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The No. 1 Pumpkin Spice Latte Ingredient to Avoid This Fall

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Pumpkin spice latte - Dr. Axe

It seems like pumpkin spice everything appears earlier and earlier every year, and 2019 is no exception. As coffeehouses, convenience stores and everywhere in between roll out their pumpkin spice offerings this late summer, I want you to be aware of one pumpkin spice latte ingredient to especially avoid.

To be fair, some companies are cleaning up pumpkin spice ingredient lists, but there’s still a troubling ingredient I see in so many blends.

Most people don’t read over pumpkin spice latte ingredient lists, but you’d be amazed at the concerning ingredients that wind up on some pretty popular pumpkin spice offerings. Now, by all means, I’m not here to rain on your pumpkin spice parade.

In fact, the right pumpkin spice latte recipe can serve as an incredibly delicious, energizing and even healthy drink. The problem is you won’t find this at most coffee shops and convenience stores around the country.

And if you’re not doing it right, these seasonal pumpkin spice splurges could be doing a real number on your liver and digestive tract.

In the past, Starbucks faced blowback for its pumpkin spice ingredient choices. But it’s important to note that the company did take steps to clean up its ingredients list.

It now contains real pumpkin puree and uses vegetable and fruit juice for color. Still, an obvious remaining concern is the insane levels of added sugars in these pumpkin spice lattes.

For instance, a 16-ounce pumpkin spice latte made from 2 percent milk and topped with whipped cream from Starbucks contains 50 grams of sugar. At a time when we desperately need to reduce sugar consumption, consider this: That one 16-ounce drink contains about all of the added sugars an adult should consume in an entire day.

With out-of-control added sugars like this, it’s not hard to see why American adults ingest an average of 77 to to 150 pounds of sugar a year. (Two hundred years ago, the average American ingested just two pounds of sugar annually.)

The result? Modern-day diseases like non-alcoholic fatty liver disease are now traced back to ingesting too much sugar.

 But that’s not even the No. 1 pumpkin spice latte ingredient I want to warn you about …

Pumpkin Spice Latte Ingredient Public Enemy No. 1

Carrageenan — that’s an ingredient on many pumpkin spice latte ingredient lists that gives me pause. Often marketed as a “natural” ingredient derived from seaweed, the research suggests we may want to take a closer look.

So what is carrageenan?

Carrageenan is extracted from red edible seaweeds and is widely used in the food industry for gelling, thickening and stabilizing foods and drinks. It’s very popular for use in dairy and dairy replacement products for its strong binding ability to food proteins.

It’s banned in infant formula in the European Union but used freely in products in the U.S., including organic foods and drinks.

Dairy, almond, coconut and soy milk manufacturers also sometimes use carrageenan because it recreates a fatty “mouthfeel” in low-fat or non-fat products.

The problem? Carrageenan is an extremely reliable inflammatory agent and carcinogen.

In fact, it’s so inflammatory that researchers often use it to to study the molecular signals involved in cancer and anti-inflammatory drugs. More than 3,800 studies show carrageenan causes inflammation.

To be fair, many of those studies involve a degraded form of carrageenan, poligeenan, used in the lab that is not the same as the carrageenan used in food. However, more recent studies suggest even food-grade carrageenan toys with the gut wall, possibly triggering an inflammatory response in people already dealing with chronic inflammation and pathogens.

And back in April 2016, the Cornucopia Institute published summary research exposing the industry’s withheld data showing that even food-grade carrageenan — the kind the industry proclaimed safe for decades — contained the carcinogenic contaminant low-molecular weight poligeenan. Aside from cancer-causing properties, studies show carrageenan causes GI inflammation, a higher risk of intestinal lesions, ulcerations and even malignant tumors.

Scientists found carrageenan triggers an immune reaction that causes an inflammatory response in the gastrointestinal system.

This hides out in the whipped cream in popular pumpkin spice lattes. I recommend avoiding these drinks altogether mainly because of excessive sugar, but if you do grab a small for a treat here and there, be sure to say “no whipped cream.”

Many other pumpkin spice products contain caramel coloring, too. This fake food dye is often created by heating a sugar compound with ammonium compounds, acids or alkalis.

When produced with ammonia, the contaminants 2-methylimidazole and 4-methylimidazole are produced. The World Health Organization classifies these compounds as “possibly carcinogenic to humans.”

A Cleaner Ingredient List

The coffee base in pumpkin latte drinks is a health food rock star. What we know of coffee nutrition facts through emerging research links coffee to:

  • protection against neurodegenerative diseases
  • improved heart health
  • cancer protection
  • diabetes protection
  • ability to fight depression
  • increased energy and concentration
  • better physical performance
  • improved asthma control
  • lower risk of select gastrointestinal diseases

But this do-good ingredient is tarnished by excessive sugar and often unnecessary ingredients like fake flavors and carrageenan (depending on the company producing the drink, the bad actor ingredients vary).

If you want to enjoy an autumn treat teeming with brain-benefiting healthy fats, free radical-fighting spices and digestion-friendly coffee (and without all of the nonsense ingredients), try the following pumpkin spice latte recipe. (Check out this buying guide to source carrageenan-free coconut milk.)

Pumpkin spice latte ingredient - Dr. Axe

You can also try these five drinks that leave pumpkin spice lattes in the dust.

Final Thoughts

  • An honest to goodness pumpkin spice latte can be a wonderful thing, but sadly, you’re going to probably have to take matters into your own hands because most commercial drinks contain one or more concerning ingredients.
  • Most commercial franchises are using questionable or outright harmful ingredients. Carrageenan is an unnecessary ingredient linked to digestive inflammation and disease and is found in many whipped creams.
  • Excessive sugar is also a concern with many pumpkin spice latte options.
  • Save money and your health by using my recipe to create your own antioxidant-packed pumpkin spice latte at home, sans all the excess sugar and industrial ingredients.
Josh Axe

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