12/22/2011 08:27 am ET | Updated Feb 21, 2012

Holiday Drinks: Hot Chocolate or Eggnog? -- Which is Healthier

By Kerri-Ann Jennings, M.S., R.D. Associate Nutrition Editor for EatingWell Magazine

The past few weeks have seen the return of two seasonal drinks -- hot chocolate and eggnog. Both taste sinfully delicious, but one of them trumps the other in terms of healthfulness.

Although I like both, I'm partial to hot chocolate. Its silky richness hits the spot on cold winter days. But as a registered dietitian and associate nutrition editor of EatingWell magazine, I had to find out if I was making the healthiest choice.

Eggnog cons: Made of whole milk, cream, eggs and sugar, eggnog is rich and its nutritional profile reflects that. A half-cup serving has 180 calories and six grams of saturated fat (30 percent of the daily recommended limit).

Eggnog pros: All that dairy translates into one major pro for eggnog -- calcium. A half-cup delivers 13 percent of your daily dose. You'll also get five grams of protein in this small serving.

Hot chocolate cons: Depending on how it's made, hot chocolate's nutritional profile can vary greatly. Assuming the worst, a standard coffee-shop hot chocolate with whole milk and sweet chocolate syrup will set you back 175 calories per cup (although, let's face it, most coffee-shop servings are at least 12 ounces, meaning the caloric damage is likely higher). Add whipped cream and the calorie count goes up to 210. Saturated fat is three grams per cup without the whipped cream, six grams with.

Hot chocolate pros: Unlike eggnog, you can tailor your hot chocolate order -- or make it yourself -- to slash calories and saturated fat, while keeping the calcium (20 percent of your daily value per cup) and protein (seven grams per cup). Swap out the whole milk for skim and you'll save 55 calories per cup. And when hot chocolate is made with natural cocoa powder (the nonalkalized kind), it will give you a healthy dose of antioxidants -- the kind that are shown to quell stress and lower your risk of heart disease.

The Verdict: Classic hot chocolate and eggnog are actually quite similar, nutritionally. Considering a serving of hot chocolate is eight ounces and a serving of eggnog is four ounces, per serving each drink has about 175 calories, similar amounts of saturated fat (four in the eggnog, three in the hot chocolate) and sugar (21 grams -- about five teaspoons). The hot chocolate has an edge, though, in the calcium department. Boasting 20 percent of your daily dose of calcium per cup, it trumps the 13 percent offered by eggnog. And considering it may be hard to stick to just four ounces of eggnog, hot cocoa is the safer bet if you don't want to overindulge.

Healthy hot chocolate recipe

If you're making it yourself, try this easy recipe for the healthiest cup:

Combine 1 tablespoon natural cocoa powder and 1 tablespoon sugar in a mug. Swirl in 1 cup steaming low-fat milk. Spice it up with one of these add-ins:
• Orange peel and ground cloves
• Ground cardamom and vanilla
• Chili powder and cinnamon

(Or try this Spiced Hot Chocolate for a delicious variation.)

What do you like better -- hot chocolate or eggnog?

By Kerri-Ann Jennings

Kerri-Ann Jennings

Kerri-Ann, a registered dietitian, is the associate editor of nutrition for EatingWell magazine, where she puts her master's degree in nutrition from Columbia University to work writing and editing news about nutrition, health and food trends. In her free time, Kerri-Ann likes to practice yoga, hike, bake and paint.