It may still be 80 degrees and steamy in much of the country,
but people are already talking about the return of Starbucks’ fall-inspired pumpkin spice latte.
This year, the drink is generating extra buzz because the coffee chain has tweaked the ingredients and removed caramel coloring and other additives in response to consumer demand for “cleaner” foods and beverages. Starbucks announced this week that the drink will now be made with natural flavors and colors, along with real pumpkin. The changes come a year after blogger Vani Hari (AKA Food Babe) criticized the drink for containing a laundry list of artificial ingredients.
The PSL: Still a Sugar-Bomb
But here’s what people aren’t talking about: The drink will contain just as many calories, and as much sugar, as last year’s version. A Grande-sized serving made with 2% milk and whipped cream clocks in at 380 calories and 50 grams of sugar. After accounting for the naturally-occurring sugar from the milk, I estimate that one drink provides nearly 8 teaspoons of added sugar. That’s more than the 6-teaspoon limit that the American Heart Association recommends women stay under for the entire day (for men, the cap bumps up to 9 teaspoons). And I hope it goes without saying that the newly-added smidge of pumpkin puree isn’t providing any nutritional benefit.
I know I sound like a huge buzzkill, but hear me out: If you love pumpkin spice lattes, it’s perfectly fine to indulge in a few over the course of the season. But if you’re sipping oversweet lattes or specialty coffee drinks regularly, in addition to eating other sugary foods and beverages, you’re likely consuming excessive added sugar, which can take a toll on your health over the long term.
Consider the Sip a Dessert
It’s wonderful to see that restaurant chains and food manufacturers are cleaning up their products and removing unnecessary additives. We don’t need these ingredients in our diet, so why not get them out? But sometimes these formulation changes, and the marketing they inspire, can distract from the big-picture nutrition issues. Drinking a sugary coffee concoction is essentially the same as eating a giant cookie or slice of cake, and even if it’s made with fewer and more recognizable ingredients, it’s still a treat.
Natural flavors and colors don’t make a pumpkin spice latte a more nutritious choice.
Label lingo like “all natural” and “made with real sugar” can create a misleading health halo around junk food and sweetened drinks that supply empty calories and take the place of healthier meals and snacks.
With fall creeping up on us, there are plenty of seasonal sweets to look forward to, from homemade apple cobbler and pecan pie to pumpkin-flavored everything. My advice is to prioritize. If Starbucks’ newly-“redecorated” pumpkin spice lattes are on your must-have list, consider them a dessert and savor them in moderation.
This article is for informational purposes only, and is educational in nature. Statements made here have not been evaluated by the FDA. This article is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Please discuss with your own, qualified health care provider before adding in supplements or making any changes in your diet. PAID ENDORSEMENT DISCLOSURE: In order for me to support my blogging activities, I may receive monetary compensation or other types of remuneration for my endorsement, recommendation, testimonial and/or link to any products or services from this blog.