Are Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Lattes Bad for You?

Brandon Hall STACK

It is officially Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte season.

The wildly popular limited time beverage from the world’s largest coffee chain has become an official sign of fall. Pumpkin Spice Lattes are the best-selling seasonal drink in Starbucks’ long history, with customers slurping down roughly 20 million PSLs a year.

But what kind of impact can regular consumption of these sweet seasonal beverages have on your health?

Starbucks classifies their sizes as Short, Tall, Grande and Venti. These are 8, 12, 16 and 20 fluid ounces, respectively.

Let’s start by taking a look at a Tall (12-ounce) Pumpkin Spice Latte.

Unless dictated otherwise by the customer, this will come with 2% milk, a shot of espresso, pumpkin spice topping with whipped cream and 3 pumps of Pumpkin Sauce. It will also contain:

  • 300 calories
  • 11 grams of total fat
  • 7 grams of saturated fat
  • 39 grams of sugar
  • 11 grams of protein
  • 75mg of caffeine

The biggest red flag is the massive amount of sugar. A standard Tall Pumpkin Spice Latte contains about the same amount of sugar you’d find in 50 Skittles.

Frequently choosing high-sugar beverages is a serious hazard to your health. Not only can it lead to poor body composition, but it significantly increases your risk of several unfavorable health outcomes. Regular consumption of beverages high in added sugar has been associated with an increased risk of cancer, heart disease and type 2 diabetes. The American Heart Association recommends a limit of 25 grams per day for women and 36 grams per day for men. One Tall Pumpkin Spice Latte instantly exceeds both those limits.

Consuming significant amounts of sugar at one time leads your blood sugar to spike and then drop in rapid fashion, which can lead to feelings of tiredness, lethargy and irritability.

Now obviously, the larger size you order, the more problematic the PSL’s nutrition becomes. A Venti (20-ounce) Pumpkin Spice Latte made with the standard preparation (which contains five pumps of Pumpkin Sauce) contains:

  • 470 calories
  • 16 grams of total fat
  • 10 grams of saturated fat
  • 64 grams of sugar
  • 18 grams of protein
  • 150mg of caffeine

Now you’re looking at a beverage with more calories than two Dairy Queen Chocolate Dilly Bars, and more grams of sugar than three. For comparison’s sake, a Venti Pike Place Roast contains five calories, and a bit more than that if you add a splash of 2% milk. So operating under the impression that a Pumpkin Spice Latte is the same as any other cup of coffee is a major misconception.

There’s nothing wrong with enjoying a Pumpkin Spice Latte every now and then, and you can find ways to cut down on the sugar, calorie and/or fat content by reducing the amount of “Pumpkin Sauce,” whipped cream, topping, etc. However, if you’re downing one every day or nearly every day throughout fall, it could certainly lead to weight gain and, via the sugar crashes, greater lethargy and fatigue.

In general, it’s a good idea to be at least somewhat conscious of the fact that “Pumpkin Spice” products are often high in sugar and calories. They may contain little to no actual pumpkin, just a mixture of sweeteners, flavors and dyes designed to taste and look pumpkin-y.