9 Scary Reasons To Avoid Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Latte + How To Make Your Own Better Version

Susan Patterson
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Did you know that the Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Latte has its own Twitter account? The popular beverage that made the famous coffee giant around $100 million in revenues last fall has over 113,000 Twitter followers and even a fan club called the Orange Sleeve Society.

But if you care about your health, that’s one club you really shouldn’t be part of.

While Starbucks boasts the largest coffeehouse chain on the planet, with over 24,000 stores in 70 countries at latest count, including annual sales of nearly $15 billion, you might think that the company would focus on high quality, nutritious ingredients, but sadly, that’s far from the reality.

These nine reasons are more than enough to take pause, reconsidering that decision to follow the crowd and indulge in that popular fall drink. You don’t have to miss out altogether, though, we’ll give you some recipes to make your own healthier version too.

1. You’ll get a good dose of chemicals…

Just 1.1 percent of Starbucks coffee is organic – and, as coffee beans are one of the crops most heavily sprayed with pesticides, every time you drink one of those pumpkin spice lattes, or other coffee beverages, you’re getting a good dose of those chemicals.

According to the CS Monitor, conventional farmers use as much as 250 pounds of chemical fertilizers for every acre. Those pesticides have been linked to a host of health issues, including miscarriages in pregnant women, Parkinson’s disease and many types of cancer.

And, what about the water used to make the coffee? Well, while the company has insisted that they use a trip filtration system for all of their water, in 2013, a Hong Kong Starbucks was busted for actually using “toilet water.” It was using a faucet just a few feet away from a urinal in a “dingy washroom” marked specifically for Starbucks use according to the AFP.

But not only are the beans non-organic and the water somewhat questionable, the decaf process brings an especially toxic soup of solvents. Decaf coffee gets that way by soaking the coffee beans in things like methylene chloride, a suspected human carcinogen. That compound targets the central nervous system and is potentially harmful to the kidneys and the liver.

Organic decaffeinated coffee (not usually available at Starbucks) on the other hand, according to the Organic Trade Association, is decaffeinated without the use of chemicals in a way that doesn’t violate organic standards, either a non-toxic carbon dioxide process, or the Swiss Water process which is all water based. 

2. Non-organic milk = a dose of antibiotics…

That latte also contains steamed milk, but it isn’t organic milk. Starbucks conventional milk comes from factory farmed cows that are massively injected with antibiotics throughout their lives, as well as being fed an unhealthy diet of GMO feed like corn and soy. That’s not only bad for the health of the animals, but it contributes to the overuse of antibiotics and the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Starbucks likes to tout the fact that since it stopped using milk that contains Monsanto’s rBGH growth hormone, it uses “GMO-free” milk, but the problem is that the company is already a big supporter of the GMO agricultural model because of the diet those dairy cows are fed.

Despite the fact that over 155,000 consumers have been demanding it, Starbucks has still refused to serve organic milk at all of its locations. If they made the switch to organic, that would ensure that the milk didn’t come from cows that were fed GMO grains or injected with antibiotics. Plus, it would exert pressure on the marketplace by forcing other coffee chains to switch to organic in order to remain competitive, not to mention the role Starbucks could play in ending the abuse and unhealthy practices rampant in factory farm dairies.

3. Problems with the soy milk alternative…

Unfortunately, the non-dairy soy milk option really isn’t healthy either. It contains carrageenan, a popular stabilizer that may increase the risk of cancer and cause inflammation of the intestines. More than 100 scientific studies have proven the dangers of soy, even organic soy milk. Although carrageenan is derived from a natural source, researchers have found that it’s destructive to the digestive system, triggering an immune response that’s similar to what happens when the body is invaded by pathogens like salmonella. It causes inflammation which may lead to bleeding and ulcerations, according to veteran carrageenan researcher Joanne Tobacman, MD, associate professor of clinical medicine at the University of Illinois School of Medicine at Chicago.

Carrageenan has been linked to a number of different serious conditions, dating all the way back to the 1960s when researchers began associating it to gastrointestinal disease in lab animals, including colon cancer, ulcerative colitis and intestinal lesions.

