Nutritionists Break Down Starbucks’ New Seasonal Drinks and How to Make Them Healthier

Two people holding Starbucks coffee drinks.
Simple changes to your drink order can help lower the number of calories and amount of sugar in Starbucks’ newest seasonal menu items, Photography courtesy of Starbucks
  • Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Latte has returned to the brand’s fall menu for its 20th year.
  • It joins new additions: Apple Crisp Oatmilk Shaken Espresso and the Iced Pumpkin Cream Chai Tea Latte.
  • Nutritionists say these drinks have an incredibly high sugar content and minimal fiber.
  • Meanwhile, the health benefits of the spices used in the drinks are negligible.

Fall signals the start of many things like cooler weather and warmer clothes. It’s also a time for seasonal coffee options, like Starbucks’ ever-popular Pumpkin Spice Latte.

The global coffee chain has announced that the Pumpkin Spice Latte will be returning for its 20th year. The brand has also announced the addition of two new drinks to its seasonal menu: the Iced Apple Crisp Oatmilk Shaken Espresso and the Iced Pumpkin Cream Chai Tea Latte.  

For some, seasonal coffees like these may be as much a part of fall as the leaves falling from the trees, but just how healthy are these new autumnal brews, and how do they stack up to the beloved classic?

Let’s compare.

Pumpkin Spice Latte

Ingredients: Milk, pumpkin spice sauce, brewed espresso, whipped cream, vanilla syrup, pumpkin spice topping.

Nutritional information: A 16-ounce grande contains:

  • 390 calories
  • 14 grams total fat
  • 9 grams saturated fat
  • 0.5 grams trans fat
  • 50 milligrams cholesterol
  • 230 milligrams sodium
  • 52 grams total carbohydrates
  • 0 grams of dietary fiber
  • 50 grams of sugar
  • 14 grams of protein
  • 150 milligrams of caffeine

When looking at nutrition, one of the most alarming aspects of the Pumpkin Spice Latte is its sugar content. The drink contains 50 grams of sugar. Nutritional therapist Natalie Burrows says a small amount of this will be natural sugar from the milk, while the rest is added sugar.

“Adults are recommended to only consume 30 grams of free sugars a day — the type that would come from added sugar, found in syrups, and fruit and vegetable juices. This is a limit, not a target, and this drink exceeds it by almost double,” she explains.

As for caffeine, the Pumpkin Spice Latte delivers approximately 150 milligrams per drink, over one-third of the caffeine limit for an adult each day.

“For some, depending on sensitivity to caffeine, this could add to the feeling of a sugar/energy hit and what goes up must come down. The blood sugar and caffeine dips could leave you searching for more.”

The Pumpkin Spice Latte has some redeeming qualities, but they are few and far between.

“I’m glad to see a dairy milk on the ingredients list to bring some element of fat and protein to this drink. This helps balance the impact of the sugar hit that will naturally come from 50 grams of sugar,” says Burrows.

Similarly, Bari Stricoff, a registered dietitian at WellEasy, says the inclusion of real pumpkin puree in the sauce may provide a small amount of fiber and vitamins.

However, the inclusion of pumpkin shouldn’t be overestimated.

“The pumpkin spice topping is minimal and powdered so it’s unlikely to deliver health benefits in the same way as a good amount of fresh ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, and clove would,” Burrows points out. 

Iced Apple Crisp Oatmilk Shaken Espresso

Iced Apple Crisp Oatmilk Shaken Espresso

Ingredients: Ice, oat milk, canola oil, brewed espresso, and apple brown sugar syrup

Nutritional information: A 16-ounce grande contains:

  • 180 calories
  • 4.5 grams of total fat
  • 0 grams of saturated fat
  • 0 grams of trans fat
  • 0 milligrams of cholesterol
  • 190 milligrams of sodium
  • 34 grams of total carbohydrates
  • 1 gram of dietary fiber
  • 21 grams of sugar
  • 2 grams of protein
  • 225 milligrams of caffeine

Let’s start with the positives. Firstly, “espresso contains antioxidants and metabolic benefits,” Stricoff points out.

