At this time of the year, our bodies seem to just yearn for a warm drink in our hands. Herbal tea is always a healthy option when you want something to warm you up — but sometimes you just crave something extra, whether it’s something sweet, stimulating, or just really flavourful.
With coffee shops on every corner of most towns, it’s hard not to pop in for something toasty and indulgent. However, be cautious — what might seem like a great option to help get you through your day could actually be hiding a lot of calories, along with other properties that are not that great for your health.
Let’s consider four very common warm drinks that people enjoy at this time of year — coffee, chai tea, apple cider, and hot chocolate — and see how you can make the healthiest choices about caffeine and sugar while still enjoying your favourite beverage.
What to watch out for: The caffeine in coffee and black tea can contribute to unwanted stress. Excess caffeine throughout the day acts as a diuretic, which increases fluid loss and can lead to dehydration. This can also worsen existing health conditions. For example, if you are a woman going through menopause, there is nothing like a little caffeine to exacerbate symptoms like hot flashes.
Making a better choice: Reduce caffeine’s downsides by choosing organic, fair-trade coffee. Instead of having two or three cups of coffee a day, try for just one — this might also help you to gradually transition to green tea instead, or as a replacement for some of the coffee you usually drink.
Sugar and additives
What to watch out for: Sugar and additives are found in hot chocolate, apple cider, and chai tea. Unfortunately, most coffee shops make these drinks from a powder or syrup — both are loaded with refined sugars and other preservatives. Also note that most apple ciders are pasteurized, which means they are robbed of all their nutrients, like vitamin C.
Making a better choice: Buy fresh-pressed apple cider at your local farmers; market, then brew it up at home and carry it around in your reusable mug. For hot chocolate, get your hands on some pure cacao, stir it up with some rice or almond milk, and add a drop of honey to make the best cocoa drink in town. Not only will it be delicious, but pure cacao is full of nutrients like magnesium, calcium, and antioxidants.
The healthiest choice, as usual, is to make your own beverage at home. Homemade chai tea with a base of rooibos (African red tea) instead of black tea is an amazing option loaded with antioxidants — and it’s also caffeine free!
Cozy chai latte
1 cup pure water
1 cup rice or almond milk
1 cinnamon stick
4 pieces of cloves
1/3 inch fresh ginger root, sliced
3 pieces whole peppercorns
1/3 tsp whole fennel seeds
½ tsp nutmeg
¼ tsp whole cardamom seeds
2 tsp rooibos tea
Honey or maple syrup to sweeten
1. Simmer all spices in 1 cup of water, covered, for 30 minutes.
2. Add the rooibos tea and milk and bring to a rolling boil.
3. Reduce the heat and simmer for an additional 5 minutes.
4. Remove from heat, cool slightly to comfortable drinking temperature, and serve as it is or with a sweetener of your choice.
Marni Wasserman is a culinary nutritionist in Toronto whose philosophy is stemmed around whole foods. She is dedicated to providing balanced lifestyle choices through natural foods. Using passion and experience, she strives to educate individuals on how everyday eating can be simple and delicious.