Ah, fall … crisp, sunny days, colorful foliage – and pumpkin spice lattes. Many people mark the change from summer to autumn by celebrating with this sweet and creamy seasonal drink, served up at coffee shops everywhere this time of year.
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But is the pumpkin spice latte a nutritional disaster? We talked with registered dietitian Laura Jeffers, MEd, RD, LD, to find out.
Q: How does a pumpkin spice latte stack up nutritionally?
A: A latte can be a good source of protein, because milk is a main ingredient. At the same time, this drink can be high in fat, sugar and overall calories. The fat content comes from the milk, while sugar comes from the added flavorings.
Q: Is this drink something to stay away from completely? Or can it be a once-in-a-while treat?
A: If you love these kinds of seasonal treats, don’t avoid them completely. A more practical approach is to eat in moderation. This is a smart way to maintain nutrition success over the long-term.
Here’s why: If you constantly refrain from eating something that you really like, you may get to a point where you feel deprived. Then you overindulge or give up on your goals because you were too strict. A pumpkin spice latte can be a once-in-awhile treat if you set limits — once every two weeks or something like that.
Q: How can you lessen the dietary impact?
A: Choose skim milk or soy milk and order a small size unless you’re counting it as part of a meal because of the milk’s protein. If you choose soy milk, the amount of protein will be less, but some will still be present.
Also, the fat comes from the milk, so choosing skim decreases the total amount of fat as well as the saturated fat. And be sure to hold the whipped cream, which adds calories and fat.
You also may want to decrease the number of ‘’pumps” of pumpkin flavoring that the barista adds to the drink. But that will change the flavor and so may not work for you.
Q: Starbucks recently reworked its pumpkin spice latte recipe to remove the artificial pumpkin flavoring and caramel coloring. Are artificial colors or flavorings important ingredients for food consumers to watch out for?
A: Yes, it’s always the best choice to consume natural flavors. Some people are sensitive to artificial flavors, which many times come from non-food sources. So it’s a better option to get natural flavorings from the foods that actually produce the flavor.
Q: A recent study by market research firm The NPD Group of 35,000 customer receipts showed that people who buy seasonal drinks like pumpkin spice lattes also are more likely to buy coffee shop food like pastries, bagels and snacks. What advice do you have?
A: You can eat smart anywhere – only you may have to work at it a bit. Now that Starbucks and other coffee shops and restaurants disclose the calories in their food, you can make an informed choice when eating there.
There are a few options under 300 calories, but it helps to order small servings since the calories climb with the size.
Here’s a simple trick if you want to avoid a calorie- and fat-laden goodie: Try not to stare into the bakery case while standing in line. Use your phone or talk to someone to avoid gazing upon those colorful, tempting cookies and pastries. That way, if you don’t pay attention to them, they won’t call your name quite so loudly.
Q: What advice do you have for visiting the coffee shop for people who want to indulge a little bit, but also want to avoid going way overboard on calories, fat, salt, etc.?
A: Build it into your day. If you are having something higher-calorie at the coffeehouse, be smart with your eating the rest of your day. As long as you are aware of what you are consuming, you can control your intake. It is all about balance.
Read the nutrition facts that these restaurants provide – that is why the information is there.
When I go to the coffee shop, I often get a bowl of oatmeal and add some nuts and dried fruit – but no brown sugar — or get the reduced-fat egg-white turkey bacon sandwich.
Q: What are some ways to healthfully incorporate the flavor of pumpkin or pumpkin spice into your fall eating?
A: Add canned pumpkin to your baked goods and other foods. Just make sure you add it without also adding egg or oil. Add cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and clove to greek yogurt, oatmeal, squash or even potatoes. The list is endless.
Read more expert advice from Laura Jeffers, MEd, RD, LD on her blog.