THERE’S always been a multitude of Christmas-themed food offerings to ensure we taste the magic of the festive season.

From sweet mince pies to pre-packed pigs in blankets, there is no shortage of tempting treats.

But what about a Christmas drink? A glass of sherry is an old favourite, while a nice drop of white wine is a welcome accompaniment to the Christmas dinner.

Now high street coffee chains have got in on the act, and it’s no surprise that connoisseurs of luxury coffee and hot chocolate have been keen to sample the seasonal delights on offer.

However, national charity Action on Sugar has published the results of a survey which produced some alarming findings.

It found that some festive coffees contained up to 23 spoonfuls of sugar per cup – the same sugar content as four white chocolate and strawberry muffins.

Action on Sugar assessed drinks from nine different national chains; Starbucks, Caffe Nero, Costa, and Greggs, all of which have outlets in Hexham, as well as KFC, McDonald’s, Eat, Leon and Pret a Manger.

The charity said the worst example was Starbucks’ caramel hot chocolate with whipped cream, containing over 23 teaspoons of sugar and 758 calories, while Starbucks’ gingerbread latte contained over 14 spoonfuls of sugar and 523 calories per portion.

Holly Gabriel, a registered nutritionist at Action on Sugar, said: “It is shocking that so many high street coffee chains are wilfully putting their customers’ health at risk despite sugar reduction targets for sugary milk drinks being set in 2018.

“Coffee shops and cafes need to take much greater steps to reduce the levels of sugar and portion sizes, promote lower sugar alternatives and stop pushing indulgent extras at the till.”

Some of the coffee chains included in the study said they offered a variety of low-sugar options to customers, as well as their more indulgent products, while some drinks were made using vegan-friendly alternatives to cow’s milk.

But Action on Sugar said consumers could be unknowingly opting for extra sugar because of a lack of labelling, and the perception vegan options were healthier, when actually some shops used pre-sweetened alternatives to cow’s milk. The findings of the survey have led to concerns from the Dental Wellness Trust, and the World Cancer Research Fund.

A spokeswoman for Starbucks said that customers could customise the size of their drinks, as well as asking for reduced fat milk and less or no cream.

She added: “We are committed to reducing sugar in all our beverages and since 2015 we’ve delivered a nine per cent reduction in the sugar content of our gingerbread and core syrup range of vanilla, caramel and hazelnut.”

Costa has pledged to reduce added sugar in its drinks range by 25 per cent in the New Year. Greggs said it was committed to nutrition and making products healthier, while Cafe Nero said it had a dedicated team looking at ways of reducing sugar, salt and and fat.

Local independent businesses are doing their bit to serve up tea and coffee, as well as home-made food, the traditional way.

Jill Wilkinson started her Jill’s Catering business 10 years ago, initially to provide a catering and home delivery food service, but she opened a cafe at Catton two years ago.

“We sell tea and coffee, but its very traditional,” she said. “There are no fancy coffees with different names on the menu, and there’s no additional sugar.

“Our hot beverages reflect what we are about, traditional home-made meals and snacks, with both savoury and sweet options.”

It’s been quite a journey for Jill, who initially opened a commercial kitchen with garage space as a hub for her delivery service.

But with a growing number of people popping in to collect their food, she successfully converted the garage section into a cafe.

Now she employs six people, and the business caters for people across the district, with the cafe open on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.

The Christmas season is now in full swing, and many people will allow themselves to indulge in a few festive treats over the coming weeks.

They will hope for more healthy options in the New Year.