I’d kind of forgotten about Horlicks until a recent trip to the UK when I saw it in my mum’s cupboard. It reminds me of being little and drinking it before bed… but, as I tucked into a cup for old times’ sake, I started wondering is Horlicks healthy? And, what the heck is in it? And if you’ve wondered too, here’s the answer…
Reviewed for accuracy by Clinical Nutritionist Jennifer May. Visit our Experts page for more details on how we ensure the accuracy of articles.
What is Horlicks?
It’s described as a ‘malted malt drink’ – it’s basically a powder made from wheat and barley that’s (traditionally) mixed with milk to make a creamy drink. I say traditionally as you can now buy an instant version of Horlicks which you mix with water.
The idea that drinking Horlicks is good for health probably comes from the fact that when it was first launched it was sold as a food for ‘invalids and infants’ and actually used as a meal replacement for those with a low appetite.
As time went on, that idea vanished, and instead, Horlicks became purely a warm drink, an alternative to tea, coffee, or hot chocolate – and, in the UK at least, something consumed before bed.
What Vitamins and Minerals are in Horlicks?
Horlicks is fortified with 14 different types of vitamins and minerals including vitamin D, which is generally quite hard to get from food (we make it from sunlight so levels are usually very low in winter when a cup of Horlicks sounds like a great idea). You’ll also find vitamin C, B vitamins, iron, and lots more.
That adds to the nutrient levels you get from the milk, wheat, and barley alone.
Exactly how much of each nutrient varies, but to give you a clue, here’s how much of some common nutrients Horlicks contains if you make it up with semi-skimmed milk as directed…
|Nutrient||Amount in Horlicks||Percentage of Daily Needs|
|Vitamin D||3 ug||33%|
|Vitamin E||3.1mg||100% women, 73% men|
|Thiamin||0.4mg||50% women, 40% men|
|Iron||2.7mg||18% women, 31% men|
|Zinc||3.6mg||51% women, 38% men|
|Folate||60ug||30% (if not pregnant)|
So, as you can see one of the benefits of drinking Horlicks is that it can help top up your nutrient levels – particularly calcium.
You’ll find some other benefits associated with the added nutrients in Horlicks in our longer post on the benefits of Horlicks here.
Are Fortified Foods Healthy?
Because it has vitamins and minerals added to it, Horlicks is what’s known as a fortified food. As you can see, these are a great way of topping up nutrient levels in the diet from food that might not otherwise contain those nutrients.
Fortification can be an issue if too much of a nutrient is added to a food, but that isn’t the case with Horlicks.
However, you might be asking, why wouldn’t you just take a supplement instead? Well, nutrients don’t work in isolation – and, it’s possible that other ingredients in a fortified food can help with the absorption of nutrients.
If you always take your supplements with food you’ll also get this boost, but, if you knock them back in the morning with a cup of coffee (or, mid-afternoon when you notice them on your desk and realize you haven’t taken them yet – ahem), you won’t get this boost.
How Much Sugar is in Horlicks?
First up – when you read the label don’t panic. While it seems to say that there are 19.2g of sugar (equivalent to almost four teaspoons!) in every cup – some of those sugars are from milk and so don’t count toward added sugars which are the type you need to cut down on.
To get a better idea of the true sugar count of Horlicks you need to look at the numbers for the powder alone. And, in a 25g serving of Horlicks powder, you’ll find around 10g of sugars – equivalent to 2.5 teaspoons.
To put that in perspective, the NHS suggest no more than 30g of added sugars a day – around 7 teaspoons, so, how much difference a cup of Horlicks makes to your levels really depends on how much other sugar you have in your day.
And, as a percentage of the calories once the powder is made up with milk, sugars only makeup 19.2 percent of the calories in the cup – and so, it’s not classed as a high-sugar food.
However, it’s still likely to have more sugar than a cup of tea – unless you love to pile in the sugar…
Does Horlicks Help You Sleep?
The fact that in the UK we drink Horlicks to go to sleep might confuse people in countries like India where it’s actually used as a way to give people energy to start their day!
Theoretically, there’s nothing magic in Original Horlicks that will make you go to sleep. I say Original as Horlicks also now sells a sleep shake that contains chamomile and valerian which can actively make you sleepy.
