Cozying up on the couch in your pajamas with a warm cup of coffee feels particularly appealing this time of year—as do all of those peppermint-flavored syrups and eggnog-infused creamers lining supermarket shelves and being advertised at your favorite coffee shops.
Unfortunately, though, bringing some seasonal spirit to your morning cup of Joe may come with some drawbacks. “Many coffee additives often have sky-high amounts of hidden sugars, fats, artificial preservatives, and colors, as well as calories,” notes Karen Cooney, M.A., C.N., C.H.H.C., a Holistic Health practitioner/nutritionist at The Vitamin Shoppe.
In fact, she says, many coffee creamers are some of the most highly processed foods we consume and contain ingredients like corn syrup solids, hydrogenated vegetable oil, sodium caseinate, as well as some other hard-to-pronounce ingredients like dipotassium phosphate, sodium aluminosilicate, and mono- and diglycerides.
Not to mention, sipping down a drink loaded with empty calories (a.k.a. calories that don’t add any nutrition) is likely to leave you hungry for more, leading to higher calorie consumption overall, says Dr. Josh Axe, D.N.M., C.N.S., D.C., founder of Ancient Nutrition and member of The Vitamin Shoppe Wellness Council.
The good news: You can still enjoy a coffee that feels indulgent while being mindful of your health. Here are a few ways to bring the flavors of the season into your mug and make your coffee taste like the holidays, straight from health and nutrition pros themselves.
1. Swap seasonal creamers for nut milks and Spices
Lattes and other creamy coffee drinks are abundant this time of year—and feel particularly delightful when the weather outside is frightful.
If you get the urge to add a little creamy goodness to your Joe around the holidays, we get it—but sugar cookie-flavored creamers aren’t the only answer. A simple swap for nut milk, such as almond or coconut, can add a creamy feel and a boost of nutrients to your coffee. For just about 30 to 50 calories, a serving of unsweetened almond milk also offers vitamin E, Cooney says. Plus, many plant-based milk alternatives are fortified with calcium and vitamin D. “These nutrients make you feel full and may actually help increase energy levels and not leave you crashing mid-day,” she says.
From there, add some nutmeg, cinnamon, or a pumpkin pie or chai spice blend for a holiday vibe. “Just sprinkle a little bit on top or stir it into your grounds before brewing,” suggests Cooney.
To take your mug to the next level, finish it off with a milk frother.
2. DIY A Peppermint Mocha with Cacao Powder
Peppermint mocha is always a crowd pleaser during the holidays, but coffee shop versions are often high in calories and sugar. Score the same delicious flavor at home without all the unhealthy additives by adding cacao powder and peppermint extract (and perhaps a bit of stevia) into your java, Cooney says.
According to research published in Antioxidants & Redox Signaling, cacao contains a bevy of antioxidants that have been shown to provide cardiovascular benefits, offering your cup a whole lot more than rich flavor.
Try adding about a teaspoon of cacao powder plus a couple of drops of peppermint extract (and stevia as needed) to your brew. Bust out the nut milk and froth for extra creaminess to really make your coffee taste like the holidays.
3. Pop in Fun Flavors of Protein Powder
Don’t knock it ’til you try it! Plenty of fitness fanatics swear by blending protein powder into their coffee for both flavor and fuel. If you’re looking to up your protein intake and keep your sips seasonal, try blending a fun-flavored protein into your next steaming cup of coffee, suggests The Vitamin Shoppe nutritionist Brittany Michels, R.D.N.
A few options that feel particularly perfect this time of year: Optimum Nutrition White Chocolate Gold Standard 100% Whey Protein, Dymatize Nutrition Dunkin Mocha Latte ISO100 Hydrolyzed 100% Whey Protein Isolate, or BodyTech Snickerdoodle Whey Tech Pro 24 Whey Protein Isolate & Concentrate.
Read More: 5 Times In Life That You Need More Protein
Want more sweetness than the protein alone provides? Michels recommends adding ice, almond milk, and a few drops of liquid stevia for a holiday-themed chilled latte twist.
4. Pair Your Usual Mug With A Seasonal Protein Treat
If you prefer to keep your coffee routine itself simple, why not sip on your mug alongside a snack or treat that brings on the holiday vibes? Sure, you probably don’t want to dunk your favorite seasonal protein bar into your java—but that doesn’t mean you can’t still enjoy the two together, suggests Michels.