Here's What's Actually In Your Pumpkin Spice Latte
Fall is a season full of flavors.
All it takes is one cool day at the end of summer before we start seeing those flavors emerge at our favorite coffee shops and stores.
And who doesn’t love the smell and taste of pumpkin?
But before you start indulging your pumpkin spice latte habit, you might want to find out what it is you’re actually drinking.
Coffee and pumpkin in their purest forms can actually be good for you, but that’s not all that’s in a pumpkin spice latte.
First, let’s talk coffee. Coffee isn’t inherently unhealthy. In fact, it offers plenty of health benefits, like boosting your mood, increasing brain function, and providing your body with multiple antioxidants. And pumpkin itself — in its purest form — is incredibly healthy! It’s high in potassium and contains a variety of nutrients that can improve your heart health.
However, it’s the ways in which you consume coffee or pumpkin that compromise its nutritional benefits. It’s important to know that pumpkin spice lattes don’t actually contain any real pumpkin (buzz kill, I know), and they’re loaded with additional ingredients that aren’t the healthiest.
A single PSL can contain way more than your recommended daily amount of sugar.
A single, grande (16-ounce) pumpkin spice latte from Starbucks contains close to 50 grams of sugar. This is at least twice as much as the recommended daily limit set for women by American Heart Association.
Consuming too much sugar can lead to all sorts of health problems such as type II diabetes, high blood pressure, and weight gain. And while that doesn’t mean that treating yourself to a PSL every once in a while is going to lead to these issues, it is helpful to keep in mind just how much sugar you’re consuming in one go when you indulge in this fall favorite.
Coffee shops also use high fructose corn syrup to flavor lattes, which is a highly refined sweetener that our bodies are not meant to process. In fact, the sole organ responsible for metabolizing fructose in any noticeable amount is the liver. When there’s too much fructose for the liver to process, it starts turning fructose into fat. Besides obesity, consuming too much high fructose can also lead to heart disease and diabetes.
The reason that PSLs taste like pumpkin is all because of natural and artificial flavoring.
As we mentioned above, most lattes don’t not contain any real pumpkin. So how do they end up tasting like pumpkin? It’s all thanks to natural and artificial flavoring. Artificial flavors are synthesized from inedible substances (like petroleum for example), which are processed in a lab to create flavoring.
While natural flavors are derived from edible sources, they’re still produced in a lab. Contrary to popular belief, natural flavors may actually be even more dangerous than artificial flavors, because they don’t undergo the same safety evaluations.
Both natural and artificial flavors are processed and contain chemical additives and should be consumed cautiously especially if you have food allergies or sensitivities.
If your PSL has flavored syrup, it probably contains preservatives, too.
The flavored syrup typically used in lattes contain some type of preservative. Preservatives are added to food to prevent spoilage, increase shelf life, and keep product stable. A preservative called potassium sorbate is specifically used to prevent bacteria, fungus, and mold. Similar to carrageenan, potassium sorbate can trigger immune responses as well as contribute to food sensitivity symptoms such as an itchy throat and nasal congestion.
The whipped cream that tops your PSL contains an additive that can be harmful to your digestive system.
Arguably one of the best parts of a pumpkin spice latte is the fluffy plume of whipped cream that tops it. Unfortunately, though, whipped cream contains carrageenan, which is an additive used to thicken and preserve foods. Carrageenan is derived from red seaweed, which is what gives it its addictively creamy taste. Evidence suggests that carrageenan triggers inflammation and wreaks havoc on your digestive system. It’s a good idea to steer clear of this ingredient, especially if you have digestive sensitivities.
If you’re looking for a way to add fall flavor to your coffee, try to rely on more natural sweeteners.
Now that the bad news is out of the way, let’s chat about how to satisfy your taste buds as the weather gets colder. If you’re used to sweetened lattes like the PSL, try to make an adjustment and go sweetener free. It may take a few coffees to adjust, but you will eventually.
If that isn’t your speed, use a less refined sweetener like honey, coconut sugar, or pure maple syrup. You can always ask your barista to add steamed unsweetened almond milk or coconut milk to your coffee, too. And if you want some extra flavor, add cinnamon, nutmeg, or cocoa. Pumpkin lovers can also purchase some pumpkin spice at Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods. Keep it in your bag and top your coffee off with a little sprinkle of fall.
If you’re feeling adventurous, check out this recipe that actually contains real pumpkin, and make your own PSL!