Original Illustration by Stephanie DeAngelis
Few things signal the change of season better than Pumpkin Spice Lattes returning to the Starbucks menu, which happens today. It’s one of the few drinks with the power to sway even high-brow coffee connoisseurs, thanks to its heady mix of deliciously creamy, spiced fall flavors. If you can’t wait to duck out of the office and sip to the new season, Wired has some worrying news: The cult-favorite drink could be messing with your brain—big time.
While it comes as no surprise that Pumpkin Spice Lattes aren’t exactly a healthy choice, growing research suggests swapping your morning coffee for this drink could have serious consequences. Firstly, there’s the sugar content. The American Heart Association recommends women consume no more than the equivalent of six teaspoons of sugar per day. A Grande Pumpkin Spice Latte has 12 teaspoons—yes, double your daily intake goal.
A study by the University of Michigan even suggests high sugar content in processed food could be linked to addiction. “The research is very clear in terms of what happens in the brain when you get this rush of sugar,” says Dan Hernroid, a dietitian from the University of California, San Francisco hospital. “Especially when it’s in pure, liquid form without enough fiber to help your body absorb it slowly over time, it makes it very easy to get that high.”
Additionally, a study by Duke University suggests salt, which is also found in Pumpkin Spice Lattes, could mess with your brain. Researchers found that salt triggers the same nerve cells in a rat’s brain as illicit drugs like heroin or cocaine do. Translation: By the time you’ve finished the drink, your brain has likely experienced a dopamine rush, prompting you to order the same drink again tomorrow. And the cycle continues.
Then there’s the fat content. The frothy milk creation is extremely high in saturated fat, and a Grande serving has a massive 40% of your daily intake. Looking to switch up your order? Opt for a Caffe Americano, which contains zero added sugar, or sip on green tea for a caffeine boost minus the calories and cravings.