The nights are cooler, and the leaves are changing color, which means fall is in the air. One of everyone’s favorite fall treats comes with the change in seasons– the pumpkin spice latte. These sweet treats are a must as sweater weather and wood-burning fireplaces warm you up in the chilly air. Yet, are pumpkin spice lattes bad for you?

Everything is fine in moderation, even a caffeine-filled, sweet cup of fall flavors in a pumpkin spice latte. However, too much of a good thing can be bad. Thankfully, there are alternatives to your pumpkin spice lattes that taste just as good without all the bad ingredients. I will tell you a better way to enjoy pumpkin spice, the ingredients you want to avoid, and what to order at your local coffee shop. Here is the culinary tale of why traditional pumpkin spice lattes are bad for you.  

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Why Pumpkin Spice Lattes are Bad

Are pumpkin spice lattes bad for you? There is more to your pumpkin spice lattes than fall feelings and a delicious treat. Pumpkin spice lattes contain sugar, dairy, artificial flavors, preservatives, and much more. Here are 7 reasons why pumpkin spice lattes are bad. 

pumpkin spice lattes – infographic – Amy Myers MD®pumpkin spice lattes - infographic - Amy Myers MD® https://www.amymyersmd.com/article/avoid-pumpkin-spice-lattes/pumpkin spice lattes – infographic – Amy Myers MD®

1. Pumpkin Spice Lattes and Sugar

Sugar wrecks your health in so many ways. Sugar is an inflammatory food, and inflammation is the root cause of nearly every chronic illness. Studies have shown that a high-sugar diet is linked to joint pain and increases your risk of developing autoimmune diseases. That’s because excess sugar in your bloodstream generates free radicals, which damage your cells and trigger an inflammatory immune response.

The troubling part is that one grande, or medium (16 oz), pumpkin spice latte contains up to 50 grams of sugar.1 That’s near twice the recommended daily amount of sugar intake. Moreover, many coffee shops’ pumpkin spice syrup used to flavor the PSL is full of high fructose corn syrup. High fructose corn syrup is a highly refined sweetener that contains an unnatural amount of fructose. 

Too much added sugar can contribute to type 2 diabetes, weight gain, metabolic syndrome, and increasing your risk of heart disease. High fructose corn syrup is similar to sugar (sucrose), yet the main difference is that the fructose and glucose molecules are bound together in table sugar. Your body has to metabolize high fructose corn syrup into glucose, and it does this through your liver. If your liver becomes overworked, the fructose is turned into fat and stored in your liver.

The good news is that natural sweeteners, such as honey and maple syrup, are a healthier option than artificial sweeteners or table sugar. So instead of adding sugar to your coffee, add a teaspoon of honey!  

2. Pumpkin Spice Lattes Contain Dairy

If you’ve followed me or been a member of my community for any time, you know that dairy is one of two foods I recommend everyone avoid. Cow’s milk is one of the main ingredients in a pumpkin spice latte. 

You might believe that dairy is a cornerstone of a healthy diet. Yet, the truth is that many people (about 75% of the population) are sensitive to cow’s dairy, resulting in digestive issues including bloating, gas, constipation, and diarrhea. 

Lactose intolerance occurs in people who do not produce the lactase enzyme that breaks down lactose, a sugar in milk. Around 70% of the population stops producing lactase as they get older. If you still produce the lactase enzyme and experience dairy sensitivity, your immune system reacts to one or both of the proteins found in milk– casein and whey.

Additionally, American dairy farmers inject their cows with the genetically engineered bovine growth hormone rBGH to increase milk production. The increased milk production puts a strain on the cows’ udders. This often leads to an infection known as mastitis, which gets treated with antibiotics. All those added hormones and antibiotics make their way into your dairy products. The good news is there are many dairy alternatives available. 

Coconut milk is a wonderful dairy alternative that everyone can enjoy. Not only can it help with weight management and lower cholesterol, but coconut milk is also absolutely delicious. Coconut milk goes well in a pumpkin spice latte. If you’re making one at home, you can find coconut milk whipped cream in many supermarkets. 

3. Pumpkin Spice Lattes and Caffeine

Caffeine is a natural stimulant in coffee beans, tea leaves, and cocoa beans, and it can also be produced synthetically in soft drinks and most energy drinks. Caffeine promotes alertness by blocking the chemical messenger adenosine, a neurotransmitter that causes that sleepy feeling. 

Naturally, energy can have anywhere from 77 to 173 mg of caffeine per 16 oz can, whereas a cup of black tea contains 55 mg.2 The caffeine in one 12 oz can of soda ranges from 34 to 54 mg, depending on the brand. Yet, one 8-ounce cup of coffee contains 95 mg of caffeine. That means that the grande (16 oz) pumpkin spice latte contains 190 mg of caffeine. 

I recommend that you avoid caffeine altogether. However, if you must have caffeine, remember the maximum daily amount of caffeine is 400 mg daily. So, that one grande pumpkin spice latte is nearly half of your daily allotment of caffeine. 

An alternative is to choose decaffeinated coffee. Lattes are coffee and steamed milk, so with a dairy alternative for the milk and decaffeinated coffee, you can still enjoy this fall treat, without the sugar, of course.

4. Pumpkin Spice Lattes Have Natural and Artificial Flavors

The irony with pumpkin spice lattes is that they lack actual pumpkin as an ingredient. The pumpkin you taste in your pumpkin spice latte is artificial flavoring. This flavoring is synthesized from anything from paper pulp to petroleum, chemicals you don’t want in your body.3 Artificial flavors are just that– artificial. 

