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Exploring the Hot Drink Menu

By Stephanie Scott, RD, LMNT: Registered Dietitian and Guest Blogger

2016-02-28 00.23.07

During winter, people are drawn to those cups of hot steamy beverages. But what do we really know about these comforting libations?

Coffee and Coffee Drinks

  • Many people drink coffee and or specialty drinks (lattes, cappuccinos, mochas) on a daily basis, but during the winter months, hot coffee sales tend to increase 2-3%.  An 8oz cup of regular brewed coffee, depending on the strength of the coffee, can have between 95-200mg of caffeine, while an 8oz cup of decaf coffee has only trace amounts of caffeine, about 2-12mg.
  • An 8oz specialty coffee drink such as a latte or mocha, made with espresso can have between 63-175mg of caffeine (keep in mind most coffee shops sell lattes or mochas size 16oz or larger, doubling the caffeine).  This also means double the calories for those specialty drinks which can sometimes add up to 500 calories if choosing the larger sizes.  A standard black coffee will have very few calories (only 2), especially if not adding sugar or creamer.
  • Adding an artificial sweetener such as Splenda or Equal will cut down calories if that is a concern, and using a skim milk or light/sugar free nondairy creamer will cut down the calories as well.
  • Limit the amount of specialty coffee drinks you consume as these will contain lots of calories and added sugars which are not beneficial for a healthy diet.   For hydration benefits, a cup of black coffee still is made up mostly of water, and water is the best fluid to hydrate our bodies with.  For maintaining hydration, drinking a cup of coffee is better than not drinking anything at all, but water is the preferred beverage of choice to provide the best hydration.

Hot Tea

  • Hot tea is an excellent drink that will give you a refreshing start to your day or help you wind down in the evening.  With a caffeine content less than half that of coffee, tea is less likely to make your heart race or keep you awake at night if you are sensitive to caffeine.  While caffeine content varies based on how long tea is steeped for, a 6oz cup of black tea has roughly 36mg of caffeine, and herbal teas have 0mg of caffeine.  Some herbal teas are also useful for calming your body down and preparing for sleep.  
  • Green tea is also a beneficial drink, whether it is hot or cold.  Clinical studies have connected lower risk of coronary artery disease with those people who regularly drink green tea.  It is important to moderate your green tea intake to only a few cups per day, as green tea has high amounts of oxalate which can lead to kidney stones. 

Hot Cider and Hot Chocolate

  • Cider is basically hot spicy apple juice, and juices contain a lot of added sugars.  Any beverage will hydrate you because it is a fluid, but the high amount of added sugars in cider may cause you to feel thirstier.  High intake of drinks with lots of added sugars can also lead to problems like weight gain/obesity, and dental caries.
  • Similar is hot chocolate.  Making hot chocolate with water instead of milk will cut down on the calories you are consuming, but making your drink with milk can give you the added bonus of some protein and nutrients that milk packs.  Whether your concern is calories, added sugars, or hydration, these drinks make nice treats that are fun to have in moderation but should not become a big part of your every day diet.
  • Diluting hot cider with hot water can help lower the sugar content per cup, while making hot chocolate with skim milk or water and skipping out on whipped cream or marshmallows will help keep your calories and sugar intake under control.

Stephanie Scott

Stephanie Scott RD, LMNT, is a registered dietitian and licensed medical nutrition therapist in Central City, Nebraska.  She serves patients at a critical access hospital and residents in a nursing home, assists in managing kitchen staff, and is involved in community nutrition programs.  Got questions? Reach Stephanie at stephanie.a.scott2@gmail.com.