What to Know About Pumpkin Spice Lattes, From a Nutritionist Who Loves Them

They're back at Dunkin' and Starbucks this month!

As summer ends, I start to get excited about all things fall, including sweater-and-boot weather, Halloween, and yes, pumpkin spice lattes! If you're a PSL fan like me, here's some good news: The cozy fall beverage returned in August 2022. Dunkin' (the donut chain) brought its pumpkin spice signature latte back Aug. 10 and Starbucks' pumpkin spice latte came back for its 19th year on Aug. 30.

The return of the fall beverage to Starbucks and Dunkin' leads us to wonder: is one brand's recipe healthier than the rest?

Well, here's the not-so-great and not-terribly-surprising news: Most pumpkin spice lattes are high in sugar and processed ingredients. I haven't been able to find any versions that I would recommend from a nutritional standpoint as a daily habit.

So, my advice: Choose the PSL you like best and enjoy it as an occasional treat. Below you'll find my notes on both popular PSLs—plus a truly good-for-you recipe you can make at home.

Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte

The Starbucks website lists the ingredients in its pumpkin spice sauce as sugar, condensed skim milk, pumpkin puree, 2% or less of fruit and vegetable juice for color, natural flavors, annatto, salt, and potassium sorbate. It's great that the company is using some all-natural additives, but the final ingredient is a common preservative. (Annatto, by the way, is a natural food additive also used for color.)

A tall Starbucks PSL made with 2% steamed milk foam has 300 calories, 12 grams of fat, 39 grams of carbohydrate,11 grams of protein, and 38 grams of sugar. Substituting whole milk would presumably bump up the calorie and fat content. To put that in perspective, a Starbucks Cheese Danish has fewer calories (290) and 28 grams less sugar than the PSL.

So, when you order a Starbucks pumpkin spice latte, enjoy every sip but just think of it as a dessert rather than a coffee.

Tip: Starbucks tells Health that customers can customize their PSL. Ask for fewer pumps of pumpkin spice sauce, less whip, or no whip, for example, if you're looking to cut calories.

Dunkin' Pumpkin Spice Latte

The ingredients list for the Dunkin' PSL also includes sugar and common preservatives as well as high fructose corn syrup. According to the company's nutrition guide, a small signature pumpkin spice hot latte with whole milk has 300 calories, 11 grams of fat, 8 grams of protein, 42 grams of carb, and 38 grams of sugar.

You can trim 50 calories and six grams of fat from the small by ordering it with skim. If you prefer plant-based milk, almond and oat milk are options, but the pumpkin swirl syrup is made with condensed sweetened milk.

Homemade Pumpkin Spice Latte

If you want to enjoy pumpkin spice lattes on the regular, try making healthier versions at home! Here's my recipe, which calls for all-natural ingredients and is packed with nutrients.

Pumpkin Spice Latte

2 tablespoons canned pumpkin puree

½ teaspoon pumpkin pie spice (or ¼ teaspoon cinnamon and ⅛ teaspoon each ground nutmeg and ground ginger)

Pinch of sea salt

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

½ cup unsweetened almond milk

½ cup hot brewed coffee

2 teaspoons pure maple syrup

1 tablespoon almond butter

  1. In a saucepan over low heat, combine pumpkin, pumpkin pie spice, sea salt, vanilla, and almond milk. Cook, stirring until warm and fragrant, about 3 minutes.
  2. Transfer pumpkin mixture to a high-speed blender and add coffee, maple syrup, and almond butter. Blend until well mixed and frothy. Drink immediately.

This version provides 210 calories, 9 grams of plant-based fat, 19 grams of carb with 13 from sugar (primarily from the maple syrup), and 4 grams of protein from almonds.

While these numbers may not seem terribly impressive, the biggest advantages here are the sugar savings compared to commercial pumpkin spice lattes, and the real food ingredients, which are bundled with bonus nutrition.

Just two tablespoons of canned pumpkin packs nearly a day's worth of immune-supporting vitamin A. Maple syrup supplies a solid amount of manganese, a mineral that helps produce collagen and promote skin and bone health. And almonds have been shown to help lower "bad" LDL cholesterol, and support weight loss.

Cheers to that.

Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, is Health's contributing nutrition editor, a New York Times best-selling author, and a private practice performance nutritionist who has consulted for five professional sports teams.

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