Seasons Drinkings

Starbucks Coffee

Tis’ the season for an endless assortment of food and drink temptations! Tis’ the season for a self-check in motivation. I know there’s at least one person reading this that gets a little giddy when they see the infamous red holiday cups at Starbucks. I’ve honestly never tried their Pumpkin Spice Latte, Gingerbread Latte, Peppermint Hot Chocolate, or Peppermint Mocha, but know that millions of people light up in delight when these drinks appear on their menu around this time of year. When you sit down and think about it, do Gingerbread Lattes and Pumpkin Spice Lattes really sound that good? Or, is it the artificial flavorings and heaping spoonfuls of sugar that really make these drinks novelties? To throw a little psychology in the mix, is the rise in the popularity of these drinks due to the sheer “hype” behind these “limited time” offers? Could it be the subliminal messages of positive spirit and joy from seeing the red cup and knowing the holidays and family are right around the corner? Whatever your holiday food vice is, there’s almost always a substitution that can give you the taste you’re looking for without the trouble.


Before I get hate mail and comments from people who absolutely adore these drinks, let me first premise this post by saying “if you’re going to cheat, cheat smart.” You are not an awful person if you enjoy a holiday drink every so often. We’re all human and you’re wise enough to make your own decisions. All I ask is that you understand what you are consuming and make the conscious effort to think about what you put into your body before you consume anything, whether it be food or drinks. As stated above, are you really craving a pumpkin spice latte or are you feeling antsy for the holiday seasons and spending more time with family? Would a phone call home or to close friends do the trick instead? Maybe you just need some energy and the real answer to your problem could be a nap, taking a break from work, or doing something more entertaining.

Just How Bad?:
With names like pumpkin spice and gingerbread you’re lead to believe that these offerings are full of just a little sugar and spice and everything nice. To put things into perspective, I’ve listed some of the more interesting nutritional information regarding the drinks and lattes available. These are all in a 16oz serving container with 2% milk + whipped cream. Maybe this chart will make you think twice about chugging 50-60 grams a sugar at a sitting. If the numbers don’t do much for you, maybe it’s enough knowing that the drinks are not “naturally” flavored by any means. Along with the 50-60 grams of sugar included in some of these drinks you also get the “pleasure” of consuming artificial flavorings, preservatives (such as Sodium Benzoate and Citric Acid), and Xanthan Gum that are included in some of the syrups. Still thirsty?



Carbohydrates (grams)

Sugar (grams)

Caffeine (mg)

Peppermint Hot Chocolate 440 68 61 25
Gingerbread Latte 320 40 37 150
Pumpkin Spice Latte 380 51 49 150
Peppermint  Mocha 410 63 54 175


So how does a paleo god/goddess tackle the holiday drinks?:

Luckily, we have an awesome group of culinary artists in our midst that can help us tackle this toughie. A plain Americano style of drink (espresso with hot water) with a shake of nutmeg and cinnamon is all that I need, but for those looking for more adventure here are a few great options:

Option 1:  George, from Civilized Caveman Cooking Creations, has created a delicious Paleo Pumpkin Spice Latte that takes a whopping 5 minutes of prep time.

1 cup coconut milk
1 ½ T. pureed pumpkin
2 T. organic vanilla extract
2-3 T. raw organic honey (optional)
½ t. ground cinnamon
Pinch of nutmeg
½ cup strong coffee
Pinch of cocoa powder

1. Brew 2 cups of strong coffee
2. In a saucepan over medium heat, heat coconut milk, pureed pumpkin, and honey until milk is steaming
3. Remove from heat, stir in vanilla, cinnamon, and nutmeg
4. Fill bottom half of cup with milk mixture, then fill the remaining space with your coffee
5. Sprinkle with cocoa powder

Option 2: I must admit that eggnog does not sit well with me for texture and taste purposes, but for those of you who cannot imagine a holiday without this drink, Mark Sisson referenced a “Primal Eggnog” recipe that was sent in by one of his readers that you may want to take for a test drive:

4 beaten egg yolks*
3 cups of coconut milk, almond milk, or whole cream
1 t. maple syrup or sugar
1 t. vanilla extract
Ground nutmeg/cinnamon to taste

