Although pumpkin spice lattes have become a symbol of everything aromatic and delectable about fall, they are more about deliciousness than health. While not everything we eat has to be healthful, frequent indulging in these creamy dessert-style coffees (that are rich in added sugars) could lead to health issues for those who are not cautious.
Pumpkin spice lattes are tasty seasonal beverages with excessive amounts of sugar, fat and caffeine that can cause a number of health issues if frequently consumed.
Long-term indulgence in pumpkin spice lattes or other dessert-style coffees can lead to complications such as elevated blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, weight gain, and excessive hepatic fat accumulation also known as fatty liver.
Individuals with diabetes, hypertension or heart rhythm issues should look for decaffeinated, low sugar, low fat versions of this popular drink.
Each fall, pumpkin spice lattes are ceremoniously added to the menus in most coffee and doughnut shops and many restaurants.
Do pumpkin spice lattes contain pumpkin?
Pumpkin spice lattes are made with espresso, milk, whipped cream, sugar, pumpkin syrup, and a pumpkin spice blend consisting of ginger, cloves, nutmeg, and cinnamon.
Some companies use a tiny amount of pumpkin purée in their pumpkin syrup. This tiny amount adds no nutrients but allows the company to include pumpkin on its ingredient list.
What else is in pumpkin spice lattes?
Excessive sugar, fat and caffeine are ingredients that could negatively impact your health.
Pumpkin spice lattes generally have 5 to 7 teaspoons of sugar per cup. For context, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest less than 10% of your calories should come from added sugars. For an average diet of 2000 calories, this is approximately 12 teaspoons of added sugar.
One pumpkin spice latte contributes to approximately half of your daily added sugars. It's easy to exceed your recommended daily added sugar intake when you think about all the other sweetened things you may eat in a day: flavored yogurts, juices, baked goods, most packaged snacks, etc. If you want to enjoy a flavored coffee, consider cutting back on other sweet foods that day.
Fatty liver disease
Before sugar can be utilized by the body's cells, your pancreas must create and release the hormone insulin to convert sugar into glucose. If there is already enough glucose in your cells, then the extra glucose in the blood cannot be absorbed. After being converted to fat by your liver, the glucose will be stored as glycogen. Chronic over-consumption of sugar can contribute to fatty liver disease, but for most people who follow a healthy diet, one pumpkin spice latte is safe to consume.
Pumpkin spice lattes contain added sugars which may make it harder for you to control your blood sugar levels if you have diabetes. Make sure you check your blood glucose levels and treat any bouts of high blood sugars with your usual medications. If your numbers don't go down, call your doctor for guidance.
Regular consumption of sugar-dense foods and beverages can weaken the kidneys due to the extra work they must do to remove the sugar from your body, increasing the risk of long-term damage.
Inflammation and AGEs
Additionally, too much sugar can lead to inflammation. Consuming sugar-filled foods and beverages on a regular basis can cause inflammation and pain in your joints. Studies have shown that large amounts of sugar intake also increase your risk for rheumatoid arthritis.
In addition to causing inflammation, sugar consumption can accelerate the aging process of your skin. Sugar molecules bind to blood proteins to form advanced glycation end products, or "AGEs," which weaken your skin's collagen and elastin, causing wrinkles and sagging.
The negative effects of that pumpkin spice latte on your teeth are frequently overlooked. Sugar promotes bacterial growth in the mouth. These microorganisms release acid, which erodes tooth enamel and increases the risk of dental decay.
Though it might seem a little strange, drinking your sugar-filled pumpkin spice latte through a straw can help minimize the amount of contact your mouth has with the beverage, which in turn lowers the likelihood of bacteria growing.
Lactose is another type of sugar present in the milk and whipped cream in your pumpkin spice latte. If you are lactose intolerant, you may experience digestive discomforts such as gas, bloating, and diarrhea after consuming your pumpkin spice latte because your small intestine is unable to produce enough lactase, an enzyme needed to break down lactose.
The high-fat content of pumpkin spice lattes increases your triglyceride level. One form of lipid is triglycerides, which are obtained from butter, oils, fatty foods, and excess calories your body does not require. This leads to the buildup of plaque and hardening of your arteries, which raises your risk of cardiovascular disease (atherosclerosis). These plaques also have the potential to cause strokes if any break off and travel to the brain, blocking any of its arteries.
The espresso in your pumpkin spice latte contains at least 5 times more caffeine than your regular coffee. If you are sensitive to caffeine, you may experience some of the following side effects:
- Increase painful heartburn due to acid reflux.
- Affect your cardiovascular system because it raises heart rate and blood pressure. If you have heart problems your doctor will tell you how much caffeine is safe to consume.
- Induces a state of emergency in your body. When you drink a lot of caffeine over time, your body is initially stimulated into a state of alertness, but eventually, it becomes tired.
May slow down the body's ability to absorb iron when eating iron rich foods. If you are concerned about your iron levels, enjoy your coffee approximately thirty minutes after meal times.
- May induce anxiety, insomnia, and spasms in your muscles.
Do pumpkin spice lattes offer any health benefits?
Without adding too much fat, a pumpkin spice latte can provide a small portion of your daily needs for protein, calcium, and vitamin D if you substitute 2% milk for the whipped cream.
Your pumpkin spice latte's espresso contains caffeine, which has the ability to momentarily increase brain activity by inhibiting a brain hormone, a neurotransmitter called adenosine. Caffeine also causes the release of dopamine and adrenaline, two other neurotransmitters that promote alertness. However, this increase in alertness is only temporary.
Moreover, caffeine contains trace levels of natural antioxidants. Antioxidants help prevent the development of chronic diseases. However, the antioxidant content in the caffeine in your pumpkin spice latte is very little. To have a therapeutic effect, your diet also needs to include a lot of fruits and vegetables, which have much higher concentrations of these disease-fighting compounds.
Why are pumpkin spice lattes so addictive?
Despite the potential health issues that can result from the excessive consumption of pumpkin spice lattes, they are still eagerly anticipated and even craved each fall. Part of the attraction may be nostalgia as the beverage is associated with pumpkin pie, fuzzy sweaters, the holidays, and family gatherings.
There is also a connection between smell and memory. The scent of pumpkin spice connects us with fond memories of the traditions and foods we enjoy at this time of the year.
Businesses also create scarcity to feed your desire for pumpkin spice lattes. Every fall, they serve this opulent treat for a brief period of time. There is almost a psychology behind our seasonal addiction to pumpkin spice lattes, as our anticipation of their fragrant sweetness combines with a sense of urgency.
The bottom line on pumpkin spice lattes
Pumpkin spice lattes should be treated as a dessert rather than a staple in your diet. If you are healthy, and physically active, an occasional pumpkin spice latte can be a welcome taste of fall.
Those with hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease, or obesity, can make a healthier low-sugar, low-fat, caffeine-free pumpkin spice latte. Decaffeinated espresso, low-fat milk, and substituting cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger for sugar, can provide a natural sweet treat that honors the taste and fragrance of fall.
- Psychology Today. The Psychology Behind the Pumpkin Spice Craze.
- The Johns Hopkins News-Letter. The science behind the appeal of pumpkin spice.
- Front Immunol. Excessive intake of sugar: An accomplice of inflammation.
- Clin Dermatol. Nutrition and aging skin: sugar and glycation.
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Lactose Intolerance.