Fall is the season for swapping your bikini and Greek-style fro-yo for an infinity scarf and of course, all things pumpkin spice latte. But unless you’ve been living under a pile of yellow-and-brown leaves these last few autumns, you know that Starbucks PSLs—though so delicious they have an entire season named after them—are hardly health foods.
“Although pumpkin itself is loaded with nutrients, the pumpkin spice lattes traditionally served at coffee shops are artificially sweetened and contain little, if any, real pumpkin,” says certified holistic health coach Kara Mosseso. “The combination of the caffeine from the espresso and that high refined-sugar load with no fiber to balance it out will give you an initial energy jolt, but will leave you crashing soon after. Not to mention, refined sugar causes a lot of inflammation in the body.”
And according to Starbucks, a grande-sized drink has 380 calories and 50 grams of sugar, which is twice the amount that the American Heart Association suggests women consume in an entire day. Basically, gulping down a single drink is the grown-up equivalent of eating all of your Halloween candy in one sitting.
So, yeah. Definitely not healthy.
But what’s a wellness-obsessed PSL lover to do, short of going into hibernation? Thankfully, a few healthy hacks will allow you to enjoy the cult-fave seasonal beverage without embarking on a blood-sugar roller coaster.
Here are 7 ways you can health-ify your PSL this season.
1. Switch up the milk
PSLs are made with condensed milk (please, pause and try to process that for just a second), so request a plant-based option like soy, almond, or coconut to cut out some of the added sugar.
2. Stick with the smaller sizes
If you have your heart set on a PSL in its truest form, make it a minimalist-style indulgence. A small (or “tall,” in Starbucks speak) PSL is inevitably going to have fewer calories and less fat and sugar than the bigger portions, Mosseso says.
3. Pump it down
To get that autumn-in-a-cup flavor, baristas add pre-sweetened pumpkin-flavored syrup. “Most of the sweeteners and syrups by Starbucks have lots of calories,” says Iliana Treviño, a former Starbucks barista. She advises asking for fewer pumps to reduce the number of calories and sugars. Reddit sleuths have found that the standard PSL has three, but you can request as many as you want. Even just one will give you a pretty solid pumpkin-y flavor.
4. Start with a different drink
#PumpkinSpiceCoffee may not have as many likes on Instagram, but adding a few pumps of pumpkin spice syrup to a plain black coffee, or even a cappuccino, is an easy way to get the same pre-workout caffeine jolt, but without the extra cals.
5. Skip the whip
Take a page straight out of Healthy Drink Hacks for Dummies, and stick with the tried-and-true “no whipped cream” rule for your PSLs.
6. Sprinkle some cinnamon
Instead of relying on sugar-filled syrup for flavor, try spices instead. “You can use cinnamon and cloves, among other spices, to get a similar flavor without all the sugars and calories from the syrup,” Treviño says. Mosseso notes that a dash of cinnamon also helps regulate blood sugar levels, which can be helpful when you’re giving your body a 50-gram shock to the system.
7. Try it DIY
When all else fails, you can make your own healthy version of the Starbucks drink at home with this plant-based recipe from Mosseso.
DIY Pumpkin Spice Latte
1 cup unsweetened plant milk (almond, soy, oat, etc.)
1 Tbsp organic pumpkin purée (not pumpkin pie mix)
4 drops liquid stevia
1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
1 pinch nutmeg
1/8 tsp turmeric
1 shot organic espresso or 3/4 cup extra strong organic dark roasted coffee, brewed
1. Add the milk and pumpkin purée to a small pot and heat over medium heat, stirring continuously until the mixture starts to simmer.
2. Add the stevia, cinnamon, nutmeg, and turmeric, whisking until the mixture becomes frothy.
3. Pour the brewed coffee/espresso into a large mug and add the pumpkin mixture on top.
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