Do you have a hankering for something sweet this winter season?
Starbucks may have just the thing.
The coffee company has released two new holiday drinks — and like many of its specialty beverages, they’re laden with added sugar.
The popular chain introduced its new Toasted White Chocolate Mocha and Chestnut Praline Chai Tea Latte earlier this month.
The nutritional value of each drink varies, depending on what size you order, what type of milk you choose, and whether you decide to top your drink with whipped cream or not.
For example, a short order of the Toasted White Chocolate Mocha made with nonfat milk and no whipped cream contains about 150 calories and 25 grams of sugar.
If you add whipped cream, swap in whole milk for nonfat milk, and increase the size to venti, the same drink delivers about 560 calories and 66 grams of sugar.
In comparison, the Chestnut Praline Chai Tea Latte provides about 110 to 330 calories and 22 to 52 grams of sugar, depending on the size and dairy contents of the order.
These new drinks join Starbucks’ existing roster of holiday beverages, which includes other sweetened classics such as its Peppermint Mocha and Eggnog Latte.
While most people can safely enjoy one of Starbucks’ holiday drinks from time to time, consuming them on a regular basis may put you at risk for some health problems.
Recommended sugar limits
According to Ashlee Wright, a registered dietitian from Orlando Health, drinking too many high-calorie beverages from Starbucks or other vendors can lead to weight gain.
“Consuming an excess of 500 calories each day can potentially lead to a pound in weight gain each week,” Wright told Healthline, “so if you’re taking in a latte every single day with 450 or 500 calories, you can easily put on weight.”
Many of the calories in Starbucks’ beverages come from the added sugars.
According to the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, less than 10 percent of the total calories that you consume each day should come from added sugars.
That’s equivalent to less than 50 grams of added sugar per day, if you eat a daily average of 2,000 calories.
Starbucks’ holiday beverages and other specialty drinks often contain levels of sugar that approach or even exceed that recommended limit.
“When you’re looking at something like the peppermint mocha, it can have [almost] 70 grams of sugar,” Wright said. “That’s just astronomical. That’s more than drinking a can of soda.”
Most people in the United States already consume too many added sugars, nearly half of which are downed in the form of sweetened beverages.
That excess sugar consumption may also be putting consumers at risk for tooth decay and cavities, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes.
Not for kids
In addition to sugar, Starbucks’ holiday drinks are also a potent source of caffeine.
The espresso-based Toasted White Chocolate Mocha contains a reported 75 milligrams of caffeine in a short order and 150 milligrams in a venti order.
The tea-based Chestnut Praline Chai Tea Latte contains slightly less caffeine with a reported 50 milligrams in a short order and 120 milligrams in a venti order.
While those levels of caffeine are generally considered safe for healthy adults, they may not be suitable for younger consumers.
In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that children and adolescents avoid beverages that contain caffeine or other stimulants altogether.
Despite this recommendation, many young people consume caffeine on a regular basis.
A growing number of them have been reaching for coffee and tea.
“Among children under 12 years, key sources of caffeine are soda, tea, and flavored dairy. Among older children, 12 and over, coffee also becomes an important source,” Kirsten Herrick, PhD, a senior service fellow with the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), told Healthline.
In a review article published in 2015, Herrick and her coauthor found studies that linked caffeine consumption in children and adolescents to sleep problems, elevated blood pressure, and other health issues.
Practicing moderation is key
If you’re interested in trying Starbucks’ holiday drinks or other sweetened beverages, Wright encourages you to practice moderation.
“If you enjoy having one on occasion in the holidays, it’s [not] going to hurt,” she said, “but you just don’t want to be consuming them on a regular basis.”
If you do choose to indulge in one of their specialty beverages, she recommends ordering a small serving size, choosing low-fat milk options, and skipping the whipped cream.
Children should stick with caffeine-free menu items, such as steamed milk.
To learn more about the nutritional value of different drink options, you can explore Starbucks’ menu online.
“Starbucks has all their nutrition information online,” Wright said, “and you can go on and switch between nonfat milk and 2 percent milk and play around with the drinks to see what would be the best option for you.”
“I think it’s wise to be informed ahead of time because some are surprising when you look at them,” she added. “You wouldn’t expect them to be as high in sugar and calories as they are.”