This past Thursday was the official first day of autumn, and with the turning of the seasons comes the return of one of America’s favorite fall drink — Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Latte.
Since first introducing the beverage nearly 13 years ago, the Pumpkin Spice Latte still remains Starbucks most popular seasonal beverage. Forbes estimated that the company earned more than $100 million last year alone from selling Pumpkin Spice Lattes.
This widely popular fall-time drink recently returned to the market on September 2, and based on a statement from the company’s director, Peter Dukes, the recipe has been tweaked to favor consumer requests. Among the changes include the removal of artificial ingredients and the adding of real pumpkin puree in the beverage.
But despite the changes, nutritionists still warn about the health consequences of drinking Starbuck’s Pumpkin Spice Latte. According to Yahoo, a 16-oz Grande Pumpkin Spice Latte containing 380 calories, 14 grams of fat and 50 grams of sugar. The drink contains 12 teaspoons of sugar and the sugar rush that comes with it is equated to the “high” a person experiences after taking heroin or cocaine.
Cosmopolitan.com recently consulted with dietitian nutritionist Sonya Angelone to determine exactly how healthy – or unhealthy – the tasty treat is, as well as analyzing what happens to our bodies after enjoying the Pumpkin Spice Latte. For her analysis, Angelone used a Grande Pumpkin Spice Latte with 2 percent milk and whipped cream.
In 5 Minutes
Within minutes of drinking the latte, a rush of endorphins flood your brain and you feel a sudden surge of energy. Drinking something warm and sweet activates your reward system and triggers the release of endorphins. For those sensitive to even a low dose of caffeine, the drink may act as a laxative. It’s also common for those with a sensitivity to potassium sorbate — a preservative added to the drinks pumpkin spice sauce and vanilla syrup — to develop a headache shortly after consumption.
In 10–15 Minutes
After about 10 minutes, the sugar high arrives. The 12 teaspoons of sugar you just drank (about 3 more teaspoons than the amount of sugar in a 12-ounce can of Coke) begin to raise your blood sugar. However, the 14 grams of fat from the milk and whipped cream slow the sugar spike, so you don’t feel as hyped up as you would after drinking a can of regular soda.
In 15–20 Minutes
As your blood sugar continues to rise, this triggers your body to release insulin, which helps your cells convert sugar to energy. As your cells continue to be filled with your sugar, your body starts storing the excess sugar you drank as fat. However, you should be feeling highly energetic around this time as the stimulating effects of caffeine begin to kick in.
In 20–30 Minutes
Thirty minutes later, as your body absorbs the fat you’ve consumed, fat particles (aka triglycerides) enter the blood stream. Over time, high triglyceride levels can clog your blood vessels, raise bad cholesterol, and lower healthy cholesterol, all of which can increase your risk of heart disease.
If you are a generally healthy individual and eat nutritious foods, the effects will be short-lived. However, if you are overweight, smoke, have a poor diet, have a family history of early heart disease, rarely exercise, or have any other risk factors, the amount of sugar and fat in just one Pumpkin Spice Latte can actually threaten your heart health.
In 45–60 Minutes
After an hour, the caffeine high peaks as it starts to be absorbed by the stomach. As the fat continues to pulse through your system, your blood vessels might struggle to fully dilate or expand the way they need to, which can promote potentially dangerous blood clotting for anyone in not an optimal state of health.
In 3–4 Hours
More than three hours after enjoying the beverage, your blood sugar has dropped and the fat you drank has left your stomach, leading to hunger cravings. Although you never felt a major caffeine jolt, traces of caffeine are still in your system, which could keep you awake at night. With your triglyceride levels still soaring — they can remain elevated for six or more hours — a low-fat option as your next snack or meal is your body’s best option.
So, are Pumpkin Spice Lattes that bad for you?
So, how bad is it to drink a few of these every fall?
A grande Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte with 2 percent milk and whipped cream contains about 20 percent of a day’s worth of calories and fat without providing the body any actual food. It also contains the equivalent of 12 teaspoons of sugar. This amount of sugar is believed to produce a reaction in your brain that is similar to the rush from several addictive drugs, such as cocaine.
“If you’re generally healthy, indulging once in awhile shouldn’t be a problem,” Angelone told Cosmo. But according to her, if you suffer from health issues like high blood pressure, diabetes, insulin resistance, heart disease, unhealthy lipid levels, or excess weight, or smoking, “indulging may not be a good idea,” she warns.
For a festive-feeling drink that won’t mess with your health, Angelone suggests ordering a latte with 2 percent milk (or skim version) and pumpkin spices on the foam. By skipping the whipped cream, you’ll skim off at least 190 calories and 33 grams of sugar.