Unfortunately, I'll have to wait until 2018 to experience the wealth of pumpkin-flavoured products in the United States – it's finally spring here in Melbourne, and warm weather is well on its way (finally). But there's no way that my semester abroad will stop me from writing about these fall-time treats, and what better kickoff to Nutripol's first seasonal series than Starbucks' annual launch of the Pumpkin Spice Latte?
As a full disclosure, I used to love this drink. I knew what day it was released each year, and I have fond high school memories of tracking down a Starbucks with my friends (hi Daanish) in search of the season's first PSL. Nowadays, I think it tastes synthetic and sickly sweet. There are a million other pumpkin-inspired drinks and snacks that I would rather eat (stay tuned for those articles later on!), and as we're about to find out, there are plenty of other more nutritionally-balanced options as well. Besides, Melbourne is the coffee capital of the world. It would be borderline sacrilege to make it all the way over here just to order a PSL at a Starbucks, hey?
I'm not sure if this is protocol or just the work of a few coy baristas, but every time I order at a Starbucks in the States and forget to specify a size, they automatically give me a Grande. This is annoying because it ends up costing me upwards of $5 to buy anything, but even more so because it's an obscenely large portion size for something as decadent as a PSL. Just one standard PSL (made with 2% milk and whipped cream) has 380 calories, or almost 20% of the FDA's daily recommended value. This might seem fairly innocuous, but a turkey and cheese sandwich, a cup of oatmeal, or a quinoa lunch bowl all contain roughly the same amount. That's an entire lunch in one drink!
A PSL also has 14 grams of fat, or 22% of the FDA's daily recommended value. (Note: the FDA has updated the Daily Recommended Values beginning for products released after July 2018. The cap for fat has risen from 65 grams to 70 grams, but for the purpose of this article I'm sticking with 65 grams. I personally think that this is still way too high; read my article to find out why). Furthermore, since this version of the PSL is made with cow's milk (both in the latte and in the whipped cream), it's also high in saturated fat. One drink has 8 grams of saturated fat (40% of the daily value). To put this into perspective, one cheeseburger from McDonald's has 6.6 grams.
These numbers might cast an unfavourable light on the PSL, but there isn't anything inherently wrong with calorically-dense or fat-heavy treats (in moderation!). However, one of these drinks also has 50 grams of sugar, almost all of which is added. Starbucks does not legally have to comply with the newly-mandated added sugar category on the U.S. Nutrition Facts labels until 2018, but once they do this beverage (in its current formulation) will have almost 100% of the daily recommended value for added sugar.
Speaking of sugar, there are several less-than-ideal food items that find their way into one PSL. Many other bloggers and nutritionists have said this before, but there is very little pumpkin and a whole lot of syrup in your cup (maybe we should call it "Pumpkin-less Sugar Latte" from now on). All of the added sugar mentioned above comes from the combination of pumpkin spice sauce and vanilla syrup that gives the PSL its characteristic flavour – the only natural sugar comes from the lactose in the milk. On the bright side, this milk does provide 14 grams of protein (28% of the daily value), which will slow digestion and help your body cope with the post-sugar insulin spike.
Ways to Think About It:
Disclaimer: I am not a licensed nutritionist nor a registered dietician. The opinions expressed in this article are my own, and each individual is ultimately responsible for his/her dietary and nutrition practices. Please consult a physician before starting a new dietary program.
Image Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/urbanbohemian/