However, in one study that actually looked at how people slept after drinking Horlicks, researchers found that older adults slept for about 11 minutes longer and didn’t wake as often during the night after drinking it.
If you’re looking for more tips on helping yourself sleep, have a look at our guide to falling asleep faster.
The researchers didn’t conclude exactly why this was the case, but they did put forward a theory.
Many of us (me included) link the idea of drinking hot milk, and/or Horlicks to going to bed in childhood – a time we weren’t stressing about the mortgage or tomorrow’s deadline. In fact, the researchers say our link between milk and sleep might even go further back to when we were soothed with milk as babies.
As such the very ritual of drinking a hot milky drink before bed can encourage your mind to calm down and chill out – and that’s what you need to fall asleep at night.
Milk also has some sleep-inducing powers as it encourages the production of tryptophan, a brain chemical that makes us sleepy, and the delivery of this to the brain can actually be enhanced with a little bit of sugar so, that may also help you drop off.
Does Horlicks Contain Caffeine?
A tiny, tiny amount – according to the Horlicks website, a cup of Original Horlicks contains less than 1.25mg of caffeine per cup – compare that to standard cup of coffee which contains 40mg and you can see it’s not really much to worry about.
Oh – and if you’re wondering if coffee is healthy, have a look at our analysis of the health benefits of instant coffee here.
Does Horlicks Contain Fat?
A 25g serving of Horlicks powder contains around 0.6g of fat. Even if you add the suggested 200ml of semi-skimmed milk to it, there’s only 4g of fat per cup (and there’s a theory that fats from dairy are not as harmful to the body as fats from processed foods or meat, so even that small amount doesn’t really matter).
How Many Calories Are in Horlicks?
To make Horlicks as directed, with 25g of powder and 200ml of semi-skimmed milk, you’d be looking at 182 calories per cup.
Is Horlicks Good For Weight Loss?
The calories in Horlicks aren’t super low – but, if you count those in your daily allowance there’s no reason why Horlicks should be better, or necessarily worse, for weight loss than any other food you consume.
A good guide is that snacks should contain no more than 200 calories – and this fits with that.
Admittedly, you might get a bit of a weight loss boost from the milk it contains. Quite a few studies (this analysis covers a few of them) have shown that people consuming dairy as part of a calorie-controlled diet tend to lose slightly more weight than those who don’t consume dairy.
The small amount of sugar that you find in Horlicks might work to satisfy sugar cravings (yes, there’s more than tea, but there’s a darn sight less than in a Mars Bar) – or, if you find even just a little sweet something starts you craving more, it might not be the best choice.
Because Horlicks also contains some protein, it might keep you fuller than tea, coffee, or hot chocolate.
Any Downsides to Horlicks?
From a health perspective, not really. You’re unlikely to overdose on any of the added vitamins unless you drink gallons of the stuff.
And, yes it contains sugar, but, if the rest of your diet is sugar-free the amount in a cup of Horlicks isn’t going to lead to any major issues.
The only possible downside I could think of is if you drink Horlicks right before bed you’re going to be exposing your teeth to sugar. If you don’t brush, that could be a problem – and, as you shouldn’t brush your teeth for at least 30 minutes after consuming sugar – and ideally you should wait 60 minutes.
So, maybe time your before bed drink carefully.
One negative from a non-health perspective is that Horlicks contains palm oil, which, for the sake of the environment should be avoided.
So, is Horlicks Good For You?
It’s definitely not bad – particularly if you make it with milk as then you get all the extra nutrients that dairy products can provide alongside those added to the Horlicks powder.
The sugar level, at a third of the recommended daily amount, is a little bit high, but if you account for it by balancing the rest of your diet it’s not the end of the world – you might want to make sure you brush your teeth well (after leaving that gap we suggest) if you’re drinking it before bed though.
So, there’s the answer to is Horlicks healthy – but, you might have a few other questions about it. Like these…
Does Horlicks Work for any Special Diets?
If you’re avoiding certain ingredients for medical, ethical, or other reasons you might be wondering if you can have Horlicks – well, here’s the answer…
Is Horlicks Gluten-Free?
No – because it is made from both wheat and barley, Horlicks is not suitable for anyone avoiding gluten.
What About Dairy-Free?