1 Mix egg yolks, 2 cups of coconut milk, almond milk, or cream, and sugar. Stir gently but constantly over medium-low heat until the mixture thickens enough to cling to and coat the back of a spoon, about five to ten minutes. Be patient with this process – if you turn the heat up too high or don’t stir, the egg yolks might turn into scrambled eggs :)
2. Remove from heat and set the pot in a larger bowl filled with ice water (careful, so no water overflows into the eggnog!) and stir for 2-3 minutes then add the last cup of milk/cream and the vanilla.
3. Stir in brandy, rum, or whiskey at this point (if you’re feeling a little naughty this year)
4. Let the mixture cool down to room temperature then chill for a while longer in the fridge. The longer you let the eggnog chill, the thicker and more custard-like it will become.

Before serving, generously dust with cinnamon and nutmeg. If you can, buy whole nutmeg and grate it yourself (a microplane zester works great for this).

Option 3:  Instead of adding a shake of cinnamon or nutmeg to a cup of your favorite drink after it is brewed, try sprinkling spices on the grounds in your machine or french press. Options include: ground cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, pumpkin pie spice, cloves or whatever spice you’re feeling!

Option 4:  For those who include dairy: cold heavy cream whipped with cinnamon or other spices can provide a nice smooth addition. If you order this at a coffee shop, you have to be specific that it is heavy cream that you want to avoid being served half and half or actual whipped cream – you laugh, but it happens.

To wrap it up in a bow:
The holiday season encourages us to spend time with friends and family and give thanks. While food and drinks are a major part of holiday events, with a little planning and creativity you can avoid some of the major temptations. Alcohol is a whole different piece of the holiday puzzle and we can tackle that in another segment, if there is a request from the readers.  Please feel free to share your favorite coffee or festive drink suggestions!  Cheers!!

* I have to throw in caution with consuming raw and lightly cooked eggs due to the slight risk of salmonella or other food-borne illness. To reduce this risk, use only fresh, properly refrigerated, clean grade A or AA eggs with intact shells, and avoid contact between the yolks or whites and the shell.

Categories: Paleo Diet Basics, Recipes


Robb Wolf’s 30 Day Paleo Transformation

Have you heard about the Paleo diet and were curious about how to get started? Or maybe you’ve been trying Paleo for a while but have questions or aren’t sure what the right exercise program is for you? Or maybe you just want a 30-day meal plan and shopping list to make things easier? Then Robb Wolf’s 30 Day Paleo Transformation is for you.


  1. says

    Nice! I’ve been enjoying my Americanos or decaf coffee with full fat coconut milk and a sprinkle of pumpkin spice blend (Trader Joe’s sells this or other stores do too I think!) over the top this winter when I am not keeping away from the caffeine with my tea! There is also yummy peppermint chocolate tea out there that people can try from Republic of Tea – in stores or on Amazon even >

  2. says

    Thanks for these, I drink 2 – 3 of these Starbucks holiday drinks PER YEAR. I know they are not good for me, but sugar is just too darn yummy 😉 These alternatives sound like a better compromise though, so kudos.

    • Stephanie says

      No problem, Andrew! We’ve all got to find some kind of happy medium between what we love and what we know is good for us. Enjoy!

  3. Josh says

    Blend up some vanilla/chocolate protein with a little warm water and some cinnamon/mint and then add in a few ounces of espresso. Careful though some protein’s tend to curdle when added to hot water/coffee.

  4. Heather says

    I usually have one or two pumpkin spice lattes every holiday season…my last stop after shopping for Christmas! The are worth “the cheat” to me…it doesn’t matter to me whether the driving force behind the consumption it’s the actual taste, the “limited time” offer, the festive red cup, the association with family, friends and all the wonders of the season or a little bit of all those reasons (to be sure, I think they DO taste delicious!). I’m pregnant this year, so no pumpkin spice latte for me…but next year I will enjoy one or two as I have in the past and not feel guilty for it.

    I will, however, try the first recipe you posted to see what they hubs thinks of it. Not sure it will be a “swap” for a Starbuck’s Pumpkin Spice Latte, but it sounds yummy in it’s own right!

  5. Tim says

    The other day someone brought me a pumpkin latte from Peet’s, whose coffee I drink almost every day. It was good going down, but MAN that sugar kicked me in the butt! No mas.

