Healthy holiday frappuccinos: a dietitian's order

Rita Shushy Setrakian, MS, RDN

Holiday café drinks are a great way to get into the spirit, but as delicious as they are, they could use some nutrition-tweaks. Places like Starbucks and Dunkin have a variety of choices, most of which are filled with a lot of added sugars. It can be easy to drink a lot of calories this way and hinder weight loss progress. However, this doesn’t mean you should completely avoid them! 

If you’re in the mood for a festive beverage while keeping healthy choices in mind, then I have some tips for you! 

Let’s start off with the base — milk and coffee:

Holiday drinks tend to be high in  sugar from the flavor syrups but can also be higher in both carbohydrates and fat due to the milk. Choosing different milk options can help cut down a bit. Many coffee shops now carry plant-based milks like almond, coconut, soy and oat milk in addition to traditional dairy milk (nonfat, 2%, whole, half and half, heavy cream and sweet cream). Typically, plant-based milks are lower in fat than the 2% milk or whole milk that is the standard in beverages. However, they also come in sweetened and unsweetened varieties, another source of hidden sugar and calories — so it can be helpful to double-check with the barista to personalize your drink. Remember that plant-based milks aren’t necessarily “healthier,” but can be a good choice for those who are lactose intolerant or just enjoy the taste On the other hand, if you do go with a dairy-milk option, stick to the nonfat or 2% for a lower-fat and lower-calorie drink. 

Another consideration is your milk-to-coffee ratio. Lattes are made with 1/3 espresso and 2/3 steamed milk plus foam. To help balance this out, you can try a Caffé Misto at Starbucks, which still gives you milk and coffee, but the ratio of coffee to milk is one-to-one. If you’re at any other coffee shop, simply ask the barista for this ratio change. This swap is not absolutely necessary but think about your personal preferences: would you rather cut down on creaminess (use less milk) or cut down on sweetness (use less syrup)? 

Finally, you can also choose to omit all milk and use a black coffee as your base. Dunkin is currently offering a Holiday Blend hot coffee. This blend is said to include “sweet notes of molasses and dried fruit,” giving your drink a holiday-esque flavor without the added sugar and fat.

The star of the show — flavor syrups:

When it comes to holiday drinks, the flavor syrups are what make the difference. The biggest issue here is the amount of syrup that is typically used in these drinks. For example, a tall (small 12 fl oz) drink at Starbucks is usually made with 3 pumps of syrup. This would have 20 g of sugar (or 5 teaspoons). Instead, ask for 1-2 pumps of your favorite holiday syrup. You really won’t be missing out on much flavor — potentially just some excess sweetness. If you’re really craving that sweet taste, try  adding 1 additional pump of a sugar-free vanilla or sugar-free caramel syrup. 

Finally, let’s talk about size:

When was the last time you ordered a large and finished all of it? We often go for the biggest size and don’t end up actually enjoying it all down to the last sip. By the time you’re half-way through, you’ve likely  already satisfied your craving and throw the rest out, or you keep sipping on it just to not let it go to waste. Just like starting off with one plate of food and going for seconds if needed, start off with a small drink instead of the large. Plus, having one pump of syrup in a small is much more flavorful than 1 pump in a large!

So what are some go-to orders from an RD?


This year at Starbucks, the holiday beverage lineup includes favorites like the Peppermint Mocha, Iced Sugar Cookie Almond milk Latte, Caramel Brulée Latte, Toasted White Chocolate Mocha Frappuccino and the Irish Cream Cold Brew. 

Here are some of my favorite Starbucks holiday orders:

  1. Tall Caffé Misto made with steamed coconut milk, 1 pump peppermint mocha and 1 pump sugar-free vanilla syrup
  2. Tall hot coffee with steamed 2% milk (ask for 1 to 1 ratio) and 2 pumps sugar cookie syrup
  3. Tall cold brew with a third the amount of Irish cream and 1 pump toasted white chocolate syrup


The Dunkin lineup includes a Cooke Butter Cold Brew, Peppermint Mocha Signature Latte and the Toasted White Chocolate Signature Latte 

Here’s what I’m ordering this holiday season:

  1. Small Cold brew with half the amount of Cookie Butter foam and a splash of a almond milk
  2. Small Holiday Blend hot coffee with 2% milk and 1 pump toasted white chocolate syrup
  3. Small almond milk latte with 1 pump peppermint mocha

While these tips are great for the holidays, you can really apply them to any season and at any coffee shop. If you’re at home, consider the same swaps and enjoy!

Rita Shushy Setrakian, MS, RDN

About the Author

Scroll to see all categories

Join the Community

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

Popular Articles