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Winter warming drinks: delicious low calorie substitutes that taste great

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Keeping fit and maintaining our weight in winter can be demanding. Whether we ice-skate, go for wintry countryside walks, or opt for high intensity interval training, we sometimes feel that everything from hot chocolate to chai latte seems designed to interfere with our balanced diet and undo the good work we’re doing with our fitness programme. Never fear, we’ve got some tasty suggestions that will replace your favourite winter drink with something just as delicious that also supports weight management.

Heart healthy hot chocolate

Drinking it out – when ordering hot chocolate in a cafe or restaurant, ask a couple of questions: can they make it with skim milk? Even better, can they use half skim, half water? Refuse the whipped cream, syrup and sprinkles to save yourself up to 14 grams of fat, and opt for a pinch of pure cinnamon on top (check that’s what it really is; many cafe ‘sprinklers’ use blends of spices and milk powder or spices and powdered sugar for cheapness). Cinnamon triggers the same taste-buds that respond to sweetness so this warming spice convinces your brain that your drink is packed with sugar.

Making hot chocolate at home – if you can obtain Mexican hot chocolate in solid form, it will already be lower in sugar and higher in antioxidants than powdered chocolate. If not, buy cocoa rather than hot chocolate and use skimmed milk. Heat the milk with a cinnamon stick and (if you like it) a tiny amount of mild chilli powder – that’s the Mexican way! If you’re using cocoa, consider blending it with a small amount of maple syrup or honey to create a paste – this adds a little sweetness and is much better for you than white sugar. In fact both honey and maple syrup contain antioxidants that improve your general health. Once the milk is boiling, pour a little over the block chocolate or stir into the cocoa paste and then pour in the milk slowly, stirring continually, until it is all added and the chocolate melted or dissolved. Now transfer the cinnamon stick to your mug and use it to stir your hot chocolate as you drink it.

Mocha latte

Drinking it out – once again, ask for skim milk or half-milk, half-water and a single shot of espresso.  The real evil of mocha latte is the amount of sugar in the chocolate component so refuse sprinkles and syrup and ask if you can have a double foam, which means they’ll steam the milk for longer, rather than topping up the cup with more milk, which adds to your fat consumption.

Making mocha latte at home – some chocolate companies now make 85-100% pure chocolate. These bittersweet slabs of cocoa solid are slower to dissolve than chocolate with a higher fat content and have a much stronger chocolate ‘hit’, so you can use  less to get the same intensity of flavour. The ideal way to make mocha latte at home is to make a single shot of coffee, grate your 85-100% chocolate into it and then, as the chocolate melts, whisk with boiling skimmed milk. The flavour will be intense, but the drink could contain 150 less calories than a standard version.

Chai latte

Drinking it out – watch out for high levels of sugar in pre-blended chai latte mixes. If in doubt, ask for straight chai tea with a couple of tablespoons of skim, soy or almond milk stirred in, and then add a teaspoon of honey to the mix.

Making chai latte at home – you can make an awesome chai latte at home with a chai tea bag (look out for manufacturers that use spices and herbs rather than sugar and dehydrated honey to give chai its flavour) and some hot almond milk. The wonderful foamy consistency of chai served in India comes from the way the vendor pours the drink from cup to cup to cool and blend it, and you can do the same. Simply steep your teabag in half a cup of boiling water until it reaches the desired strength, then put into a larger cup with half a cup of hot almond milk. Pour from cup to cup, using height to aerate the mixture (best done over the sink until you’re proficient at it!) and if necessary, reheat for ten seconds in the microwave. Stirring your chai latte with a natural liquorice stick or vanilla pod adds extra flavour without increasing calorie consumption.

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