Because many favorite wintry drinks are sweetened, it’s easy to get carried away with sugar and calories. The two main sources of added sugars in the U.S. diet are sugar-sweetened drinks and sweet snacks, with sweetened beverages accounting for nearly half of all added sugars consumed, according to the Kendall Reagan Nutrition Center at Colorado State University.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend consuming less than 10 percent of calories from added sugar each day. For someone who needs 2,000 calories per day, 10 percent equals 50 grams of added sugar or 12.5 teaspoons (4 grams of sugar equals 1 teaspoon). However, the American Heart Association has more stringent guidelines for added sugar, recommending women consume less than 24 grams per day (6 teaspoons) and men less than 36 grams per day (9 teaspoons). Some drinks can reach higher than 70 grams of added sugar (17.5 teaspoons) in a 16-ounce serving.

Sugar-sweetened beverages include regular soda, sports drinks, sweetened tea, energy drinks, lemonade, fruit juice, sweetened coffee drinks, flavored milks and more. Sugar-sweetened beverages aren’t as filling as food, so it’s easy to drink a lot of calories without even knowing it. Because sugar-sweetened beverages have calories and few essential nutrients, they are considered "empty calories." In excess, empty sugar calories can be a contributor to the development of many diseases, including obesity, type 2 diabetes and some types of cancers.

Because the cold January weather makes many of us want to stop by our favorite coffee shop and grab a warm drink, it’s fitting to discuss ways to modify an order to keep sugar in check. Small changes in your drink order can equal big savings in calories and added sugar.

Request less syrup. To find out how much syrup/flavoring is in a drink, go to the coffee shop’s website to see nutrition facts. For context, a single pump of flavored syrup can provide over 5 grams of added sugar.

Try a smaller size. You can still enjoy your favorite drink, but with a fraction of the sugar. As an example, a large (20 ounce) chai latte might have 13 teaspoons of sugar; a medium (16 ounce) chai latte 10.5 teaspoons and a small (12 ounce) chai latte 8 teaspoons of added sugar. Choosing a small chai latte instead of a large one cuts out 5 teaspoons of added sugar.

Know your coffee shops’ lingo. Many shops use terms like "lightly sweet" or "skinny" to refer to drinks with less added sugar. Selecting a "skinny" or less sweet drink helps cut down on added sugar.

Reconsider coffee toppings. While whipped cream, caramel and/or chocolate drizzle toppings are decadent and tasty, they add a heap of empty calories and added sugar. Going "light on whip" or skipping syrups can cut out calories without compromising flavor.

Mix it up. Consider occasionally switching a sweet drink order with a seasonal unsweetened tea. Simply reducing the frequency of ordering sweet drinks is an effective strategy for cutting down on sugar.

Do it yourself. When you make your drink yourself, you can more easily control how much sugar you add.

Linda Robbins, CDN, is assistant director and nutrition educator for Cornell Cooperative Extension of Herkimer County.