  6. cheat away! says

    Those recipes look fun. But for those who don’t feel like getting out a can opener and medium saucepan just to have a latte, one or a few holiday lattes at starbucks probably aren’t going to derail an entire nutrition plan.

    I have a lot of respect for people who can remain strict on paleo and am constantly amazed at how innovative they can get when they want to have “paleo” pasta or pizza. But for me, personally, I wonder at what point we nullify the benefits we gain from a good nutritional plan by exhaustively hyperfocusing on every single detail and every single morsel of food we consume.

    I am healthy and have paleo to thank for a part of that, but I also have the burden of actually enjoying my time on earth and, for me, a pumpkin spice latte or 5 during the holidays is a part of that.

  7. Sivy says

    I pretty much just burst into tears of happiness for the Primal Eggnog recipe!!
    I discovered last year that my holiday favorite, eggnog, was one of the worst offenders for my stomach problems (and not to mention the painful rosacea flair-up) so I stopped imbibing, it just wasn’t worth it. However, I discovered that I was a little sad because it felt like my body was rejecting everything that made the “holidays” the holidays for me: eggnog, cookies and my mother’s cardamom bread. I grew up with the holidays being all about the special food that we only had around Christmas and I ended up sulking a little more that was pretty about what I couldn’t eat. I feel like I am much better prepared this year – and now with primal eggnog! Dude I am ready to go!!!
    And I have tired the pumpkin spice latte: it is awesomeness in a cup.

    • Amy Kubal says

      Glad you liked the Egg Nog recipe!! I can honestly say I don’t share your passion – that is one of the things I’ve never understood how people can like… 😉 More for you though!! The pumpkin spice latte on the other hand – GENIUS!! :)

  8. says

    I wanted a pumpkin spice latte from Starbucks last year — desperately. I ordered it, took one sip, and threw it out! My new paleo palate singlehandedly rejected the sugar and chemicals. I haven’t craved anything like it since! I made pumpkin spice creamer in October — good, but I just don’t dig sweet stuff any more. I may make the eggnog and see where that gets me.

    • Amy Kubal says

      Jen! I think that’s awesome! You threw it out – damn, $5.00 down the drain – but your body is SO much happier!!! :)

  9. says

    Good info!!

    It’s amazing how much SUGAR/SWEET are in those things. Even back in the day I’d only ask for 1 PUMP of the syrup…NOT 4! Good golly. :)

    No cravings for them now at all now. I’d rather “cheat” with a bit more spirits during Thanksgiving and Christmas anyway.

    I’m looking forward to the alcohol post.


    • says

      Agreed – they taste SO fake. I suspect Starbucks used to use different syrups, or else my tastes radically changed, because the syrup-additions taste positively awful to me. (And agreed about the whole “4 pumps for a tall” thing – it’s like candy!)

      My favorite spicy things:

      – Good Earth original black tea (extremely spicy & sweet, no sugar!)
      – Celestial Seasonings Bengal Spice herbal tea
      – several of Teavana’s spicier offerings (
      – Trader Joe’s sells coffee beans with whole spices in the mix during the winter. I’m a bean snob 😉 but I used to really enjoy this (or DIY with better beans; I’m a Stumptown girl!)

      I also made the coconut milk pumpkin spice latte from Renewal By Kelly ( It was good, but a little bland for me. I’m going to remake it and tweak the spice proportions for my tastes (i.e. MORE spices!) A bonus is that it fits perfectly into a 1-pint glass cream container… (reduce, reuse, all that good stuff).

          • says

            I’ll have to try it; thanks! I end up favoring straight herbal vs. rooibos teas. Sometimes I taste an unpleasant almost pine-ish top note from the rooibos, and for me it ruins the rest of the tea. Sometimes, it’s just fine, though! :) I do love “dessert” teas – Celestial Seasonings puts out special holiday flavors like Gingerbread Spice and Sugarplum Spice. If you look closely, they add soy lecithin at the bottom of their list of ingredients, but they are tasty & no sugar! :)

            One final comment – I make all my Celestial Seasonings teas double-strength (2 teabags per cup). Mmm…

    • Stephanie says

      It’s funny how some people order! People know exactly how many sugar packets, pumps of syrups, and room they need for cream for the “ultimate drink.” One pump of syrup too many or too little and their world is torn apart. I must say I am guilty of being “that gal'” at restaurants, but my suggestions are more along the lines of “hold the cheese, no croutons, sauce on the side” versus extra syrup :)

  10. Bevie says

    I used to ADORE pumpkin spice latte, but it no longer sits well on the tummy (understatement). I find that a holiday spiced tea has a lot of the same enjoyable spices but no icky sugars and stuffs, plus it’s easy to carry a couple wrapped teabags with me and have a cup whenever I need it.

