Move over, pumpkin spice latte: ’Tis officially the season for peppermint mochas, gingerbread and eggnog lattes, and steaming mugs of hot chocolate. While we’re all for splurging on these beverages when the occasion calls for it ― which, in our opinion, should happen for the entirety of the holiday season ― the sugar crash that comes with these drinks isn’t exactly fun.
Because we don’t want to deprive you of these sweet sips, we talked with nutritionists to find out when to time your holiday-themed latte and hot chocolate consumption so you feel good all day long. Here’s everything you need to know.
Stick to mornings, but eat breakfast first.
Because these beverages are both sweet and caffeinated for the most part, you’ll want to try to consume them before noon, according to registered dietitian Eleana Kaidanian. “Many of these festive drinks, in addition to the excessive sugar content, also contain caffeine and that duo is not a recipe for sleep,” she said. “Avoid having them later in the day unless they are caffeine-free and unsweetened.”
That being said, it’s not a good idea to drink them on an empty stomach, according to Mary Wirtz, registered dietitian and nutritional consultant at Mom Loves Best.
“Sugar-laden beverages, such as a holiday-themed latte, are best consumed with or just after a meal,” she explained. “The protein and fiber consumed at that meal will help to slow digestion of the sugars in the beverage and therefore leave an individual with more stable blood sugar and energy levels.”
More stable blood sugar in the morning means you’re less likely to crave sugary, unhealthy foods throughout the day — and the protein and fiber in your breakfast could also influence your holiday-themed drink order. For example, Wirtz says, you may be less likely to order a large beverage, or you may just not drink as much of it.
Consider having your latte before or after exercising.
Don’t think of a peppermint mocha as pre-workout fuel? It may be time to reconsider. Wirtz noted that you can actually view your sugary, caffeinated drink as pre-workout fuel. “It is best to have concentrated sugar sources, such as a holiday-themed latte, just before exercise, as glucose (sugar) is needed to fuel activities such as cardiovascular exercise or weightlifting,” she said, noting that there’s also strong research that shows that caffeine can help fuel workout performance.
And if you can’t quite get the timing to work, sipping on a sugary latte after a workout is fine, too. “The holiday-themed latte can also be enjoyed post-workout, combined with a protein source, to help speed up the muscle recovery process,” Wirtz said.
The same is true of non-caffeinated drinks, like hot chocolate: The sugar in hot chocolate can help fuel a hard workout and help you recover from it.
And of course, you always have the option to lighten up your beverage.
If you want to avoid the possibility of a sugar crash altogether — or at least reduce it — you’d be hard-pressed to find a dietitian who isn’t ready with hacks to make this happen.
“You can skip the whipped cream, request half the sweetener, ask for a calorie-free sweetener, or flavor your beverage with cinnamon,” Wirtz said. “You can also order a black coffee or Americano with one pump or half a serving of holiday-themed flavoring.”
You can also get the thrill of a holiday-themed beverage with very minimal sugar, according to Kaidanian. “You can enjoy an unsweetened pumpkin chai latte that is packed with flavor, not sugar, from pumpkin and spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla,” she said. “You should also consider choosing nonfat milk, low-fat cow’s milk or unsweetened plant-based milk when possible. Ask for unsweetened beverages, or take control by specifically asking for how much flavoring you want to be used by the barista.”
While nutritionists aren’t crazy about the sugary caffeinated beverages that tend to be consumed around the holiday season, there are ways to time your consumption so it’s less detrimental to your energy levels and overall health. So order those eggnog lattes while you still can!
Want to just make your own cold brew at home so you don’t have to wait in line? These are baristas’ favorite products.
HuffPost may receive a share from purchases made via links on this page. Every item is independently selected by the HuffPost Shopping team. Prices and availability are subject to change.