Traditionally Horlicks is made with milk so that would contain dairy, but the powder itself also contains skimmed milk powder and whey as ingredients so you’d need to avoid it if you were allergic to dairy.
If you love Horlicks but want to avoid dairy, have a look at the Vegan version (see below)
It is soy-free and nut-free though.
Is Horlicks Vegan?
It’s vegetarian, but not vegan due to the milk powder it contains. However, they do sell a vegan version (see more about that below)
Is Horlicks FODMAP-friendly?
The Monash app, the guru of all things FODMAP, doesn’t test brand names, but a 30g serving of general malted milk drink comes up as high in Fructans – which would make sense as it contains wheat and barley.
Half a serving is medium FODMAP for fructans so, if you’re not hugely sensitive you might be able to have a fairly weak cup.
Also, don’t forget that if you’re adding dairy milk, your Horlicks will also contain Lactose, another FODMAP.
Is Horlicks Keto?
The fact that it contains sugar, carbs and is made with milk means it might kick you out of ketosis (it would be banned on The High Fat Diet plan that I wrote).
There’s no fibre listed in Horlicks and so, the net carbs per cup, when made as directed, would be 28.7g. With many keto diets setting an upper limit of 30 net carbs a day, you’d have to be severely limiting all other carb sources, including vegetables, to fit that into a keto diet.
What About the Different Types of Horlicks
Which is Healthier? Instant Horlicks or Original Horlicks
Instant Horlicks has the same malted milk taste as original Horlicks, but, you make it with water instead.
This means it contains slightly fewer calories per cup than Original Horlicks – 115 vs 182 and slightly less fat.
The fortified nutrient levels are slightly different than Original Horlicks – some are higher, some are lower, plus you don’t get the extra nutrient and protein boost from the milk.
In my opinion, Original Horlicks is therefore a bit healthier than Instant.
Can You Make Horlicks With Water?
Original Horlicks can be made with water, but, it’s not as nice – it creates a much thinner less substantial drink. You also lose out on the same benefits as we mention above if you start to make Original Horlicks with water.
Is Chocolate Horlicks Healthy?
Chocolate Horlicks contains fewer calories per cup (119 when made with milk) but, as you might expect it does contain a bit more sugar – 25g of chocolate Horlicks contains 12g of sugar, but you actually use 32g to make the drink so, that goes up to 15g for the actual serving size.
The nutrient levels are the same as in Original Horlicks.
Vegan Horlicks vs Original Horlicks?
As we said, Original Horlicks isn’t vegan, but they have brought out a special Vegan version.
To make this they’ve removed the skimmed milk powder – and you also make it with water or your alt milk of choice.
It’s the lowest calorie option of all the Horlicks varieties – at just 84 calories per cup made with alt milk, and it has ever so slightly less sugar than the Horlicks Original.
Nutrient levels are mostly higher than those in the Original powder – and, one cup provides 100% of the suggested daily intake of B12 which is important in a vegan diet.
Obviously, because you’re not using dairy to make it, the calcium levels are far lower than a cup of Original Horlicks made with dairy milk so, you might want to ensure you’re using a fortified alt milk to make it and, that you’re getting plenty of other vegan calcium sources elsewhere in your diet.
If you’re looking for a new option in the alt-milk arena, why not check out our guide to Flax Milk and see what you think?
What’s a Horlicks Shake?
They’re shakes designed to be mixed with milk and drunk cold rather than hot.
Each of them contains the same nutrient mix as Original Horlicks, but also contain extra ingredients designed with a goal in mind.
The formulations look a bit mixed. The sleep one, for example, contains chamomile and valerian which definitely are known for their sleep-inducing properties, but the healthy body one contains the joint supplement glucosamine (which isn’t possibly as helpful for joint pain as first thought).
What to Read Next?
Do you like chai tea or chai latte? Then you might want to have a look at our guide to whether they’re healthy next.
Or, if you’re looking for something to wake you up, rather than send you to sleep, check out our guide on whether instant coffee can ever be good for you.
Who is The Wellness Nerd?
My name is Helen Foster and I’m a health journalist and wellness author. Publications I’ve written for include Women’s Health, Reader’s Digest, Body and Soul, Good Health at the Daily Mail and more. I have also written 16 books on health and nutrition.