Healthy holiday drinks—that sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it? For most of us, the holidays are a time to eat, drink, and be merry. And that usually includes some (or several!) indulgent beverages—whether alcoholic or alcohol-free. Is it possible to enjoy the festivities, including all the sweet, sugary drinks, without torpedoing all your health goals? Yes! But as many of us know, it all comes down to moderation and, in this case, perhaps some minor modifications.
What’s the Deal with Holiday Drinks?
It’s no secret that several classic holiday beverages are loaded with sugar. For people monitoring blood sugar, a single cup of Spiked Eggnog, for example, could cause a noticeable increase in glucose levels. In addition to the sugar content, alcohol can impact glucose in other ways, including driving a potential rise in glucose followed by a drop. It may even cause hypoglycemia among those with diabetes.
Since alcohol is considered a toxin, your liver prioritizes metabolizing it over other processes like releasing glucose into your blood. This helps keep your blood sugar levels stable. However, when your liver gets back to routine tasks, it can often release more glucose than necessary. This may lead to higher overnight and fasted glucose values for some people.
All this talk about alcohol and elevated glucose may have you wondering if it may be easier to just pass on that holiday beverage. You may even consider skipping social events altogether to resist temptation. And while those are some options, they’re not really fun ones, are they? Besides, research also suggests that socializing and spending time with friends and family can positively impact physical and mental health.
Want to indulge without too many ramifications on your health? Here’s a handy list of holiday cocktails. Read on for some holiday drink nutrition facts and a few handy hints to help make them just a little healthier and, in some cases, alcohol-free. Here's 15 of our favorites to help kickstart your celebrations!
Hot Buttered Rum
Hot Buttered Rum is a combination of dark brown sugar, spiced rum, hot water, and butter. It sounds strange, but it’s a delicious drink, especially on a cold, wintry day. Some recipes include honey or vanilla extract too. This drink has origins in colonial New England as far back as the 1650s when distilleries were being set up, and adding distilled rum to hot beverages was picking up as a trend.
Nutrition Facts: The bad news is that with sugar and/or honey and butter as main ingredients, this drink is pretty high in fat and sugar. Roughly one cup has around 230 calories, 14 grams of carbohydrates (mainly from the sugar), and 17 grams of fat. The good news? If you’re looking for a low-sugar alternative, you can use monk fruit or stevia instead of sugar/honey. Or, use a little less honey and add some monk fruit or stevia for extra sweetness. There are not many alternatives for the butter, though—and you don’t want to miss out on that buttery flavor! Some recipes call for a little less butter and a little more hot water, which is an option you may want to consider. Otherwise, simply practice moderation there.
Make it a Mocktail: Even though the name of this beverage contains the word “rum,” you can actually make a non-alcoholic version that tastes just as good. Use rum extract, and consider adding butterscotch sundae sauce. This may not be the best idea for everyone, but it can be a great alternative if you want to stay sober this holiday season.
This cocktail features a “nutty” flavor derived from the mix of hazelnut liqueur, Irish whisky, and Baileys. You can have it as a shot, a sipping cocktail, or a spiked coffee. Some recipes even add whipped cream or toppings like graham crackers or hazelnuts.
Nutrition Facts: This super-sweet drink is definitely a dessert cocktail. It packs in a walloping 300-400 calories, 4 grams of fat, and 35 grams of carbohydrates (mainly from the sugar). It can certainly cause a rise in glucose values, especially if you drink it late in the day. With this one, moderation may be better than modification. Attempting to make a healthy version may involve some creativity. Consider making a version with sugar-free Irish cream, hazelnut syrup (if you can tolerate alternative sweeteners), coffee, and a dash of milk.
Make it a Mocktail: There are plenty of coffee versions of this drink that do not contain alcohol, so it could definitely be a non-alcoholic option. Remember that drinking too much coffee later in the day can cause sleep disruptions, so sticking to decaf might be a good idea after hours.
