nero’s offerings are higher in calories, sugar and fats across the board compared to Costa and Starbucks, but there are still ways to go lighter here. They are offering a Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate which has a stomach-clenching 466 calories and 51.6g of sugar, served with whipped cream and chocolate sprinkles. This drink can be lightened by switching to the soy version and losing the cream, which cuts it right down to 287 calories although still boasts 46.8g of sugar (almost 12 teaspoons of sugar in the lighter option – eeek!)






These drinks still contain a very large amount of sugar. Given sugar’s inflammatory properties and its insulin-spiking abilities it is not advisable to consume it in these quantities – but if you absolutely must treat yourself (and yes, it should only be an occasional treat – we’re talking once or twice a month max, not once a day!), you now have slightly less terrible options to consider.

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