Beware of the Pumpkin Spice Latte…

We may be nearing the end of ‘pumpkin spice latte’ season – and heading into ‘peppermint mocha’ season – but not before a new study warns of the high sugar content in many a coffee consumer’s favourite autumnal beverage flavouring — pumpkin spice.

The study finds that the pumpkin spice latte from Starbucks has the equivalent of 12 teaspoons of sugar, the same amount as five Krispy Kreme Original Glazed doughnuts or two Mars bars.

Many coffee consumers eagerly await seasonal coffee beverages, especially pumpkin spice. However, they do not always look at the amount of sugar, fat and calories present in these seasonal drinks. The stats highlight that Starbucks’ pumpkin spice latte has double the amount of sugar (50g) when compared with Pret a Manger’s pumpkin spice latte (23g).

The findings, collated by UK dental supplier Kent Express, found that Starbucks’ pumpkin spice latte contains a third of a healthy adult’s daily sugar intake, almost double recommended intake recommended by the National Health Service, which is 30g of free sugar a day. By having a ‘PSL,’ a coffee drinker could nearly reach their sugar limit with just one coffee.

The survey finds that consumers might avoid a bottle of regular Coke for health reasons but think nothing of autumn coffee due to a lack of labelling. And many consumers often have a coffee with a snack, further escalating the sugar levels.

Pret a Manger’s pumpkin spice latte ranked the lowest for grams of sugar (23g) and for calories (167 calories compared with Starbucks 390 calories).

The survey revealed the amounts of sugar in other popular autumn coffee drinks such as Starbucks’ iced salted maple caramel latte (37g), Greggs’ pumpkin spice latte (28g) and McDonald’s salted caramel latte (25g). Coffee chains like Costa Coffee, Caffe Nero, Dunkin’ or The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf (all international chains) were not highlighted in this study.

Registered nutritionist Dr Kawther Hashem, Campaign Lead at Action on Sugar, said, “Sugar not only lacks nutritional benefits, but eating (or drinking) too much of it leads to weight gain and raising the risk of Type 2 diabetes. Sugar is also a huge factor in tooth decay. It is therefore shocking that so many coffee chains are still willfully putting their customers’ health at risk despite the [UK] government’s sugar reduction targets for sugary milk drinks in 2018.”

In September, the UK was chosen to lead the new World Health Organisation (WHO) Sugar and Calorie Reduction Network after progress with its domestic sugar-reduction program. Chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty, announced the formation of the network, which will work with countries across Europe to reduce sugar and calorie intake.

Recent national dietary surveys show the average Brit (aged 19-64 years) is consuming just over a third more sugar than recommended, at 50 grams per day.

“We’re all getting more aware of our diets, and how they affect our physical and mental health. It’s shocking to discover just how much sugar there is in some seasonal drinks. Around 1 in 3 adults in the UK have signs of tooth decay, which can lead to more serious health problems,” said Chris Moffatt, dental expert at Kent Express. “Everyone enjoys a treat now and again, but we need to keep our wellbeing in mind and consider healthier options. If you do indulge in a sugary drink, try to have it with a meal, use a straw if you can, and drink some water straight afterwards. Brushing twice a day with fluoride toothpaste and keeping up to date with your dental check-ups is also essential.”

Ravneet Panesar, Nutrition Coach at Neet Nutrition said that there are recommended consumption levels for sugar is because the human body is not designed to ingest large volumes of sugar. “When you consume a high volume of sugar, an insulin response is triggered in your body, higher volumes of sugar cause elevated blood sugar levels. Frequently elevating your blood sugar levels can lead to insulin resistance, which may lead to type 2 diabetes, weight increase, heart disease, tooth decay and some cancers.”

While the authors of the study want coffee chains to reduce sugar and calories, especially in their seasonal promotions, they neglect to mention – or are unaware – that most coffee chains allow consumers to customise their coffee beverages, with both year-round and seasonal offerings. Thus, instead of two pumps of a flavoured syrup, a consumer may request one pump, or even a half.

No sugar does not mean avoiding autumnal flavours altogether — the authors did offer suggestions on how to reduce the amounts of sugar in seasonal beverages:

  • Sprinkle regular coffee with a dusting of cinnamon or nutmeg instead,
  • Try spiced pumpkin tea at home,
  • Try aromatic chai tea at home (watch out for coffee shop versions with high levels of sugar),
  • Check out online recipes for homemade pumpkin spice lattes with no sugar or refined sweeteners, no syrups and real pumpkin.

So, if you are a fan of the PSL, or any ‘sugary seasonal’ coffee beverage, perhaps enjoy in moderation, or at least try customising them!


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