The Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte Is Back—But Is It Healthy?

Drinking a pumpkin spice latte can add up to a significant amount of calories and added sugar. These drinks can be enjoyed on occasion, but aren't the best to be consumed daily if you are supporting a healthy lifestyle.

Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte
Photo: Courtesy of Brand

Pumpkin spice is the quintessential flavor of fall. And one of the OG pumpkin spice drinks, aptly called the Pumpkin Spice Latte, has been seasonally available at Starbucks stores worldwide since 2003. And even though the recipe for this drink has slightly changed since its debut, the base of this coffee drink continues to tantalize people's palates with hints of cinnamon, nutmeg and other spices that you would expect to taste in your favorite autumn pumpkin dessert recipe.

Many people will agree that pumpkin spice lattes (aka PSLs) are one of the coziest drinks to sip on once there's a slight chill in the air and the leaves begin to change colors. But knowing whether they are healthy is another story.

What Is a Pumpkin Spice Latte?

Since Starbucks' launch of the PSL back in 2003, many coffee shops have created their own version of this popular seasonal drink. But the Starbucks version continues to be a popular choice, with a recipe that makes so many fall lovers giddy with every sip.

A Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte is made with milk, their pumpkin spice sauce, brewed espresso, whipped cream and a pumpkin spice topping that consists of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and cloves. The sauce that gives this latte its unique flavor is made with ingredients including sugar, condensed milk, pumpkin puree and unspecified natural flavors.

One 16-ounce serving (grande size) of a pumpkin spice latte provides:

  • 390 calories
  • 14 grams fat
  • 0.5 grams saturated fat
  • 230 mg sodium
  • 52 grams total carbohydrates
  • 50 grams sugar
  • 14 grams protein
  • 15% Daily Value vitamin A
  • 30% DV calcium

Are Pumpkin Spice Lattes Healthy?

A pumpkin spice latte may initially sound like a healthy drink choice, thanks to having good-for-you ingredients like pumpkin and spices. But once you look closely at what is found in these cozy drinks, it is clear that these coffees should be reserved for an occasional treat instead of an everyday Starbucks order.

The added sugar content of these drinks is the primary thing that deserves some attention. At 50 grams of sugar per 16-ounce serving, just one drink provides around two times the recommended daily intake of the sweet stuff, according to the American Heart Association (the AHA recommends limiting added sugar to 25 to 36 grams per day).

For context, the amount of sugar included in one grande PSL is equivalent to what you would get if you ate approximately 96 M&M candies or approximately 13 Chips Ahoy cookies.

A PSL also contains a significant amount of calories for a beverage, with 390 per serving (this is much higher than EatingWell's guidelines of keeping drinks to 250 calories or less per serving). For people focused on maintaining a healthy weight, drinking high-calorie beverages, like this coffee drink, may work against their health goals and could increase risk for chronic diseases like heart disease.

But a pumpkin spice latte does not need to be totally off-limits when it comes to supporting your health. Besides the sugar and calorie content, this drink does have some redeeming qualities:

How to Enjoy a PSL Healthfully

If you want to enjoy a PSL, but you can do without the boost of sugar or the large quantity of calories, know that all hope isn't lost. You can still enjoy the delicious fall taste of the drink with some simple swaps to make it more nutritious without sacrificing on taste (at least not too much).

If you have a hankering for a pumpkin spice latte and you want to have a lighter version, here are some ideas:

  • Order a nonfat latte with no whipped cream or pumpkin sauce, and ask for a sprinkle of pumpkin spice on top.
  • Order a pumpkin spice latte, but request half the "pumps" (of the sugary pumpkin sauce) to help cut the added sugar in half.
  • If you can't do without a PSL exactly how it was created, order the smallest size available.

If you are up for it, you can also make your own at home with our Pumpkin Spice Latte recipe that can help you save money and enjoy a lighter, lower-added-sugar drink.

Bottom Line

A pumpkin spice latte is one of the coziest drinks you can enjoy on a crisp fall day. Yet, although this popular beverage can make your taste buds happy, drinking it too frequently won't do you many favors in the nutrition department. While this drink does provide protein, calcium and antioxidants, it also contains a high amount of added sugars and calories.

Along with eating a balanced and healthy diet, enjoying a PSL with friends on a hayride or while carving a jack-o'-lantern won't derail your health goals. But bringing a pumpkin spice latte into your daily routine won't be the best idea if you try to follow a healthy diet.

And if you really need that PSL fix more frequently, using some hacks, like asking your barista for fewer pumps and to "hold the whip," can help make your PSL a tad healthier.

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