Something in many of our brains switches over before a single leaf even falls from a tree: it’s pumpkin spice season. And make fun of it all you want! Clichéd, or basic as it may be, at its core, spiced pumpkin flavor is delicious, and it’s unfathomably popular for a reason.
The biggest takeaway about all of this is to enjoy what you love in moderation. If you wait all year to have a PSL once a week from late August to late November, then please have at and don’t stress. Moderation and balance is key, which is where this advice comes in — how to be more mindful of what you’re consuming (and if you’re indulging, do it consciously while savoring and enjoying every second!), and how to make health tweaks if you need that pumpkin fix on the daily.
Where Lattés Go Wrong
If you’ve ever had a classic Starbucks PSL, you know it’s an intensely sweet, almost syrupy drink. That’s because there is more added sugar in a grande PSL than adults should consume in an entire day. At 50 grams of sugar, this one medium-sized coffee contains almost two day’s worth of added sugar. For context, doughnuts can have about 15-30 grams of sugar, a Snicker’s bar has 20 grams, and a can of Coca-Cola has 33 grams. So while we’re not saying to never indulge in this delicious fall beverage, it’s *really* important to have that context when you’re waking up and grabbing a coffee — and not realizing it has the sugar content of a milkshake.
Starbucks obviously isn’t the only purveyor of spiced pumpkin coffees in town; depending on your region, you’ve got Dunkin’ Donuts, McDonald’s, Peet’s, Krispy Kreme, Wawa, and (we’re guessing) your local shops, too. Pumpkin coffee is ubiquitous this time of year, and while the exact recipe varies, you can bet they’re not skimping on calories and sugar.
Tips on Ordering Healthier Coffee Shop Pumpkin Spice Lattes
The healthiest option would be to make your PSL at home, but that’s not always feasible for everyone. There’s a reason these lightning-fast chain coffeehouses are so popular: convenience. So if you want some autumnal flavoring in your morning cuppa, but aren’t making it at home, here are some tips for your next trip to the café.
Know What’s in it
Get to know your coffee recipe and figure out what you’re willing to compromise on.
A pump of pumpkin spice sauce will vary depending on which café you frequent. At the hallowed halls of the green mermaid (that’s Starbucks, FYI), the pumpkin spice sauce is 30 calories and 7.5 grams of sugar per pump. A pump of vanilla is roughly 20 calories, with 5 grams of sugar.
Milk, cream, and alternative milks vary — you’re likely already familiar with these differences if you’re a regular coffee drinker. Changing your milk to save calories probably isn’t as effective a strategy as reducing sugar unless you’re partial to heavy cream and breve lattes (in which case, adjusting your milk choice would have a more significant impact).
Ask For Fewer Pumps or Less Flavoring (a little goes a long way)
The amount of sauce that goes into a standard PSL — while delicious — is aggressive.
Get a Smaller Size
Do you need a venti? Would you be satisfied with a small PSL and perhaps alright following up with plain coffee later if you need an extra boost?
Skip The Whip
Whipped cream is tasty, but if you can live without it, it’ll save you a ton of sugar, fat, and calories.
Try Adding More Spice
Spices won’t add calories or sugar, but the pumpkin sauce will. Most of the time, we like the spice (cinnamon, nutmeg, etc.) more than the sugary pumpkin itself. Have you ever had plain pumpkin without spice? Do you LOVE that flavor, or do you like it with the pumpkin pie spice? We rest our case.
Try The Pumpkin Cream Cold Brew
If you’re at Starbucks, this is a healthier, perhaps even tastier (in our opinion) option. Comparing at the grande size, the PCCB has 130 fewer calories and roughly 20 fewer grams of sugar (!!) than a PSL. Try it without the vanilla syrup in the coffee (i.e., just the pumpkin cream on top) — it will still be sweet and flavorful, but you can cut the sugar by 10 more grams and reduce it by 40 more calories overall (in a grande).
4 Healthy Ways to DIY Your Pumpkin Spice Latte
What to Order Anywhere: A Small, Half Sweet PSL With No Whip and Extra Pumpkin Spice Topping
As noted, the pumps of sauce pack a punch. Get your latté with half the amount of pumps and no whipped cream — instead, add some spice to get extra flavor. Your coffee will still be sweet and delish, with warming spices, but way lighter on the caloric index. Choose your milk based on your dietary preferences and caloric goals. The great thing about this order? It’s not exclusive to Starbucks. Virtually any coffee house or chain with a PSL recipe (at least the recipes that are syrup- and sauce-based) can make this modification for you. “Half sweet” is the magic password here. And when in doubt, ask them how they make their latté!
What to Order Anywhere: A Latté With a Pump of Pumpkin Sauce (or syrup)
If you just want a touch of sweet and flavor, get your usual coffee and add a dash of that autumnal flavor. It’s a small adjustment to something that’s already a part of your routine.
What to Order at Starbucks: A Lightly Modified PCCB
If you are a Starbucks diehard during PSL season, my personal order is the aforementioned pumpkin cream cold brew with no syrup in the coffee (just the pumpkin cream topping). You get the flavor, you get a touch of sweetness, you get richness from the cream, you get the spice. It’s a LOT lighter, and you have more coffee than milk (whereas a latté has quite a bit of milk compared to a small amount of espresso). The one pictured is my most recent, but I doubled up on that pumpkin cream, so what you see is twice what you’d get in a standard order. #balance, amirite?
What to Make at Home: a DIY, Healthified Pumpkin Spice Coffee or Latté
If you have the time to make something at home, you can create your own pumpkin spice sauce using organic pumpkin purée, organic vanilla paste or extract, organic maple syrup, and pumpkin pie spice. This method allows you to have the most control over your pumpkin treat and for you to connect with exactly what you’re putting in your body.
Step #1: Blend 1c water, 1/2c pumpkin, 1/2c maple, 1 tsp vanilla, and as much spice as your heart desires (maybe 1/4 tsp — I measured with my heart).
Step #2: Bring the blended mix to a simmer on the stovetop and stir until well combined; bring to a boil, then remove from heat.
Step #3: Let it cool, store in the refrigerator, and use a little at a time in your coffee (I like to make mine with iced coffee and oat milk for a ‘pumpkin spice café oat-lait’)
Love whipped cream on your PSL? You can also try making your own low-sugar and dairy-free version using coconut cream and a splash of pure maple syrup. Whip it up in a high-speed blender until it’s lights and fluffy and enjoy on top of your homemade healthier pumpkin spiced latte. Finish it with a sprinkle of pumpkin pie spice.
The Bottom Line
No matter your approach to your beloved gourd-infused morning coffee, remember: it’s OK to enjoy your favorite treats without modifying them, too. These tips come in handy when a seasonal indulgence becomes a daily staple for months on end or when you’re being extra mindful due to a health or wellness goal. It’s all valid! At the end of the day, what matters most is your mindfulness about what you’re consuming, whether you’re mindfully savoring every sweet drop, consciously simmering up a homemade sauce, or carefully selecting modifications to make your latté into exactly what you need that day.