Are Pumpkin Spice Lattes Actually Good For You?

Pumpkin spice latte.

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Key Takeaways

  • Pumpkin spice lattes are a popular staple during the autumn season.
  • These drinks tend to be high in sugar and calories, but you can have them as an occasional treat.
  • There are a few steps you can take to make your PSL a bit more nutritious.

As soon as there's a hint of autumn in the air, pumpkin spice pops up everywhere you look. Whether you're snacking on limited-edition pumpkin spice cereal, cookies, and other treats, or whipping out pumpkin spice hand sanitizer, there are practically no limits to where you'll spot the favorite fall flavor.

Pumpkin spice lattes (referred to as PSLs), the drink that started the craze, are still the seasonal staple once the weather starts to get cooler and the leaves change.

PSLs are satisfying to sip on and tasty—but are the drinks at all nutritious?

What's In a Pumpkin Spice Latte?

Starbucks launched its first autumn-inspired coffee drink, the Pumpkin Spice Latte, in 2003. In the wake of the beverage's success, many other coffee makers created their own versions of the PSL using the same basic recipe.

“A pumpkin spice latte is made with espresso, milk, a pumpkin spice blend, whipped cream, and a pumpkin syrup,” Kim Yawitz, RD, a registered dietitian, and the owner of Two Six Fitness, tells Verywell.

The spice blend itself echoes the flavors of pumpkin pie, with hints of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and cloves.

Do PSLs Contain Real Pumpkin?

In 2015, Starbucks started including real pumpkin puree in its pumpkin spice sauce, along with sugar, condensed milk, and other ingredients. Not all pumpkin spice lattes contain real pumpkin, but they are all made with the spices that are the base for anything that's "fall-flavored."

Another popular take on the PSL, like the Dunkin Pumpkin Signature Latte, does not contain real pumpkin in the syrup. The basics of the latte are espresso, whipped cream, and milk, with added ingredients like sweetened condensed nonfat milk, sugar, high fructose corn syrup, brown sugar, added flavors, and caramel color. 

Are Pumpkin Spice Lattes Healthy?

We all have different dietary needs and health goals, but a PSL does not check off many nutritional boxes—even if it does feature a fruit in its name.

“A PSL every now and again isn't the worst thing you could have, but the calories and sugar really add up if you drink them regularly," Yawitz says, adding that size also matters. "A grande [16oz] PSL at Starbucks contains 390 calories and a whopping 50 grams of sugar.”

The American Heart Association recommends limiting added sugar to 36 grams per day for most men and 25 grams per day for most women and children over the age of 2. One PSL has 50 grams of sugar—double the recommended daily allowance.

That said, some of the ingredients in a classic PSL can offer some nutritional benefits:

  • A latte made with 2% milk can be a source of bone-building calcium, vitamin D, and protein
  • Espresso is a natural source of antioxidants and nutrients like niacin and pantothenic acid
  • Natural spices like cinnamon and ginger add antioxidants and give a PSL its unique flavor without the added sugar

While some of the syrups that are used in PSLs do contain actual pumpkin, it's not enough for you to reap the nutritional benefits of the gourd.

What This Means For You

While PSLs aren't necessarily the most nutritious drink to add to your diet, indulging in one every so often won't hurt you. If you do want to incorporate the fall flavors into your regular routine, there are some swaps you can make to reduce the amount of sugar in your drink.

How to Make a Healthier PSL

A large PSL may have more sugar than you need in a day and won't add much by way of nutrition. That said, you can still enjoy the unmistakable fall taste of the drink with some simple swaps to make it more nutritious without sacrificing flavor.

For a lighter version of an original PSL, Yawitz says to order a nonfat latte with no whip or pumpkin sauce and pumpkin spice blend sprinkled on top. By skipping the sauce and whipped cream, Yawitz says that you'll save "200 calories and 31 grams of added sugar."

If you're hankering for the signature taste of the pumpkin sauce, ask for half of the usual number of “pumps” of syrup. This modification will lower the drink's calories and added sugar content while still giving it the classic PSL flavor.

While they're tasty and utterly cozy, PSLs in their traditional form are high in sugar and calories and don't offer much nutritional value. Try using some simple swaps to make a better-for-you PSL that still has that classic taste of fall. And save having the traditional version as a once-in-a-while treat.

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  1. American Heart Association. How Much Sugar Is Too Much?.