Spiced Cider is a drink that is typically non-alcoholic and is precisely what the name implies—hot cider with some spices added in. Recipes vary (some include orange peel, for example), but the staple ingredients in most are cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg. Some versions included honey or brown sugar. The drink is similar to mulled cider, which is cider heated with spices and sometimes fruit. And if you want it spiked, rum and bourbon complement it well.
Nutrition Facts: A 12 ounce serving of apple cider has 160 calories and 41 grams of carbohydrates, so this spiced drink will have similar amounts. Of course, there will be more calories and carbohydrates if you add sugar or honey. Adding alcohol will change these amounts slightly as well. Since 40 grams of carbs from sugar is not a small amount, this may not be the best choice for someone trying to manage their blood sugars. Some low-sugar cider brands are available that might help lower the sugar content. Still, overall, this drink is unlikely to be sugar-free.
Make it a Mocktail: Because this is generally a non-alcoholic beverage, it’s a good choice if you’re looking for an alcohol-free drink.
Peppermint White Russian
The Peppermint White Russian is a typical White Russian with a minty twist, thanks to the addition of a peppermint liqueur, like peppermint schnapps. Some recipes include half-and-half or heavy cream, and the cocktail is sometimes garnished with a candy cane.
Nutrition Facts: When you add cream, this drink contains nearly 600 calories, 18 grams of fat, and 33 grams of sugar. Swapping out the cream for regular milk or a milk alternative and using cold brew coffee and unsweetened cocoa can make this recipe healthier.
Make it a Mocktail: An alcohol-free version of this drink can include some peppermint oil, coffee, espresso, and a little cream soda or vanilla soda. You could use a diet cream soda to cut down on some sugar.
A classic hot toddy usually contains hot water, whiskey, lemon, honey, and sometimes cinnamon sticks. This drink is actually pretty low-calorie and low-sugar. Limiting the honey to only one or two teaspoons can make it healthier.
Nutrition Facts: An 8-ounce portion of this cocktail usually contains about 120 calories and only 8 grams of carbs.
Make it a Mocktail: A non-alcoholic Hot “Not” Toddy may include some hot water or tea, honey, lemon, and spices such as nutmeg, cloves, and cinnamon. This version eliminates the whiskey and is essentially a spiced tea.
White Christmas Margarita
This festive twist on a classic involves adding some unsweetened coconut milk or coconut cream and a few cranberries for garnish. Some versions also include coconut rum and white cranberry juice.
Nutrition Facts: The calorie content of this drink is similar to a regular margarita but slightly higher due to the added fat content of the coconut cream. So depending on your portion size and how much agave or juice you add, the calories may range between 250-500. It also has 15-30 grams of carbohydrates and 10 grams of fat (with the addition of coconut cream).
Make it a Mocktail: Non-alcoholic margaritas are popular and pretty tasty! Simply eliminate the coconut rum, add coconut cream instead of coconut milk and add the cranberries for a flavor kick.
There are several variations on punch, including this holiday favorite, which includes more traditional seasonal beverages like cranberry juice, orange juice, and cider. A little ginger ale or lemon/lime flavored soda is a good addition too. Vodka is the typical alcohol in this drink, but some versions include sparkling wine or rum.
Nutrition Facts: Because juice and soda make up most of this drink, it’s often high in sugar and calories. A serving (around one cup) is about 100 calories and nearly 25 grams of carbohydrates. Some healthy versions involve swapping regular soda out for diet, but not everyone can drink these. Since punch tends to be on the sweeter side, swapping out the soda for flavored soda water could be an option. Consider adding in real fruit bits for both flavor and garnish. Pick 100% fruit juice over concentrate to make the fruit juice healthier.
Make it a Mocktail: Make a teetotaler punch with juice, soda, and fruit for a festive beverage sans alcohol.
Holiday Hot Chocolate
This one is such a favorite for us; we’re all caught up in memories of coming inside after a day playing in the snow to warm mugs of steaming hot chocolate—with marshmallows included! Spiked, flavored, or classic, hot chocolate is a traditional favorite for most people this season. The drink is also often spiked with peppermint liqueur or Baileys.
