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Boost the good-ness of hot beverages

Written By: Andi Atkinson, UT Physicians | Updated: January 20, 2023
Woman sips a hot cup of tea on a cold day

Get sippin' this winter on some new and improved hot beverages.

When chill is in the air, nothing quite warms the soul like a steaming, delicious beverage! However, before sipping on items loaded with caffeine, sugar, and/or fat, consider trying improved cups of joy!

Cheryl D. Hughes, RD
Cheryl D. Hughes, RD

“Winter is actually the perfect time to try new hot drinks and modify your favorite drinks to make them healthier,” said Cheryl D. Hughes, registered dietitian and certified diabetes care and education specialist with UT Physicians. “While there’s nothing wrong with savoring something really rich on occasion, you can also enjoy drinks that may improve your health and are still tasty.”

Whether it is coffee, tea, hot chocolate, or other brews, Hughes shares her ways to boost the good-ness of hot beverages!

Give teas a chance

“If you’re trying to reduce your caffeine intake because of acid reflux, sleep problems, anxiety, pregnancy, or any other reason, try choosing tea over coffee,” Hughes said. “A cup of coffee contains about 95 milligrams of caffeine, but a cup of black, oolong, or green tea contains less than 50 milligrams. Herbal teas, such as chamomile, lavender, and peppermint, have a lot of natural flavor and also are caffeine-free.”

Teas are warm and soothing, and they also offer illness-fighting antioxidants. A cup of chamomile tea may improve digestion after eating, while a cup of lavender tea may improve sleep due to its calming effects, the dietitian added.

For additional sweetness in tea, try dropping a small amount of 100% pure maple syrup or local honey. These natural sugars have a lower glycemic index compared to table sugar and may not raise blood sugar levels as fast.

People can also infuse their tea with fruit or smooth it with milk. Simply add oranges, lemons, berries, or other fruit while boiling the tea to give it a tasty punch, or add dairy or plant-based milk to give it creaminess.

“I really love masala chai tea this time of year. It can be creamy when milk is added, and it contains lots of spices. It’s also lower in caffeine,” Hughes said. “Try different types of teas and in different ways to see what you like.”

Get the skinny on milk

When adding milk to coffee, hot chocolate, or even tea, opt for reduced (2%), low-fat, or fat-free (skim) milks. Another alternative is plant-based milks. These choices have lower amounts of saturated fat and may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

“Whether you make your own hot coffee or order it, you have many options. Try soy milk, for instance,” Hughes said. “You may not notice the difference at all, but it will have significantly less fat and added protein. Try various things and see what you prefer.”

Pack flavor not sugar

To sweeten beverages, swap sugar for ground spices and flavor extracts. Sprinkle spices, such as cinnamon or nutmeg, or drop extracts, such as vanilla and peppermint, to nearly any drink that needs a shot of yum.

“There are many spices and extracts that pack flavor but not sugar. This is important if you want to watch your blood sugar levels. Try different spices and extracts to see what you like,” Hughes said. “If you are trying to cut back on cane sugar, you can put smaller amounts in your cup each time you make your coffee or favorite drink. This will help your palate adjust and get used to drinking things that are less sweet.”

Make some lemon-aid

For boosted immunity and/or sickness relief, try making lemon-ginger-cinnamon tea or a hot toddy.

To make the immune-boosting tea, simply squeeze half a lemon into a mug and add the lemon rind. Add one or two cinnamon sticks and five slices of peeled ginger root. Add 8-12 ounces of boiling water on top, and let it sit for at least two minutes before enjoying!

“The extra vitamin C and antioxidants in the lemon, cinnamon, and ginger can help improve your immunity this time of the year or help manage cold/flu symptoms,” Hughes said.

For an alcohol-free hot toddy, boil 8-12 ounces of water with a peeled lemon cut into quarters, three whole cloves, a teaspoon of honey, and a pinch of ground nutmeg. These ingredients can help alleviate a sore throat and other viral symptoms.

“These types of drinks are not just good for you, they’re actually quite flavorful,” Hughes said. “So why not make them when it’s cold outside and when you want something nice and hot to drink?”

Cocoa is a go-go

For homemade hot chocolate, skip the instant mixes and reach for unsweetened cocoa powder.

To make a simple hot cocoa, whisk two tablespoons of cocoa powder with a pinch of salt and a cup of dairy or plant-based milk in a pot. Bring it to a boil and then whisk a teaspoon of pure vanilla extract.

For more chocolate-y taste, drop dark chocolate shavings into the pot. Once melted, add a teaspoon of honey and another teaspoon of pure vanilla abstract.

“By making your own hot chocolate, you can control the sugar,” Hughes said. “Dark chocolate, if added, can be a healthier alternative to milk chocolate because it’s rich in antioxidants and has a lower glycemic index, which may not spike your blood sugar as fast.”

Coffee needs a mate

Coffee is a favorite among sippers — and colder temperatures only increase the craving! However, coffee should not be used as a liquid breakfast. 

“Eat something that includes protein and fiber with your coffee, such as an egg sandwich or oatmeal with chopped nuts. This will give you the protein, fiber, and fat your body needs for energy in the morning,” Hughes said. “Try to not rely solely on coffee beverages for energy. Rely on food for your main source of energy.”

As the clinical practice of McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston, UT Physicians has locations across the Greater Houston area to serve the community. To schedule an appointment, call 888-4UT-DOCS.