What to Know About Pumpkin Spice Lattes, from a Nutritionist Who Loves Them
They're back at Dunkin Donuts and Starbucks next week!
As the summer winds to an end, I start to get excited about all things fall, including sweater-and-boot weather, Halloween, and yes, pumpkin spice lattes! If you're a PSL fan like me, here's some good news: This season the cozy fall beverage is coming back earlier than ever. Dunkin Donuts is debuting their pumpkin latte on Monday, and the Starbucks PSL returns the following day. Before you know it, the drink will be everywhere...which might lead you to wonder, is one brand's recipe is healthier than the rest? (Related: This DIY Pumpkin Spice Exfoliating Face Mask Will Transform Your Dull Skin)
Well, here's the not-so-great, and not-terribly-surprising news: Most pumpkin spice lattes are high in sugar and processed ingredients. I haven't been able to find any versions that I would recommend from a nutritional standpoint as a daily habit. So my advice: Choose the PSL you like best (whether it's from DD or Mickey D's) and enjoy it as an occasional treat. Below you'll find my notes on three popular PSLs-plus a truly good-for-you recipe you can make at home.
Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte
The Starbucks website lists the ingredients in its Pumpkin Spice Sauce as sugar, condensed skim milk, pumpkin puree, 2% or less of fruit and vegetable juice for color, natural flavors, annatto, salt, and potassium sorbate. It's great that the company is using some all natural additives, but the final ingredient is a common preservative. (Related: 5 Starbucks Hacks for a Healthier Pumpkin Spice Latte)
A tall Starbucks PSL made with whole milk and whipped cream clocks in at 330 calories, 15 grams of fat, 40 grams of carb with 39 from sugar, and 11 grams of protein. To put that in perspective, a Starbucks Cheese Danish is lower in everything, including sugar, with 28 fewer grams than the PSL. So when you order a Starbucks pumpkin spice latte, enjoy every sip but just think of it as a dessert rather than a coffee. (Related: The Healthiest Drink Options at Starbucks-Beyond Black Coffee and Tea)
Dunkin Donuts Pumpkin Spice Latte
Dunkin Donuts doesn't publish the ingredients for its PSL, but DunkinDonuts.com does offer a customization and nutrition tool that allows you to choose your milk, flavor, and sweetener. It calculates that a small drink made with whole milk, pumpkin swirl flavor, and no additional sweetener provides 230 calories, 6 grams of fat, 36 grams of carb (all as sugar), and 7 grams of protein.
If you're dairy-free or just prefer plant-based milk, almond milk is an option (though there's no nutrition info available). But it's unclear if the pumpkin swirl flavor itself is dairy-free. (Related: The Healthiest Coffee Drinks, Breakfasts, and Yes, Doughnuts, at Dunkin' Donuts)
McDonald's Pumpkin Spice Latte
I like that Mickey D's is transparent about their ingredients, but I'm not a fan of the ingredients themselves. The McCafe Pumpkin Spice flavored syrup contains: fructose, water, nonfat dry milk, propylene glycol, and 2% or less caramel color, natural flavor, potassium sorbate, xanthan gum, salt, sucralose, and extracts of annatto. The big red flag here is all the artificial additives, including faux sweetener (sucralose is the generic Splenda).
A small PSL made with whole milk contains 270 calories, 9 grams of fat, 41 grams of carb with 39 as sugar, and 10 grams of protein. That's more calories, carbs, and sugar than their Baked Apple Pie, which is a good reminder to enjoy a McDonald's PSL as a dessert. (Related: The 4 Healthiest Menu Items at Panera Bread (Plus 3 Things to Avoid))
Homemade Pumpkin Spice Latte
If you want to enjoy pumpkin spice lattes on the regular, trying making healthied-up versions at home! Here's my recipe, which calls for all natural ingredients, packed with nutrients.
- 2 tablespoons canned pumpkin puree
- 1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice (or 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon and 1/8 teaspoon each ground nutmeg and ground ginger)
- Pinch of sea salt
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup unsweetened almond milk
- 1/2 cup hot, brewed coffee
- 2 teaspoon pure maple syrup
- 1tablespoon almond butter
- In a saucepan over low heat, combine pumpkin, pumpkin pie spice, sea salt, vanilla, and almond milk. Cook, stirring until warm and fragrant, about 3 minutes.
- Transfer pumpkin mixture to a high-speed blender and add coffee, maple syrup, and almond butter. Blend until well mixed and frothy. Drink immediately.
This version provides 210 calories, 9 grams of plant-based fat, 19 grams of carb with 13 from sugar (primarily from the maple syrup), and 4 grams of protein from the almonds.
While these numbers may not seem terribly impressive, the biggest advantages here are the sugar savings compared to commercial pumpkin spice lattes; and the real food ingredients, which are bundled with bonus nutrition. (Related: These Pumpkin Spice Mini Muffins Are the Perfectly Sized Snack)
Just two tablespoons of canned pumpkin packs nearly a day's worth of immune-supporting vitamin A. Maple syrup supplies a solid amount of manganese, a mineral that helps produce collagen and promote skin and bone health. And almonds have been shown to help lower "bad" LDL cholesterol, and support weight loss. Cheers to that.
This story originally appeared on Health.com by Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD. Sass is Health's contributing nutrition editor, a New York Times best-selling author, and a consultant for the New York Yankees and Brooklyn Nets.