    • Stephanie says

      Isn’t that the truth!! Sometimes it doesn’t even take much self control to resist temptations because you remember how awful you felt the last time you indulged!

  11. Trevor Frayne says

    Stupid question but I’m going to ask it anyway. Could I use honey instead of sugar or maple syrup for the egg nog? I never use sugar or maple syrup but I often substitute honey for sugar.

  12. Jamie says

    I was drinking a caramel brulee latte (no whip) from a “red cup” as I read this… yes, I knew it wasn’t a good choice… but I accepted it and moved on. The first few sips were yummy… the rest was a trainwreck and I know I’ll feel like hell later. :-(

  13. becky yo says

    I almost asked my barista to add a pump of their pumpkin spice syrup into my coffee this morning! I think I’d rather make these recipes.

    • says

      Huh, interesting. While I actually enjoy bitter foods, black coffee (even if it’s my snobby fave Stumptown & in espresso form) is just too much for me… good for you! :)

  14. Mary says

    Pushing the “no dumb question” thing, but does T. in the paleo latte recipe stand for tablespoon or teaspoon? 2-3 tablespoons honey puts the sugar up to about the same level as the Starbucks drinks.

    • Stephanie says

      A big T. is for tablespoon a little t. is for teaspoon. The 2-3 tablespoons is OPTIONAL. You can use much less than that or none at all. I agree that it is a pretty good dose of honey, but definitely feel free to modify it to your taste! If you’ve been pretty low on your overall sugar consumption you may certainly need less (or none at all) to give you the taste you desire. This was not a dumb question at all and brought up a great point.

        • says

          Mary I put that in there for people that still need the sweetness. When I make this for myself I use 1 Tbsp and that is all I need and sometimes that is too much. I made this for someone who wasn’t on Paleo to prove they can have something delicious without all the added crap and they had 2 Tbsp and loved it. The sugar content may be just as high but the difference is where it comes from, at least with the Raw Organic local honey I am not getting over processed honey that shouldn’t even be called honey anymore. I hope you enjoy when you make and definitely leave me a comment on my blog what you did, I am always open for suggestions

  15. Danielle Mateyka says

    Dare I try the primal egg nog recipe with 3 cups of cream (grass-fed)……… yes I dare. Another holiday drink tip would be to make some mulled apple cider, or better yet some mulled wine (sweetener of your choice or port).

    • Nancy Mize says

      I was just going to recommend mulled cider! Fresh hot cider with just the right spice needs nothing else. Haven’t tried mulled port, but that’s a great suggestion. What other wine is suitable for mulling?

      • Danielle Mateyka says

        Any red wine will work e.g. Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Merlot. These wines need to be sweetened though. Port is already sweet so just add in some mulling spices and maybe some orange peel if your feeling it.

      • Danielle Mateyka says

        I live in Washington State, one of the few states that allow the sell of raw dairy products at regular grocery stores. So I have a local source of raw grass-fed dairy. If you are just interested in grass-fed milk in your area, your local health food store might have it. If you are interested in raw grass-fed milk go to the web They have a section where you can search by state for retailers or actual farms.

      • Tammy says

        There may be some local farm stores in your surrounding area that have the dairy items you seek. I’m in the Boston suburbs there are many farm stores that sell organic fruits/veggies, as well as natural/organic dairy and meat products from the local (New England) farmers.

  16. says

    This is a very reasonable way of providing a holiday treat, without futzing up a paleo regimen too much!!! People handle the temptation differently, following paleo 6 days, eating whatever they want on the 7th for example. But all dieters must come to their own equilibrium at some point!

  17. Steve says

    Thank you for writing this article! I haven’t visited in quite awhile but luckily decided to look at it today and it was an eye-opener. I’ve recently moved to Seattle so I’ve become addicted to way too many latte’s and other coffee beverages. Despite my workouts and paleo diet my pants are still tight – now I see why! Teas will be the best option for me or Americanos with coconut milk and a little bit of cinnamon should do the trick.

