Breaking Down the Pumpkin Spice Latte

The Pumpkin Spice Latte--What’s in it?

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, I’m sure you’ve heard of the staple fall season coffee -- the Pumpkin Spice Latte! It’s often the butt of “basic white girl jokes” and it’s also extremely popular, particularly during fall. However, unknowing avid pumpkin spice latte drinkers may not realize the extent of how unhealthy some of these festive drinks may be, and how many of these drinks contain minimal (if any) actual, legitimate pumpkin in them. In actuality, many “pumpkin spice lattes” do not even contain pumpkin; they frequently contain loads of processed sugar and other artificial flavors that simulate the taste of pumpkin. 

We’re here to remind you that it’s essential to do your research and familiarize yourself with the ingredients in your daily food and drinks. We’re all about treating ourselves once in awhile, but we are firm believers in being educated on what we are putting in our bodies.

While many brands have shifted the contents of their “pumpkin” lattes in order to contain tiny amounts of pumpkin puree, consumers should still keep in mind the copious amounts of sugar, calories and artificial flavors that may still be found in their drink. Health experts are actually becoming concerned about the amount of sugar and calories in these seasonal drinks, adding that it’s unhealthy to consume such unhealthy ingredients in liquid form -- all of that sugar is a lot for anyone’s body to handle! Nutrition consultant and dietician Katie Ferraro has stated that,  “Pumpkin itself is healthy. Cinnamon and nutmeg are fine. But pumpkin spice lattes are about sugar.” So, what exactly is in a typical pumpkin spice latte? A 16 ounce PSL from Starbucks contains 50 grams of sugar and 380 calories--additionally, the drink contains 2% milk and is topped off with frothy, foamy and sugary whipped cream. 

It’s easy for regular consumers to assume that the drink may be healthy because of the word ‘pumpkin,’ and because it’s consumed in drink form, but according to Kristin Kirkpatrick, a dietician and nutrition-based manager at Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute, “The concept of pumpkin and spices, there are so many health benefits...Unfortunately, that’s similar to saying apple pie is healthy because it’s apple. It’s taking a concept that’s healthy and making it more of a dessert type of drink.” Furthermore, Kirkpatrick actually recommends that coffee addicts avoid coffee with more than 25-50 calories:

“It’s very far removed from a coffee drink...Most people don’t have room in their calorie budgets for a pumpkin spice latte. Think of it like an ice cream sundae. It’s a [sometime] food, a dessert to celebrate fall won’t kill you -- however, replacing your morning coffee with a pumpkin spice latte is not a good idea.”

Separately, she states that coffee can actually improve mental clarity IF used in moderation...moderation is key and nothing is beneficial for you if done/used excessively.

The Risks of Drinking PSL’s Excessively

Our minds can typically register when we have reached a “full” point when we are eating. However, when it comes to drinks, it’s more difficult for our bodies to determine when we’ve had enough, and the majority of the time we never reach a point of satisfaction. There are many repercussions to drinking calorie-filled drinks, such as increased hunger, possible weight gain, negative effects on the brain and an obvious/apparent heightened excessive calorie intake. Since drinks go down so easily, it is incredibly easy to over-consume sugars and fats without even realizing it.

Furthermore, according to Kirkpatrick, “There is no benefit you can get out of sugar in your diet...If you feel good, it’s only temporary. Once it goes away, you’re kind of looking for more. It’s a vicious cycle.” Lastly, this cycle is evident in regards to how easily people become addicted to sugar -- this sugar addiction leads to withdrawals from sugar, cravings, and (arguably) worst of all, sugar crashes. As Kirkpatrick said, sugar may temporarily energize you, but after the high comes the notorious sugar crash. All in all, excessive amounts of sugar are in no way beneficial for your body and can cause you to feel sick -- sugar, coffee, calories, caffeine AND PSL’s all present more detrimental consequences as opposed to a beneficial outcome.

What Tricks/Other Substitutions Can be Made to Make the PSL Healthier?

Now that we’ve established and identified the negative ingredients within caffeinated drinks, let’s move on to the substitution and replacement topic. Altering the pumpkin spice latte to make it healthier is always a great option -- that way, you can still treat yourself but in a healthy manner. First and foremost, making your own version of a PSL at home allows you to maintain, control and limit ingredients to your liking (you might love this electrolyte-infused clean ingredient PSL recipe!). Replacing the pumpkin spice latte’s dairy milk with more plant-based milks such as coconut, almond or cashew milk will lay a healthy foundation for your drinks. Furthermore, substitute processed syrups, artificial flavors and refined sugar with unprocessed, more natural sweetener sources such as maple syrup or honey. Additionally, substitute the sugary ingredients and toppings in PSL’s with cinnamon (very good for you!), allspice, clove or nutmeg -- superfood spices with health benefits! Lastly, skip the whipped cream if you drink these on a regular basis. We’re all about treating ourselves, but everything needs to be done in moderation.

Make sure to get creative and have fun with it! Be your own barista and health advocate; attempt to think outside of the box--how can you reduce calorie numbers? Can you afford to order a smaller size? What other potential substitutions/healthier options can be implemented when making your own/requesting an altered pumpkin spice latte? Kirkpatrick says that she has “actually made whipped cream with a little bit of canned pumpkin in it.” Lastly, “Another option is frothing milk and topping your coffee with it along with spices.” So, there you have it! Our analysis on the infamous fall drink. Remember to allow yourself to occasionally treat yourself, but pay attention to what you are consuming so that you can keep your health intact.