Nutrition Facts: Traditional hot chocolate is delicious, but it’s (unsurprisingly) not low-calorie or low in sugar. A typical packet of a hot cocoa mix (usually yielding a six to eight-ounce portion) is about 80 calories and 15 grams of sugar. But it’s easy enough to make it without the mix; all you need is milk, cocoa powder, sugar, vanilla extract, and chocolate chips.
As you can imagine, homemade hot chocolate’s calorie and sugar content does not differ much from the store-bought. However, it is possible to make this drink a touch healthier. Those that tolerate artificial sweeteners or alternative sweeteners like stevia and monk fruit can use this option instead of sugar. You can also use unsweetened cocoa and dark chocolate. Cutting back on the sugar can highlight the chocolate flavor and help make it healthier.
Make it a Mocktail: It’s a kid’s favorite, so it’s no surprise this is usually already non-alcoholic!
Sure, you can buy Eggnog at the grocery store, but most people will tell you it’s not the same as the homemade version—and we agree! Eggnog is a delicious combination of eggs, milk, cream, vanilla, and spices. Some people add a little bourbon or rum for a bit of a kick.
Nutrition Facts: If you think the word egg in the title makes this a healthy drink.... you thought wrong! One cup of eggnog contains around 223 calories, 20 grams of sugar, and 11 grams of fat. But going back to the egg—this drink does have the highest protein content of the bunch at 8 grams per 8 ounces. You can make a version with one or two percent milk instead of cream, saving roughly 100 calories, but mostly from fat. If the recipe calls for sugar, you can choose to reduce the sugar or consider a sugar alternative.
Make it a Mocktail: Like hot chocolate, this drink is essentially non-alcoholic until you add the alcohol.
Look no further than the Espresso Martini if you’re looking for a cold and sophisticated drink this holiday season. This drink features espresso coffee, coffee liqueur, and vodka, and sometimes simple sugar for sweetness.
Nutrition Facts: This drink is pretty lean, with approximately 100 calories in one serving. It’s also low-carb unless you add simple sugar. Overall, it’s one of the healthier options since it’s lower in sugar and calories than many other holiday options. It does contain caffeine, which can negatively affect sleep in some people.
Make it a Mocktail: This is one of the few holiday drinks that would be pretty difficult to make sans alcohol because without it, it’s just a cold shot of espresso!
This festive, red-colored cocktail combines champagne, cranberry juice, and sometimes orange juice or Cointreau. If you don’t like cranberry juice, consider making a Pomegranate Sparkler which is a similar drink with pomegranate juice instead. It’s also similar to another holiday favorite, the Cranberry Mimosa. These options are all lighter on alcohol content than some of the other drinks on our list.
Nutrition facts: A Poinsettia Cocktail contains roughly 100-120 calories per six or eight ounces and 20-25 grams of carbohydrates (mainly from sugar). The fruit juice in this recipe may cause a less than ideal glucose response in some people. Low-carb versions of this cocktail include dry sparkling white wine, stevia, vodka, and 100 percent cranberry juice (which is more tart).
Make it a Mocktail: Alcohol-free versions of beer and wine are becoming more and more popular, so it is easy to find an alcohol-free version of sparkling wine for this drink. You can make it with alcohol-free sparkling wine, 100 percent cranberry juice, 100 percent orange juice, and a little liquid stevia for a delicious low-sugar, alcohol-free alternative.
This drink is named after the motorcycle sidecar and possibly originated in France. It’s been popular since World War I! Since it’s on the sour side, it’s slightly lower in sugar (if you don’t count the sugar on the rim) and usually includes cognac, lemon juice, and triple sec. Some variations include Cointreau or bourbon. Some bartenders add agave or simple syrup to add some sweetness to this drink, so that is something to be aware of if you’re ordering this at a bar.
Nutrition Facts: Without the sugar rim, this is roughly 80-100 calories for one serving and less than 10 grams of carbohydrates, making the drink a better choice this season.
