Hot chocolate is the classic winter drink that we’ve loved ever since we were kids. While the snow falls outside, staying cozy by the fire with a mug of hot cocoa is our favorite winter tradition. And let’s be real – when we go skiing, we’re just focused on making it down the mountain so we can reward ourselves with some hot chocolate.

No matter how many new seasonal concoctions Starbucks releases, hot chocolate will forever hold a special place in our hearts. Each sip brings back memories of cold winter days, sledding and snowball fights. I was left in shock and awe when I realized that hot chocolate was making me fat.

It all started one winter day at Panera. I had stopped in to get a warm drink and ordered Panera’s signature hot chocolate, complete with caramel sauce and chocolate chip marshmallows. I mean, come on, look how pretty this drink is.

hot chocolate

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As I got up to leave, I glanced at the menu board and realized that the beverage I had just finished contains 490 calories. Yep, you’re reading that right, 490 CaloriesAnd not only is it high in calories, it also contains 62 grams of sugar.

I felt cheated. Confused. Betrayed. Disgusted. I could have eaten a nice meal for the number of calories I had just consumed in that hot chocolate.

But this couldn’t be right. Do all hot chocolates contain so many calories? Angry and determined, I decided to find out just how many calories are really in my favorite winter drink.

I turned to Starbucks to put an end to this madness. However, when I researched the calorie content of Starbucks’ grande hot chocolate, I found that it has 400 calories and 43 grams of sugar. While these numbers are slightly lower than Panera’s, they still seem absurdly high.

hot chocolate

Photo by Charles Wetherbee

Maybe Dunkin Dounts will solve this problem, I thought. I was wrong. According to Dunkin’s nutrition guide, a medium hot chocolate contains 330 calories and 45 grams of sugar. And this calorie count is even higher with the addition of S’mores flavoring, totaling 340 calories. Significantly fewer calories than the others, but still too high for a cup of hot chocolate.

hot chocolate

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Still seeking the truth about hot chocolate, I pulled a box of Swiss Miss out of my pantry. Unlike the other options, a packet of Swiss Miss hot chocolate with mini marshmallows contains only 146 calories. That’s around 200 less than Panera, Starbucks, and Dunkin Donuts’ hot chocolates. Plus, each packet has only 17.8 grams of sugar.

So why is there such a difference in nutrition between these hot chocolates? Well, all three coffeeshops add syrups and whipped cream to their hot chocolates, piling on the calories and increasing the sugar content. Without all these additions, Swiss Miss makes a much healthier product.

hot chocolate

Photo by Abigail Wilkins

So the next time you’re wondering why you’ve gained five pounds this winter, look to the beverages you’ve been consuming. Hot chocolate may not be the only reason you’re gaining weight, but it can definitely be part of the problem.

Don’t worry, this doesn’t mean you have to say goodbye to your favorite winter drink forever; hot chocolate packets like Swiss Miss are a healthier (and less expensive) alternative to Starbucks’ hot chocolate. And if you still crave that fancy coffeeshop hot cocoa, upgrade your Swiss Miss with these tips, or add this ingredient to sweeten it without the additional calories.