You might call it fall, but to Instagram, your local barista, and millennials everywhere, it’s pumpkin spice latte season.
Turns out, there’s a reason why pumpkin spice lattes are so beloved. In addition to the hit of caffeine and the irresistible combination of salt, fat, and sugar, the comforting blend of spices triggers a nostalgic, comforting response. Smells are strongly linked to emotions. In fact, while all other senses are routed through the thalamus before they reach the cerebral cortex to be perceived, incoming smells travel to the olfactory bulb, which is directly connected to the amygdala and hypothalamus. These two structures are part of the limbic system and are strongly implicated in emotion and memory. And because those spices usually show up in baked goods around the holidays, when you’re surrounded by family, friends, and happy memories, you associate those smells with good times.
The Price of Pumpkin Spice
Unfortunately for your waistline, pumpkin spice lattes aren’t the healthiest pick. A grande PSL made with 2% milk and topped with whipped cream will make a 380-calorie-sized dent in your daily caloric intake—along with 8 grams of saturated fat and 50 grams of sugar.
Thankfully, you can get your pumpkin spice fix elsewhere. Spices themselves have a negligible amount of calories, and they’re actually packed with antioxidants, minerals, and other health-boosting nutrients. And pumpkin is considered a vegetable in the culinary and nutrition world—one that’s packed with fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
Here are some healthy ways to have that beloved pumpkin spice taste.
Pumpkin Pie Oatmeal
Perk up your normal bowl of oatmeal with a mix of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and ginger along with a half cup of puréed pumpkin. Each half cup of pumpkin adds three grams of fiber, plus a solid amount of vitamin A and potassium. If you’re more of an on-the-go oatmeal type, just mix in some pumpkin purée and those spices into your normal recipe for overnight oats.
Siggi’s Pumpkin & Spice Icelandic Yogurt
Plenty of yogurt brands offer limited edition versions of a pumpkin yogurt in the fall, but many are packed with sugar. Siggi’s is a great choice because it has more grams of protein than sugar, making it a snack with staying power. Plus, it contains several strains of probiotics, which are linked to improved gut health.
Pumpkin Spice Mac & Cheese
Mac and cheese definitely ends up on the more savory end of the spice spectrum, but it will still fulfill your craving for something hot and comforting. Adding pureed vegetables to normally heavy dishes has several benefits: it boosts your vegetable intake, adds bulk (that means a bigger bowl of mac and cheese for you!) and fiber. Furthermore, it reduces the amount of calories and saturated fat coming from ingredients like heavy cream and cheese.
In fact, a Penn State study found that adults who ate a casserole made with pureed vegetables reported no flavor or taste differences than that of the regular casserole, but ended up consuming 200 to 350 fewer calories overall.
Pumpkin Spice Pancakes
Nothing beats a good fall brunch when it’s cold and overcast outside. Add a serving of surprise (hidden) vegetables to your normal buttermilk stack with pumpkin puree; whole wheat flour bumps up the fiber content even more.
A Healthier Pumpkin Spice Latte
If you must have your pumpkin spice latte, there are ways to make it healthier. Start with a tall (or small, if you’re not at Starbucks); limiting the portion size automatically limits calories and sugar from adding up. Choose skim, 1%, or 2% milk instead of whole milk—you won’t miss the extra fat anyway under all those other flavors.
And because Starbucks uses a flavored syrup for that pumpkin spice taste, ask for half of the normal amount of pumps. A grande typically comes with four pumps, but two should be enough. Add extra flavor with a sprinkle of cinnamon, which is usually hiding by the lids and straws; and lastly, skip the whip!