Pumpkin Spice and Everything Nice: Healthy Pumpkin Spice Latte

Oct 13, 2023 | Health Matters, Healthy Living, Sugar and Diabetes

It’s that time of year again! The PSL is back! But have you ever paused to consider what’s truly inside your cup? Get ready to learn a little more about this favorite Fall and discover how you can enjoy it in a way that loves you back.

Falling for Pumpkin Spice: Why We Love It

When autumn leaves begin to color the trees, and there’s a chill in the air, thousands of us countdown in anticipation for the first sip of the seasonal favorite: Pumpkin Spice Latte. But what makes this drink so special and universally loved? The allure of the Pumpkin Spice goes beyond just the iconic spice blend. It’s the warmth it brings on a crisp day and the comforting memories it evokes for those who have a deep affinity with Fall.

Study’s show that the combination of pumpkin, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves stimulates our senses in unique ways. These spices can also release compounds that our brains associate with sweetness (even without added sugar). This sensation can produce feelings of pleasure and satisfaction and trigger festive memories and nostalgic moments with our families. 

This deep connection between taste, smell, and emotion explains why we are so drawn to it year after year, but sadly, many coffee shops are selling you a high-sugar, high-macro drink that can be detrimental to your health goals. It doesn’t mean you have to give them up. They are a staple. But when we choose a healthier version, we’re getting closer to the benefits of the actual spice blend and avoiding health-damaging ingredients. 

Commercial PSLs Exposed: What You Might Be Sipping On

When you queue up at your chain coffee shop for a Pumpkin Spice Latte, you expect the classic mix of real pumpkin (they are everywhere right now!) and that familiar medley of autumn spices. But a closer look at what some commercial chains offer can be startling!

Starbucks, for example, is a classic and arguably the prominent place you might think of when it comes to the famous “PSL.” The ingredient list reveals much more than just pumpkin and spice. 

Source: Starbucks – USA

The “Pumpkin Spice Sauce” forms the base of the drink and is predominantly sugar, 50 grams in a standard size! The sauce does say it includes pumpkin puree, but its placement behind sugar and condensed skim milk raises questions about its actual quantity in the drink. Further down the list, we encounter additives like potassium sorbate, used as a preservative, and “natural flavors,” a vague term that doesn’t give a clear picture of what it encompasses. When we see this, it is usually a blanket statement that nutrition regulators pass due to its small quantity, but it can be anything.

The whipped cream brings mono and diglycerides (emulsifiers) that aren’t in alignment with a clean eating goal—and carrageenan. This thickening agent has been under scrutiny due to digestive health concerns.

The topping, though listing spices, also mentions sulfiting agents—preservatives that can are known to cause adverse reactions in people with sensitivities.

It’s also important to discuss the current controversy with Starbucks (but it is relatively common with larger franchises). The recent lawsuit indicates they have falsely advertised fruit content in their “Refresher” drinks. It serves as a reminder that just because an ingredient like “pumpkin puree” is listed doesn’t guarantee its prominence or authenticity in the drink. It’s a wake-up call to consumers that sometimes, the beverage in your hand might not truly reflect the wholesome picture painted by its name or marketing.

Understanding Sugar’s Role in Our Diet

Sugar is a prevalent ingredient in so many of the foods and drinks we consume daily, especially in America. Sadly, this includes our beloved Pumpkin Spice Latte. But is it really that bad for us? Should we be concerned about it? The answer is an easy “Yes.” 

Consuming sugar provides a quick energy source for the body, explaining the initial energy boost you feel after sipping on a sugary drink like this. This short-lived energy boost leads to a crash that notoriously leaves you tired, sluggish and ready to reach for more. It’s a slippery slope to sugar addiction

Beyond these immediate effects, regular and excessive sugar consumption has proven longer-term health implications and is a leading cause of weight gain and insulin resistance, a precursor for type 2 diabetes.

Sugar also causes inflammation in the body. Chronic inflammation is increasingly recognized as an underlying factor in most diseases, including heart disease and even types of cancer. This inflammatory response, triggered by excessive sugar, plays a part in the body’s disease processes.

Oral health shouldn’t be overlooked, either. High sugar consumption promotes bacterial growth in the mouth, leading to cavities and gum issues. No one likes a toothache, but equally, it’s rare that people like to go to the dentist, too.

Being aware of sugar’s role and its implications is essential, and this is just to name a few! While the immediate pleasure is undeniable to the human brain, the longer-term effects on our health. As we make daily dietary choices, having this knowledge helps ensure our decisions align with a healthier future.