Make it a Mocktail: Like the Espresso Martini, this drink is mostly alcohol, so drinking it without the alcohol would be like taking a shot of lemon juice.
A Whisky Ginger isn’t keeping any secrets—it’s a combination of whiskey and ginger ale and often includes a lime wedge on the rim. To add a spicy kick, you could try using ginger beer, or if you are not a fan of ginger ale, you could try this with lemon-lime soda. The ginger in this drink makes it a good choice for the holidays.
Nutrition Facts: The calories and sugar will vary depending on how strong you make this drink (how much ginger vs. whisky). It usually contains up to 200 calories and 25 grams of sugar per serving, so it is not a low-sugar option. Using a diet ginger ale can help save about 100 calories and most of that sugar.
Can it be made without alcohol? A non-alcoholic version of this drink is just ginger ale with a wedge of lime, but if that’s what you prefer, there’s no reason not to sip on one over the holidays! For a more festive non-alcoholic option, try one of the other classics on this list.
Most people picture grapes when they think of wine, but you can make wine out of various fruits, including cranberries. Cranberry wine is perfect for the holidays—its tart, slightly sweet flavor profile makes it a unique type of wine. It may contain some beneficial nutrients, similar to what you might find in cranberry juice.
Nutrition Facts: Cranberry wine has less sugar than cranberry juice because it has been fermented into alcohol. The calories might vary between 120-160 per glass, and the drink also contains five to 15 grams of carbohydrates. Because wine is not a mixed drink, there is no easy way to lower this drink’s calorie or carbohydrate content.
Make it a Mocktail: Alcohol-free wines are pretty freely available these days, but it’s not as easy to find a cranberry version. You could drink cranberry juice—or try something else off this list!
Drunk Jack Frosties
This is a fun, frosty blue drink that may be a good option if you’re celebrating the holidays at the beach. It combines prosecco, vodka or rum, lemonade, and blue curacao. Since it’s a blended drink, it’s pretty easy to make! All you need to do is put the ingredients in the blender, add a lemon wedge on the rim, and enjoy. There are variations on this drink that may include champagne or pineapple juice and cream of coconut instead of lemonade.
Nutrition facts: This drink will not be low in calories or sugar, and the calorie content will depend on how strong you make it and how much lemonade you add to it. It packs in around 150 calories per serving and approximately 20 grams of carbohydrates if you make it with natural lemonade. If made with light or sugar-free lemonade, the calorie and carbohydrate content will decrease.
Make it a Mocktail: Yes, you can make this drink alcohol-free! Combine pineapple juice, coconut cream, ice, and curacao syrup instead of the liqueur. Again, remember that this is unlikely to be a low-calorie or low sugar drink.
Before you Begin
Equipped with all these options, we’re sure you’re looking forward to some celebrating! Before you go, here’s a little reminder that alcohol can impact glucose, and beverages that also contain sugar will cause a more significant glucose response. Hard liquor, like vodka, gin, or whisky, contains minimal carbohydrates and may lead to more minor reactions for some people.
Martinis or cocktails with smaller amounts of fruit juice (or diet soda) can be better options than spiked hot cocoa. It’s also important to remember that consuming more than one drink can trigger a hypoglycemic response (especially in those with diabetes).
But that old adage, ‘everything in moderation’ can be a good rule of thumb, especially when indulging in these holiday drinks. Don’t deny yourself, but don’t overindulge! Consider pairing one of these drinks with lower-carbohydrate meals or drinking earlier in the afternoon when your body can utilize the glucose and metabolize the alcohol before bed. If you’re planning on having more than one drink, pick your favorite for the first, and find a lighter or alcohol-free alternative as your second. Finally, remember to sip the drink slowly, be mindful, and enjoy!
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Carlee's training at Western Illinois University and an internship at the Memphis VA Hospital lead her to a career in outpatient counseling and bariatric nutrition therapy. In these positions, Carlee realized many of the disease states (upwards of 80%!) her patients experienced were actually preventable. She knew she had to dig deeper into preventative health, which led her to NutriSense and CGMs.