On the other hand, natural flavors come from an edible source, such as natural pumpkin. However, natural flavors are still produced in a lab. They could be even worse for your health than their artificial counterparts. That’s because our government requires artificial flavors to be more rigorously tested for safety. In fact, “natural” can be a catch-all term for highly processed ingredients as long as they were once derived from a plant or animal. By this definition, monosodium glutamate (MSG) and aspartame are considered natural.

If you are looking to avoid natural and artificial flavors, this AIP Pumpkin Spice Latte uses natural ingredients such as pumpkin puree and coconut milk. 

5. Pumpkin Spice Lattes Have Preservatives

Aside from artificial flavors, the syrups that flavor pumpkin spice lattes all contain some preservatives, including potassium sorbate. The chemical preservative potassium sorbate is found commonly in foods, beverages, and skincare products. Potassium sorbate is a go-to preservative in most foods because it has no distinct taste or smell. Manufacturers use potassium sorbate to prevent food spoilage from bacteria, fungus, mold, and yeast to delay changes in food’s color, flavor, and texture. 

Potassium sorbate can trigger a heightened immune response and food sensitivity symptoms such as nasal congestion, runny nose, and abdominal pain. It can even cause migraines in some people.4

As with many preservatives, potassium sorbate may also contain sulfites. Sulfites are added to foods as preservatives, “anti-browning” agents, bleaching agents, processing aids, and antioxidants. These preservatives can trigger adverse respiratory reactions in those who are sensitive.

6. Pumpkin Spice Lattes Contain Carrageenan

Most coffee shops top their pumpkin spice lattes with a big, fluffy mound of whipped cream. Aside from the problematic added dairy, most whipped creams contain a stabilizer such as carrageenan or sodium alginate to increase the viscosity of the cream. Carrageenan also is found in almond and soy milks to give it a rich, thick, cream-like texture. 

Carrageenan is a water-soluble fiber found in seaweed. When carrageenan is processed with acid, it creates a substance called poligeenan, which is inflammatory and not approved as a food additive. Research in animals suggests that poligeenan can cause ulcers and may cause colon cancer. It’s important to note that no research has been done on the effects of poligeenan on humans. However, the Agency for Research on Cancer has listed poligeenan as a possible human carcinogen.5

I recommend skipping the whipped cream altogether due to the dairy content. However, coconut milk-based whipped cream is a great alternative if you do want a little sweet topping on your pumpkin spice latte alternative. 

7. Pumpkin Spice Lattes Contain: Caramel Color

Caramel color is the most commonly used food dye in the world. Despite its name, caramel color bears no resemblance to actual caramel. In fact, it often contains a chemical known as 4-methylimidazole or 4-Me, and research shows it causes cancer in mice. In 2011, the International Agency for Research on Cancer declared caramel color to be “possibly carcinogenic to humans.”6 I consider this a good enough reason to avoid caramel color or anything that contains artificial colors.

I don’t want you to worry. As I mentioned before, it’s perfectly OK to indulge in this fall treat. It’s not the end of the world on occasion. The good news is there are healthier alternatives that are AIP-friendly without all the inflammatory ingredients. 

Caramel color is the most commonly used food dye in the world. Despite its name, caramel color bears no resemblance to actual caramel. In fact, it often contains a chemical known as 4-methylimidazole, or 4-Me. Research shows it causes cancer in mice. In 2011, the International Agency for Research on Cancer declared caramel color to be “possibly carcinogenic to humans” I consider this good enough reason to avoid caramel color or anything that contains artificial colors.

I don’t want you to worry. As I mentioned before, it’s perfectly OK to indulge in this fall treat. It’s not the end of the world on occasion. The good news is there are healthier alternatives that are AIP-friendly without all the inflammatory ingredients. 

A Better Way to Satisfy Your Pumpkin Spice Latte Craving

If you are still in the mood for an autumnal treat, then I recommend trying these fall recipes available to all of my readers. My favorite fall drink would have to be the Upgraded Pumpkin Pie Smoothie. You’ll get that boost of pumpkin, all of the fall flavors such as cinnamon and nutmeg, as well as a boost of protein by adding Vanilla Bean Paleo Protein. If you don’t want the vanilla taste, Unflavored Paleo Protein is a great replacement and contains 26 grams of hydrolyzed, non-GMO beef protein. 

Pumpkin is a food with many health benefits. It promotes a healthy immune system, facilitates eye health, supports weight loss, is an antioxidant, and supports younger-looking skin. If you enjoy this fall flavor and don’t want to turn to a pumpkin spice latte, you can try one of these many recipes for AIP-friendly pumpkin-flavored treats

If you still choose to indulge in a pumpkin spice latte at your local coffee shop, order it as such: Decaf Pumpkin Spice Latte with coconut milk, no whipped cream. This is an excellent way to prevent ingesting dairy and caffeine while enjoying the fall flavors. 

The Final Word

Are pumpkin spice lattes bad for you? The sugar, caffeine, preservatives, and dairy in the pumpkin spice latte original recipe are unfriendly to your gut and can increase inflammation, which is the leading cause of autoimmune disease. As I said earlier, everything is fine in moderation. Going for one of the alternatives I mentioned will allow you to enjoy the flavors of fall! Your gut will thank you! 

Article Sources

  1. Added Sugars. American Heart Association. 2022.
  2. Sleep and Caffeine. American Academy of Sleep Medicine. 2013.
  3. What Manufacturers Really Mean By Natural And Artificial Flavors. Eustacia Haun. Forbes. 2016.
  4. Adverse reactions to the sulphite additives. Hassan Vally and Neil LA Misso. Gastroenterology and Hepatology from Bed to Bench. 2012.
  5. Is carrageenan safe to eat?. Amanda Barrell. Medical News Today. 2018.
  6. Caramel color: The health risk that may be in your soda. Consumer Reports. 2014.