SUMMER holidays might only just have finished but Starbucks’ autumn favourite, the Pumpkin Spice Latte is back.
And this year (as of 6 September), vegans will also be able to get in on the action as the coffee giants have re-jigged their recipe to make the all-important PSL syrup plant-based.
And anything that’s vegan-ised has to be pretty healthy, right? Definitely not.
For all it’s warming deliciousness, Pumpkin Spice Lattes (PSL) – and other similar hot drinks – are anything but health tonics.
Although Starbucks UK is yet to release the nutritional value of the new plant-based versions of the drinks, the regular recipe is incredibly calorie dense.
“At 383 kcals, a PSL is around 20 per cent of your daily calorie requirement,” nutritionist Helen Bond told The Sun. “In fact, it’s nearly the same as Public Health England calorie recommendation for breakfast (400 kcals) – so you would not be able to have anything else if you had this drink on the way to work.”
But calories aren’t everything.
What about the actual ingredients that go into a PSL?
For a start, the drink contains a lot more than milk, cinnamon and coffee.
Starbucks’ original (non-vegan) list of ingredients includes:
- pumpkin spice sauce – made up of sugar, condensed skim milk, pumpkin puree, natural flavour, annatto (a red food colouring), salt, potassium sorbate
- brewed espresso
- whipped cream – includes cream (cream, mono and diglycerides, carrageenan) and vanilla syrup (sugar, water, natural flavours, potassium sorbate, citric acid)
- pumpkin spice topping (cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves).
As you might expect from a latte, milk is the first ingredient listed.
Baristas then pump that with their signature PSL sauce, of which sugar is the primary ingredient.
We’re talking free sugars here – not the stuff that comes from fruit or carbs – but free-flowing plain sugar.
And that’s before we get to the next ingredient listed is condensed skim milk (highly sugary) and the naturally occurring sugars in regular milk and cream.
While the sugar tax has demonised fizzy pop and sugary snacks, hot beverages have been left alone.
The UK recipe of the grande Pumpkin Spice Latte, which uses semi-skimmed milk, weighs in at an enormous 43.3g of sugar – around one and a half times the recommended daily allowance for women.
Helen told us: “Forty-two per cent will be naturally occurring from the milk and cream from which it is made and a little from the pumpkin puree.
At 383 kcals, a Pumpkin Spice Latte is around 20 per cent of your daily calorie requirement
Helen Bond, nutritionist
“The rest is added or newly termed ‘free sugar’ – the type that we should be cutting down on for the sake of our waistline and teeth.
“And this drink would supply an adults entire maximum free sugar intake (30g) in one sitting, which is worrying.
“It doesn’t matter where the sugar is coming from – the body does not differentiate from sugar in food or drink, it is broken down and digested in the same way.”
A grande Pumpkin Spice Latte from Starbucks contains the same calories and same sugar content as two Raspberry Glazed Krispy Kreme doughnuts.
Just how good for us is a PSL?
Pumpkin Spice Lattes may be glorified cups of coffee but they’re pretty energy dense.
In fact, one grand PSL contains:
– more calories than a McDonalds cheeseburger (301 kcals)
– more calories than the chocolate fudge cake at Pizza Express (311 kcals) and their dough balls (361 kcals)
– the same amount of sugar as two raspberry glazed Krispy Kreme doughnuts (22.4g each)
– more sugar than a can of regular Coca-Cola (39g)
– the same amount of saturated fat as two bars of Cadbury’s Dairy Milk (5.1g each)
– the same amount of saturated fat as three scoops of Ben & Jerry’s Cookie Dough ice cream (12g)
A can of full-fat Coke, on other hand, contains around 39g of sugar.
Oddly enough, Starbucks’ breaks down all the nutrients in a PSL into “% Daily Values”…apart from the sugar content (one wonders how many people might be put off seeing “200 per cent” written there).
But their percentage valuations do tell us that the drink also contains 40 per cent of our daily recommended allowance of saturated fat.
If you’re going for the whole hog, you can then have your latte topped with whipped cream.
While that doesn’t do much further damage to the 380 calorie drink’s nutritional value, Starbucks’ whipped cream does contain carrageenan – an additive thought to cause cramps, gas and bloating.
A report published by the Cornucopia Institute found that food-grade carrageenan “causes gastrointestinal inflammation and higher rates of intestinal lesions, ulcerations, and even malignant tumours”.
So what does all of that do to your system after you’ve chugged it down?
Well, drinking the equivalent of 10 teaspoons of sugars sends your blood sugar rocketing skyward.
Daniel O’Shaughnessy, nutritional therapist and spokesman the British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine told The Sun: “You will have a massive spike in the blood sugar which can lead to energy peaks and dips.
“This can lead to energy imbalances, hormone imbalances, mood shifts and may lead to skin irritations (if prone) and also weight gain.
“Continue to have this pattern and it could lead to type 2 diabetes.
“There’s nothing good about this drink other than the fact that it contains some protein.”
HOW MUCH SUGAR SHOULD YOU HAVE A DAY?
IT’S generally recommended that sugar should only account for about five per cent of your daily energy intake.
So, that means no more than seven teaspoons per day for the average adult – the equivalent to a small glass of fruit juice and a flavoured yoghurt each day.
Children should be consuming far less than that.
Kids aged two and under should have just 3 teaspoons per day, kids aged three to six should have no more than four teaspoons a day and kids between seven and ten should have no more than six teaspoons.
And within 30 minutes of drinking it, your liver starts trying to store all that sugar as fat.
The drink’s caffeine content then increases blood pressure, which in turn stimulates the release of sugar into the bloodstream.
And although it might not taste particularly coffee-ish, a PSL actually contains way more caffeine than a regular Americano.
“It packs a caffeine punch – around twice the amount of a regular coffee,” Helen explained.
“While adults can safely drink up to 400mg a day, pregnant and breastfeeding women are advised not to have more than 200mg a day. Too much caffeine can cause headaches, stomach and sleep problems in caffeine sensitive individuals.”
Is there much difference then between eating something sugary and drinking something sugary?
Daniel told us that it has “pretty much the same effect, except when you are drinking sugar, you will be drinking empty calories and there are usually no other nutrients in drinks with sugar.
“With food, there can be some fibre to slow the absorption and also some vitamins and minerals. Therefore it may spike the blood sugar drinking than eating.”
Obviously, the odd PSL won’t hurt and bearing in mind that they only come around once a year, you should definitely enjoy the odd cup.
“As with all food and drink, having one of these speciality coffees now and again in moderation doesn’t do you any harm and can be enjoyed as part of a healthy balanced diet,” Susan Short, a spokeswoman for the British Dietetic Association told The Sun.
Susan said that unless you’re particularly caffeine-sensative, most people won’t have a reaction to drinking a big PSL other than simply feeling full.
But that’s not to say that they can’t cause damage if drunk regularly.
MORE ON DIET
“Having a drink that’s high in sugar means that we can consume more sugar than we realise as it’s easier to drink larger volumes of sugary drinks rather than eat as part of a cake or pudding.
“Quite often these drinks are consumed along with a cake which increases the total sugar consumed even more.”
“If people are keen to have these and want to reduce the calorie and fat content, they can ask for it to be skinny i.e. with skimmed milk and without whipped cream.
Starbucks told The Sun: “This year we’re really excited that our Pumpkin Spiced Latte recipe can be enjoyed by vegan customers too. As part of our ongoing commitment to sugar reduction, we’ve reduced the calories by 10% and sugar by 13%, compared to last year’s recipe.
“Our drinks can be customised in a number of ways including choosing no whipped cream or enjoying our smallest size, Short.”
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