Is Pumpkin Spice Bad For You?
October 4, 2017
Like the bubonic plague, pumpkin spice swept across the nation seemingly overnight in 2004. 13 years later, this popular blend of spices doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. You can now find pumpkin spice in products like Frosted Shredded Wheat, yogurt, and rum. It’s even beginning to invade gyms as it’s packed in protein powder. Just 10 years after its introduction, Starbucks had sold more than 200 million pumpkin spice lattes, making it their most popular seasonal drink. Unfortunately, this beloved blend of spices does have its drawbacks. In this article, we’re going to go over the few health benefits of pumpkin spice, as well as the more concerning facts.
The first thing we should note is that the spices that make up “pumpkin spice” are very different from the drinks and other products that can be made with it. Additionally, the pumpkin spice you find in lattes and iced coffees at Starbucks contains a few more ingredients than the do-it-yourself version. Most homemade pumpkin spice blends contain four main ingredients: cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and ginger.
The Food Network’s Healthy Eats has released a pumpkin spice recipe that is much beloved by viewers and readers. The article does a great job breaking down some of the health benefits of the core spices in pumpkin spice. Allspice doesn’t do much for the body, but is delicious without too much of a drawback. Cinnamon is rich in antioxidants which help to protect your cells, and some researchers believe that it can help diabetics control their blood sugar. Nutmeg has vitamins like a Flintstones bottle, helping to add fiber and many B vitamins and minerals to your diet. Ginger is great for the digestive system and contains minerals like potassium, iron, and zinc.
As you can see, pumpkin spice at its core is actually healthy, with more pros than cons for such a powerful flavor. Of course, it can’t all be upside. It’s important to remember whenever vitamins are discussed that “more vitamins” doesn’t equate to “healthier.” Think of it like water: you need water to live, but you’re going to have issues if you decide to try drinking 10 gallons in an hour. Vitamins are good, but if you’re pouring back four or five lattes a night, you’ll see diminishing returns.
Starbucks and the Espresso Problem
If homemade pumpkin spice is good for you, it would make sense that store-bought pumpkin spice is just as good. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case. Stores often seek flavor perfection, which can complicate things quite a bit.
In 2015, food blogger FoodBabe made a diagram breaking down some of the less-advertised ingredients in Starbucks’ pumpkin spice. Some of these issues have since been addressed—FoodBabe noted that there was no actual pumpkin in pumpkin spice, and Starbucks replied by adding a pumpkin puree. Many of them remain the same, though. Even after pushback from PETA, Starbucks pumpkin spice failed to take away the condensed milk which increases the mixture’s fat content. Additionally, it contains carcinogens such as ammonia.
Last September, Cosmopolitan dug further into this topic, having an in-depth discussion about the health effects of a latte. They include the nutrition facts for a Starbucks pumpkin spice latte, which boasts 380 calories, 120 of which are from fat. From there, they breakdown the effects of the drink, minute-by-minute. Within 45 minutes to an hour of drinking the latte, the caffeine will have settled in your stomach. The fat from the pumpkin spice can elongate this, which can increase your risk for blood clots. Sonya Angelone, the nutritionist consulted for that article, ends on a sour note, saying the only redeeming factor of pumpkin spice is the calcium you would have gotten from the milk anyway,
To make matters worse, and perhaps the biggest issue with pumpkin spice, is that there is a subconscious psychological effect that makes the flavor even more addictive than the caffeine would be by itself. CNN dove into this topic headfirst in September of this year, as they attempted to decode the popularity of the drink. Catherine Franssen, the psychology professor who was consulted for that article, refers to the pumpkin spice trend as “a fantastic example of the psychology of consumer behavior and fads.” She believes that the trend is caused by a feeling of nostalgia or joy that most people feel when they think of pumpkin pie and other autumn flavors, which is triggered by pumpkin spice.
While pumpkin spice certainly isn’t the worst thing for you, it’s far from the best. The fat and sugar content more than outweigh the marginal health benefits. The espresso that pumpkin spice is often paired with isn’t great for you either. It has its ups and downs, but consider its addictive properties before your next order.