This flavor combination is reaching pop-culture status, but is there any benefit to this craze? Definitely. The components of the spice component of pumpkin spice include cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, allspice, cardamom and cloves. These spices contain all sorts of varying amounts of vitamins, minerals essential oils and other compounds that help control blood sugar, reduce inflammation, improve digestion as well as other health benefits. As for the pumpkin part of the equation, you get loads of vitamin A, vitamin C, fiber and potassium. It is beneficial in reducing blood pressure, lowering risk of certain cancers risk, and eye health.
So science behind the spice is solid, but we run into problems when those pumpkin spice treats come in high fat and high sugar foods. When navigating the world of pumpkin spice use common sense. Don’t fall prey to the halo-effect of pumpkin spice labels. A donut is a donut and you’re talking lots of fat and sugar regardless of a pinch of cinnamon and just enough pumpkin to turn it slightly orange. Some of the highest calorie pumpkin spice foods include: lattes, donuts, cookies, ice creams, muffins and cookie butters.
So how can you healthfully indulge that pumpkin spice crave that starts creeping up on you as temperatures drop and you can’t wait to pull out your fall wardrobe?
1. Read your labels. There are snacks out there that maintain a balance between nutrition and flavor. Anytime you can keep your fiber up (3g or more), sugars down (10g or less), and a healthy balance of fats (10g or less) you’ve most likely found a healthy way to savor the season.
2. Watch portion sizes. You may find that some foods are just seasonally very important to you that don’t fit in the healthy nutrition profile just mentioned. If that is the case, make them occasional foods and consider cutting down the serving size. Sometimes a few bites or sips of a richer pumpkin spice food is all it takes to satisfy the craving.
3. Make your own. Cookies, bars, muffins and ice creams are often so much healthier when you make them yourself. This way you can be generous with the spices and the pumpkin and moderate the excess sugars and fats. But still, be portion aware. If that plate of pumpkin cookies just calls to loudly to you tempting you to polish it off at one sitting, then keep some out, and put the rest in airtight containers in the freezer to enjoy on another stormy afternoon.
Want a pumpkin spice fix? Try this nut mix recipe packed with healthy fats, protein and delicious crunch.
Pumpkin Spice Nut Mix
- 1 egg white
- 2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
- 1/4 tsp. ground cardamom
- 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
- 1/4 tsp. salt
- 2 Tbsp. brown sugar
- 1 cup pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
- 1 cup cashews (roasted without salt)
- 1 cup dry roasted peanuts (without salt)
(You can substitute any nut or seed you like, just shoot for 3 cups total)
Stir well to coat. Spread on baking sheet covered with a baking mat or parchment paper. Bake 1 hour. Let cool, break apart and store in an airtight container.
1 1/2 oz. serving (2.5 Tbsp) contains:
5 g protein
3 g sugar
11 g fat
36 mg sodium
2 g fiber
The point is that the same rules apply whether its pumpkin spice season or not. Keep a good balance, keep treats occasional and be portion-aware. That way you can stay healthy regardless of the weather report and the cravings that follow.