By Isadora Baum
Fall is here and pumpkin spice season (PSL) is in full swing. And the limited time Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte is a festive fan favorite, especially when paired with bakery items, like a pumpkin cream cheese muffin, pumpkin bread or a pumpkin scone.
But if you consider the grams of sugar, the calories, and the excess fat that goes into that cup (plus those sweet snacks, if you ordered those too), you’ll see that the Pumpkin Spice Latte is a cozy beverage that can worsen your health and your waistline if consumed regularly.
That’s why requesting modifications with your barista and ordering a slimmed down version of the Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte can help reduce your sugar intake, keep the pounds off, and make it easy to enjoy those PSL vibes while you can. Here’s how to order the PSL off the menu with a few tweaks to better protect your health. And it’ll still be delicious, so don’t worry.
Think of Size
“An easy way to decrease the calories and sugar when ordering a pumpkin spice latte is to go with a tall vs. a grande,” says Maggie Michalczyk, MS, RD. You save yourself about 80 calories just by opting for the smaller size, and there’s still plenty to enjoy.
You can still get those pumpkin pie spice flavors and whipped cream if you like, but you’ll have less simply due to the smaller cup. If you need a larger drink, go with plain a cappuccino or plain signature espresso with a dusting of pumpkin spice topping or real pumpkin pie spices, or try the pumpkin cream cold brew, which comes with cold foam for a chilled pumpkin coffee drink that is lower in calories, sugar, and fat.
The Pumpkin Cream Cold Brew, which was added to the fall menu last year, tastes like real pumpkin spice in the creamer, but the cold brew is less sweet, so you can get that sugary feel without it feeling over the top too. You also still get that frothy texture on top. It is still creamy and satisfying, and the pumpkin cream bold foam can act like a healthier version of whipped cream too.
Lower the Sugar in Your PSL
“There are 3 pumps of pumpkin sauce in a grande giving it nearly 40 grams of sugar — yikes, that’s scary even for spooky season,” says Michalczyk. “I also think it makes the drink too sweet so ask for 1 pump of pumpkin sauce to take the sugar way down,” she adds. It can be just as bad as a basic, sweet frappuccino or another fall seasonal treat, the salted caramel mocha frappuccino, for example. And if you get more sweeteners, like sauces and syrups, it makes that PSL even more of a diet doozy.
Your barista will also oblige to do just a half a pump of pumpkin sauce if you want to go even lower, and it will help prevent that mid-morning sugar crash. There are often syrups in Starbucks drinks, like toffee nut syrup, caramel drizzle, and vanilla syrup, so if you see use of syrup, go down to one pump or a half if you can.
Fix the Milk
Traditionally, the PSL is made with 2% milk. Swapping that for skim will help decrease some of the fat content. Not doing dairy? No problem. Opt for almond milk or oat milk (some locations are rolling it out so be sure to check) for a dairy-free option. “This will also help decrease the overall fat content without sacrificing flavor,” she says.
“Some of the dairy alternatives like oatmilk will even make your latte extra creamy and delicious! Biggest thing with oatmilk is that it’s dairy free and super creamy so even if you’re skipping the milk, oatmilk can give it a really nice creaminess,” she says.
Hold the Whip
“I say save the whipped cream for pumpkin pie instead of your coffee,” she says. “Whipped cream adds calories, fat and sugar, so opting out of topping your latte with it is a simple way to decrease all of those, and if you absolutely need to have it, order your drink with ‘light whip,’” she adds. The barista will know how much to give you to make it less fattening.
You can also go with real pumpkin pie spices on top if you have access at your Starbucks location. Or take turns and order it sometimes with and others without. It’s nice to enjoy the whipped cream once in a while if you do love it.
Enjoy That PSL
Pumpkin is only around for a limited time, and hey we all need some of that comforting nostalgia that comes from the flavor combination of pumpkin this season (especially this year), so take advantage of it. “I say sip it, enjoy it without guilt, and savor the season while it lasts,” she says. Pumpkin Spice Latte gives those positive vibes so you should enjoy it from the fall menu and treat yourself to something indulgent and smooth.
Order Something Different
“Another way to order the drink that significantly takes down the sugar and calories content is to order an americano (just espresso + water) and ask for 0.5 or 1 pump of pumpkin! It’s not as creamy as the real thing but can be a good option, especially if you need your pumpkin fix everyday,” she says.
You will get that flavor combination of pumpkin you desire but by using a signature espresso instead. It’s PSL season but for fewer calories and it gives you the option to customize the drink as you like and even add in a sweet snack.
You can also add sea salt or other real pumpkin pie spices on top for more flavor. And for a snack, whip up a healthier batch of donuts, pumpkin bakery items, like a maple pecan flavored scone or pumpkin bread, to pair with the drink, too.
And if you are looking for a homemade version of the Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte, you could try Michalczyk’s two versions: the Starbucks pumpkin cream cold brew copycat recipe or the homemade pumpkin spice oat milk latte recipe. Plus, you’ll give your debit card some love and save cash, since those pricey drinks at Starbucks locations can surely add up if you’re enjoying a hot Pumpkin Spice Latte a few times a week.