Secondly, this drink has fewer calories and sugar than the Pumpkin Spice Latte. Unfortunately, that’s where the redeeming qualities end. The drink still has 21 grams of sugar, which Burrows points out is 70% of the recommended daily amount.

Add to that, it has minimal fiber, partly due to the inclusion of oat milk, instead of full-fat dairy.

“Oat milk does not provide any fiber due to the way the oats are processed into liquid,” Burrows explains.

“The loss of fiber not only impacts gut bacteria, it contributes to blood sugar imbalance; driving sugar spikes and then sugar crashes.”

Twinned with the caffeine hit, which is over half of the 400 milligrams daily recommended amount for an adult, Burrows says this drink could leave you simply craving more sugar and/or caffeine to pick you back up.

Don’t let the inclusion of apple fool you into thinking this drink is a healthy choice either. Apple sugar syrup — as the name suggests — is mostly just sugar. It’s made up of invert sugar and brown sugar to be exact.

Iced Pumpkin Cream Chai Tea Latte

Iced Pumpkin Cream Chai Tea Latte

Ingredients: Milk, ice, pumpkin spice cream, vanilla syrup, pumpkin spice sauce, chai tea concentrate, and pumpkin spice topping

Nutritional information: A 16-ounce grande contains:

  • 460 calories
  • 17 grams of total fat
  • 11 grams of saturated fat
  • 0.5 grams of trans fat
  • 55 milligrams of cholesterol
  • 160 milligrams of sodium
  • 68 grams of total carbohydrates
  • 0 grams of dietary fiber
  • 66 grams of sugar
  • 10 grams of protein
  • 95 milligrams of caffeine                                           

With 66 grams of sugar, this drink is the worst offender of the three when it comes to sugar content.

“With no fiber to encapsulate those sugars, there is a reliance on the fat and protein content from the dairy milk, to slow down the blood sugar rush this drink will undoubtedly drive,” Burrows explains.  

“However, many people will opt to swap dairy milk for an alternative like oat milk, for example, which would reduce the fat and protein content and further add to the high sugar volume.”

The good news?

Chai does have some health benefits. It has anti-inflammatory properties and contains anti-oxidants that can protect cells from damage.

“The chai tea concentrate, made by an infusion of black tea, cardamom, black pepper, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, and star anise, is the leading health benefit in this drink as these natural spices contain anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties, perfect for colder, more immune-demanding months,” says Burrows.

“However, we are only assuming natural spices were used in the making of this infusion, as it’s not clear on the ingredients list,” she adds.

Before you get too excited about these potential health benefits, Burrows says, “the sugar and honey that is included in the chai tea concentrate adds to the whopping 66g of free sugars.

“This dilutes the potential benefits of the spices as sugar is inflammatory to the body, especially in this quantity.”

Healthier substitutions you can make to your drink order

If you’re ordering a Pumpkin Spice Latte and you’re concerned about the sugar content, “request half the pumpkin spice sauce or skip it,” Stricoff advises.

Similarly, Burrows suggests ordering one pump of syrup instead of the standard three in any of these drinks. She also recommends sticking to full-fat dairy milk or unsweetened coconut or almond milk.

You could also forgo whipped cream or ask for decaf.

“The reduction of caffeine can help to minimize that energy rush and hopefully mitigate the crash that comes after,” Burrows explains.

Another way to make a healthier choice is simply asking for a smaller size.

The bottom line

These drinks are far from healthy. Perhaps that won’t come as much of a surprise. That doesn’t mean you can’t ever enjoy them.

Instead, consider them an occasional treat, and remember their nutritional content needs to be considered as part of your overall energy intake. 

“While Starbucks’ seasonal drinks may be delicious and tempting, it’s essential to approach them with a discerning eye from a nutritional perspective,” warns Stricoff. “Many of these drinks are notably high in calories and added sugars, which, when consumed frequently, can be counterproductive to health goals. As they provide minimal nutritional value, they are best enjoyed in moderation.” 

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *