Cold weather and hot drinks go hand in hand, but as comforting as a steaming mug of hot chocolate can be, it’s usually pretty indulgent too. Classic cocoa is made with whole cow’s milk, which has saturated fats and lots of refined sugar — and that doesn’t even include toppings like whipped cream and marshmallows.
For example, a Grande Hot Chocolate from Starbucks weighs in at a whopping 370 calories, 16 grams (g) of fat (10 g from saturated fat), and 43 g of carbohydrates (37 g from sugar) — more than some meals.
The good news is, there are plenty of ways to get cozy without sabotaging your health goals — and plenty of reasons to drink. Hot drinks can be a great way to stay hydrated, a habit that’s important all year round but, according to research, tends to fall by the wayside in the winter. They can also be an unexpected way to add health-promoting nutrients to your diet.
That sense of comfort we get from drinking a steaming beverage isn’t a coincidence—past research has shown that social isolation can cause people to reach for hot food and drinks. There is some evidence that warm milk-based drinks in particular can have a calming effect. Researchers have found preliminary evidence in mice that a combination of milk peptides known as casein-tryptic hydrolyzate (CTH) appears to relieve stress and improve sleep, according to a study published in September 2021 in the United States. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.
Of course, if you make your own hot drinks, you can customize the ingredients to suit your own nutritional needs or preferences, such as alternatives to non-dairy milks if you prefer. No matter what kind you use, frothing it up before adding it to your drink is a great way to make your drink more satisfying and save a few calories. Frothing is really just adding air to the milk, making it lighter and foamy. You can use a handheld milk frother, immersion blender, or whisk, or try this hack: Place the warm milk in a covered jar with a little room for air and shake well.
A word of caution: Extremely hot liquids have been shown to increase the risk of developing esophageal (throat) cancer. A study published in the International Cancer Journal in March 2019, they found that those who regularly drank tea above 140 degrees F were 41 percent more likely to develop throat cancer over the course of 10 years than those who drank their tea below 140 degrees. So if you enjoy near-boiling drinks, consider letting them cool for a few minutes before taking that first sip.
Ready to give yourself that warm, cozy feeling? Try these delicious and healthy drinks to bring a little warmth and comfort to even the coldest of days.
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