If you’ve been to any grocery store lately, odds are you’ve been bombarded by pumpkin spice flavored foods. Popularized mostly by Starbuck’s Pumpkin Spice Latte, there’s no avoiding this Fall fad. It has gotten so prevalent that in the last couple of weeks I’ve seen pumpkin spice hummus, energy drinks, beef jerky, pasta sauce, liquor, air fresheners and even shampoo! There’s no question that this marketing ploy has been successful, but are these products good for you?
Let’s start with arguably the most popular pumpkin spice product, the Latte. A 12 oz (tall) pumpkin spice latte at Starbucks has a whopping 37 grams of sugar, and this is without whipped cream. This is well above the WHO’s recommended maximum of 25 g of sugar per day, which is a high limit in itself. For awhile this dessert beverage didn’t even have real pumpkin in it, but due to consumer complaints, they now use a ‘pumpkin sauce’ that contains “Sugar, Condensed Skim Milk, Pumpkin Puree, Contains 2% Or Less Of Fruit And Vegetable Juice For Color, Natural Flavors, Annatto, Salt, Potassium Sorbate”. So basically it’s a sugar and condensed milk syrup with just enough actual pumpkin added to put it on the label.
Another problem with many of these products is they are heavily processed. While most health-conscious consumers would normally avoid things like pancake mixes and cookies, the addition of this flavoring leads many to make an exception. One of the biggest sellers at Trader Joe’s is the Pumpkin Spice Pancake and Waffle mix. Looking at the label, this product contains 10 g of sugar per 5″ pancake, an who stops after just one pancake? The label then goes on to read like a college chemistry book, the amount of additives is staggering. After checking several other labels, I learned they were all the same. Refined sugar, processed wheat, soy and corn full of preservatives and other additives. Look at some of these labels next time you are at the market, it’s shocking that these products can even be considered food.
Pumpkin itself is actually very healthy. It is full of potassium, calcium, iron, beta-carotene and fiber. Baked or steamed pumpkin made into soup or other savory dishes with cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves is a great way to enjoy this Fall flavor without the sugar and other additives. One of my favorite soup recipes is simply roasted butternut squash, pumpkin and garlic pureed with some bone broth, seasoned with salt and pepper and topped with fresh ground nutmeg for serving. It has been a Thanksgiving staple in my family for years.