This article was originally published in the San Francisco Chronicle on October 17, 2014.
This time of year there’s little question Americans are pumped about pumpkin. We gobble up about $300 million worth of pumpkin-flavored products annually, mostly from September through November. Although few vegetables boast the same level of fandom, the craze doesn’t always have nutrition experts smiling.
Starbucks recently was criticized because its famed Pumpkin Spice Latte doesn’t contain actual pumpkin. Nor do many of the other pumpkin-flavored products, including Nabisco’s new Pumpkin Spice Oreos, set to hit shelves next week. But, in most cases, the lack of pumpkin isn’t the biggest health concern. It’s the sugar.
Nutrition expert Joyce Hanna, associate director of the Health Improvement Program at Stanford, points out that a 12-oz. Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte with nonfat milk and no whipped cream contains 37 grams of sugar. That’s a tad more than seven teaspoons.
The World Health Organization says adults shouldn’t consume more than 25 grams of sugar per day, so just one latte puts you over the limit. Adding whipped cream or other types of milk raises the fat and calorie content. Pumpkin-flavored baked goods and ice cream often present the same problems, whether they contain pumpkin or not.
But Hanna says real pumpkin is a super food. A cup of it has as much potassium as a banana and more fiber than a bowl of high-fiber cereal. It’s rich in calcium, iron, and other vitamins, and it’s a top source of beta carotene. Hanna suggests including baked or steamed pumpkin in savory dishes like soup, and keeping an eye on sugar, fat and salt when you make pumpkin desserts.