Whipping Up a Guilt-Free PSL 

The enchanting aroma of a Pumpkin Spice Latte can be hard to resist. The good news? You don’t have to forsake your favorite seasonal drink. With a few tweaks, you can enjoy the perfect Pumpkin Spice Latte that aligns with your health goals.

Crafting your own version at home allows you to control the ingredients, ensuring authenticity and healthfulness. By cutting down on sugar and eliminating additives, you can reduce the risk of inflammation, lower calorie intake, and avoid the insulin spikes associated with high sugar options. Plus, using real spices means you’re benefiting from their natural health-boosting properties.

Each component of the traditional pumpkin spice mix—cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and ginger—offers unique benefits. 

Cinnamon: Shown to help regulate blood sugar levels and reduce inflammation. 

Nutmeg: Contains compounds that may have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. 

Cloves: Rich in antioxidants, can aid in digestion and have antimicrobial properties. 

Ginger: Helps with digestion, nausea and has anti-inflammatory benefits.

Are you ready to get started? 

Guilt-Free Pumpkin Spice Latte Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup of unsweetened almond milk (or any milk of your choice)
  • 2 tablespoons of pure pumpkin puree
  • 1 shot of espresso or ½ cup of strong brewed coffee
  • ¼ teaspoon of pure vanilla extract
  • ¼ teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice (a blend of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and cloves)
  • Natural sweetener if needed. Consider a sugar alternative or honey to taste.
  • Optional: A dash of cinnamon for garnish

Instructions:

  • In a saucepan, heat the almond milk and pumpkin puree over medium heat until hot, but not boiling.
  • Remove from heat and add the vanilla, pumpkin pie spice, and your chosen sweetener.
  • Froth the mixture until it’s creamy and smooth using a milk frother or blender.
  • Pour the coffee or espresso into a mug, followed by the milk mixture.
  • Garnish with a dash of cinnamon, if desired.
  • Enjoy your delicious homemade, health-conscious PSL!

By investing a few minutes in your kitchen, you can savor the flavors of the season, confident in the knowledge that you’re nurturing your body with every sip. Added bonus: You’ll always be first in line and with a hefty discount!

Making Healthier Choices This Fall 

In general, Fall brings with it some of the best meals and treats of the year, and while it’s ok to indulge from time to time, these seasonal delights can easily be too tempting! Staying on track of our health goals is about making conscious choices and not letting our inner child run too wild. This season, make sure you keep your health at the forefront with a few mindful practices: 

Nutrition

Aim to prioritizing whole and organic foods like fresh fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, and high quality protein sources. Eating seasonally can really help you get that same nostalgic feel by adding in apples, pears, and squash into your meals. 

When buying produce, always check the sticker. Each fruit or vegetable will have a 5 digit PLU number that is often overlooked, but it does mean something: 

  • Codes starting with 9XXXX: Organic
  • Codes starting with 8XXXX: GMO
  • Codes starting with 4XXXX or 3XXXX: Conventional

Hydration

As the weather cools, you might not feel as thirsty as you do during the hotter months. But staying hydrated is just as important, no matter the time of year. Aim to drink at least half of your body weight in ounces of water per day. If you’re looking for something warm, herbal teas without added sugars can be a soothing and hydrating choice with some added benefits!

Physical Activity

With the days getting shorter and the temperature dropping, it can be tempting to reduce outdoor activities and cozy up on the couch. Maintaining regular physical activity is a cornerstone for maintaining your overall health. Regular exercise can boost your mood, improve sleep, and help ward off seasonal weight gain. Whether it’s brisk walks among the colorful Fall leaves, indoor workouts, or joining a fitness class, find ways (that you enjoy) to keep your body moving. 

Sleep

The shift in daylight can influence our body’s internal clock and sleep patterns. As days become shorter and nights longer, some may find it challenging to get enough sleep. You should aim for at least 8 hours each night to give your body the chance to repair, restore, and rejuvenate your mind and body. Want to know more? Check out “Fall into Sleep: Embracing Sleep Hygiene this Autumn” and never let the changing season rob you of sleep again!

Getting the mind and body you love doesn’t have to be hard! Sticking to your health goals doesn’t mean sidelining all the treats and flavors that you love. True sustainability comes from knowledge and mindfulness and not deprivation. By embracing small changes, smart swaps, and mindful substitutions,  like these, you ensure that you never miss out on treats you love, like a PSL! Putting your health first is the ultimate selfcare. 

Want to change your life for the better? You’ll love how you feel when following a personalized health plan. Let’s Chat! 

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