    Keep up the good work of enlightening me about why I’m not getting any lighter. Next the alcohol article… don’t tell me I need to give up red wine too :(

    • Stephanie says

      welcome back!!! I’m glad you found the post helpful. Red wine is okay to include in your plan every now and then, but if you’re watching your waistline just be cautious of the portion and frequency. The standard 5 oz is deceivingly small, especially when poured into large globets!

  18. John DiMercurio says

    I don’t drink alchohol very much. However, now that the holiday’s are upon us, I’d like to know if there are certain choices out there that are better than others. Personally, I am not interested in flavor as much as I am interested in recovery for athletic training. The less sugar, the less inflammation, the better. -Johnny D

  19. Katie says

    At Starbucks, I have been getting an americano with a little heavy whipping cream and I ask for the pumpkin spice “sprinkles” on top. The “sprinkles” are a basic spice blend ( I asked to see the ingredients). If I had an espresso maker, I’d do it at home, but for some reason those little red cups bring me some much needed holiday cheer.

  20. says

    Thank you for that wake up call! I am appalled by all the sugar grams lurking there. Recently I had a craving for a pumpkin chai tea latte and went to a local coffeehouse and asked for one with the smallest amount of sugar possible. Well the chai and pumpkin part was delicious but the sugar made me feel terrible. It was too sweet, and I ended up with a headache. So now I found unsweetened chai tea that I brew with Trader Joe’s pumpkin spice and a touch of vanilla coconut milk. I am going to take your suggestion and add a bit of pumpkin to get my fix.

    It’s kind of gross when you think about it, that they use a clear sugar syrup that smells like pumpkin, but probably doesn’t have pumpkin in it! Keep up the good work!

  21. Tara Tooley says

    Thanks for the post. Looks YUMMY!

    At the risk of being negative, the paleo accomplishment here is getting the dairy out? … but don’t we still have a problem with the sugars? I just looked up honey. 1T of honey has 17g of Carbs/Sugar. With 3T of honey we would be at 51g of sugars/carbs, a similar level as Starbucks’. I did notice that you posted that this can be reduced….but you could get one less pump at Starbucks.

    I struggle with this frequently when considering Paleo recipes. My husband teases me when I balk at the insulin spike honey will give you just like sugar… I say “what is the difference? Sugar is sugar.” He says…. “it is on a Paleo recipe site.. good enough for me. We should eat a bunch of it!”

    This is where I’m not sure of myself. Honey is a lot better than sugar…. or only a little? I would love to hear your thoughts and you can maybe solve this spousal argument.

    It would be awesome to be right because I’m human and there is nothing better than being right when it comes to your husband. But, if you can give me a dietary license to not be afraid of using too much honey….. I’m IN!!

    • Heidi says

      I think the question is “how does my body react to honey?” For me, it is a no go. A tablespoon of honey today, tomorrow my cravings will be so bad I’ll be eating cake and ice cream for breakfast. Been there, done that, so many times it is embarassing. But not everyone is so addicted. I don’t think it is the Tbsp of honey that matters, as much as what you eat after it.

      • Amy Kubal says

        Heidi, you are exactly right! Everyone is going to have a different ‘tolerance’ level. Know your limits, triggers, reactions and plan accordingly!! :)

  22. christy says

    Being fairly new to Paleo my husband and I decided a few nights ago to try the “eggnog”. Can I just say it was terrible. I made it with Coconut milk and it was just too watery. I think it would be much better with the Heavy Cream. (which we cannot have as my hubby is lactose intolerant). I’m going to give the pumpkin latte a try. I have high hopes. I’m not trying to be negative as we LOVE eating Paleo. But to call that drink eggnog is a stretch. We laugh about it now and joke about serving “egg water” to our guests. Admittedly…the only thing we haven’t liked on Paleo so far. SO, maybe I’ll try some day with the cream but for now…I’ll just stick to neither the Starbucks nor the “egg water”.

    • Stephanie says

      Did you use watered down coconut milk beverage from a carton or actual coconut milk? I agree eggnog is supposed to be thick, not watered down so by choosing canned coconut milk or heavy cream you may find a better consistency.

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