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How unhealthy is a hot chocolate?

Hot chocolate is a popular winter drink that many people enjoy on cold days. However, despite its cozy, comforting reputation, hot chocolate can be quite high in calories, fat, and sugar. So just how unhealthy is a typical cup of hot chocolate?

Calories in Hot Chocolate

The calorie content of hot chocolate can vary significantly depending on how it is made. Here are some typical calorie counts:

  • Packet hot chocolate mix made with water: About 100 calories per 8 ounce serving
  • Packet hot chocolate mix made with whole milk: About 160 calories per 8 ounce serving
  • Homemade hot chocolate made with 2 tablespoons cocoa powder, 1 tablespoon sugar and 8 ounces whole milk: About 130 calories
  • Small hot chocolate from coffee shop chain: About 250 calories or more for a 12-16 ounce serving
  • Large hot chocolate from coffee shop chain: About 350-500 calories for a 16-24 ounce serving

As you can see, a small packet of instant hot chocolate mix isn’t too high in calories. But ordering a hot chocolate from a coffee shop, especially in a larger size, can pack a caloric punch. For example, a 20 ounce Starbucks hot chocolate made with 2% milk has 440 calories. That’s over 20% of the daily calories needed for an average adult!

Fat Content

In addition to calories, the fat content is another reason hot chocolate can be fattening. Again, this depends on how it is made:

  • Packet hot chocolate: Usually 0-2 grams of fat
  • Homemade with cocoa and milk: About 5 grams of fat using skim milk, up to 8 grams of fat with whole milk
  • Coffee shop hot chocolate: Ranges from about 8-15 grams of fat depending on size and milk used

The type of milk used makes a big difference in the fat content. Whole milk has much more fat than skim, while 2% and 1% fall somewhere in between.

Sugar Content

Sugar is what gives hot chocolate its sweet taste, but it also adds calories and very little nutrition. Here’s the sugar content based on different recipes:

  • Packet hot chocolate: Usually 12-15 grams of sugar
  • Homemade: 8-12 grams depending on amount of sugar added
  • Coffee shop: Ranges from about 25-50 grams of sugar

Some coffee shop hot chocolates can contain a staggering 50 grams of sugar – that’s more sugar than many candy bars! All that added sugar is one of the main reasons hot chocolate can be classified as an unhealthy drink.

Nutritional Pros and Cons

Compared to other indulgent winter drinks like eggnog and peppermint mochas, hot chocolate does have some nutritional advantages. Here’s a look at some of the pros and cons:


  • Contains antioxidants from cocoa powder
  • Provides a small amount of calcium from milk
  • Made with milk, so provides some protein and vitamins like Vitamin D


  • High in calories, sugar, and fat if made with whole milk and added sugar
  • Often lacking in fiber, vitamins, and minerals compared to other drinks
  • Provides empty calories without much nutritional value

Overall, while hot chocolate made from cocoa powder and milk provides some nutrition, the high amount of fat, sugar and calories outweigh the benefits for most recipes.

Ways to Make Hot Chocolate Healthier

If you want to enjoy hot chocolate but avoid some of the unhealthy ingredients, there are several easy ways to modify it:

  • Use skim or low-fat milk instead of whole milk
  • Skip the whipped cream topping
  • Use a sugar substitute like stevia instead of sugar
  • Add a sprinkle of cinnamon or nutmeg for extra flavor so less sugar is needed
  • Include a small amount of dark chocolate for intense chocolate flavor
  • Stir in a banana or avocado for a creamy texture

Making your hot chocolate with more natural ingredients like cocoa powder, skim milk, and stevia instead of a packet of processed mix can also increase the nutritional value.

How Much Hot Chocolate Is Too Much?

Having an occasional cup of hot chocolate likely won’t harm your health too much. But regularly drinking large, sugar-filled hot chocolates could lead to unwanted weight gain and other issues. Here are some general guidelines on limiting hot chocolate intake:

  • Aim for no more than one hot chocolate per day
  • Stick to smaller sizes around 8-12 oz instead of large 20+ oz drinks
  • Avoid adding extra sugar, syrups, or toppings
  • Only occasionally treat yourself to an indulgent large hot chocolate with whipped cream etc.

Drinking hot chocolate in moderation, along with an overall healthy diet and active lifestyle, is the best approach for managing calories and preventing overindulgence.


Hot chocolate certainly has some nutritional drawbacks in the form of empty calories, fat, and sugar. However, it also provides a tasty way to get antioxidants from cocoa and nutrients from milk. Having the occasional cup, especially if modified to be lower in sugar and fat, likely won’t negatively impact your health.

The key is moderation. Frequently having large, sugar and fat-filled hot chocolates could contribute to weight gain and other health issues. But an occasional smaller-sized homemade hot chocolate made with wholesome ingredients can be part of a balanced diet when consumed mindfully and in sensible portions.

So don’t feel too guilty if you indulge in some hot chocolate this winter – just be sure to limit the size and toppings and enjoy it as an occasional treat!