4. There is no pumpkin in a pumpkin spice latte…

Pumpkin is incredibly healthy, filled with vitamin A and other nutrients, but if you thought you were doing at least a little something good for your health by enjoying one, think again. There isn’t even a trace of that wonderful orange squash in it. Zip. Nada.

5. Natural and artificial flavors…

So, if there isn’t pumpkin in that latte, why does it taste “pumpkiny?” Natural and artificial flavors. While “natural flavors,” sounds rather harmless, and possibly even like something that’s good for you, that term is actually vague and misleading. It’s defined by the FDA as “any substance that is extracted, distilled or otherwise derived (directly or indirectly) from animal or plant matter. Basically, that means absolutely nothing – or in other words, natural flavors could mean anything and everything – even secretions from a beaver’s anal gland. And, yes, that’s actually been used to develop some natural “flavors.” Castoreum is a substance found in the castor sacs of both male and female beavers. The “aromatic” liquid is mixed with urine and used for territorial marking – it’s also regularly used by the food flavoring industry.

It is important to understand that just because natural flavors come from something natural, does not necessarily make them healthy. For instance, the strawberry flavor does not always come from strawberries or blueberry flavor from blueberries. Cystine is a natural conditioner used in dough that is made from duck feathers and human hair; maltodextrin, made from GMO corn and the main ingredient in some “all-natural” sweeteners like stevia, is also considered natural.

When it comes to artificial flavors, those also can be made from pretty much anything a food chemist can concoct in a lab, petroleum, rocks, whatever.

With both artificial and natural flavors, their sources are proprietary, which means you never really know what they’re derived from.

6. Preservatives and sulfites…

Those drinks also contain preservatives and sulfites that have been known to cause allergies and even worse – preservatives have been associated with cancer, DNA damage and hyperactivity in kids, while sulfites can cause those who are sensitive to develop severe respiratory distress.

7. Loads of sugar…

Pumpkin spice lattes also contain copious amounts of sugar – the grande size has a whopping 50 grams. Countless studies have shown that all of that sugar we’re eating makes us fat, and destroys our health. Consuming too much sugar (and the average American takes in 22 teaspoons every day) is linked to heart disease, cancer, metabolic problems, diabetes and obesity. Find out more about the dangers of sugar and how to quit it here

8. Not fair trade…

While you might think you’re doing a good thing for the world by buying Starbucks coffee, that’s only because of clever marketing. The company wants you to feel all warm and fuzzy about it, but according to its own global impact report, just 8.4 percent of its coffee purchases in 2013 were certified fair trade.

Starbucks manages to fool consumers into thinking that it really cares about coffee farmers simply by making its own “fair” trade standards. While its global impact report states that 95.3 percent of Starbucks coffee is “ethically sourced,” that’s according to its own weak standards in place through an in-house program known as CAFE, Coffee and Farmer Equity Practices. The sub-standard regulations are typically applied to large-scale plantations, which compete against smaller scale coffee co-ops for which actual, real, fair trade standards were intended to provide market opportunities, according to the Organic Consumers Association.

9. Some changes, but not enough…

There is some good news, however. Starbucks did remove caramel coloring, one of the most hazardous chemicals that is added to our food today, from its syrups, whipped cream and sauces recently following a significant amount of protest. The company also stopped using high fructose corn syrup, making two major steps in the right direction. Still, there are far too many other issues when it comes to its pumpkin spice lattes and other products.

Taking all of that into consideration, why do so many people race to Starbucks when those pumpkin spice lattes arrive?

Other than the fact that far too few people seem to seriously pay attention to their health and the things they consume, there are some psychological reasons behind it, according to Madelyn Fernstrom, NBC News Health and Nutrition Editor as reported by Today.com.

We’re “wired to like it.” Humans are biologically inclined to like anything with the combination of sugar and fat as it interacts on the taste buds to boost flavors, making them “pop” more than either one alone. Plus, the cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves that are used are “a real treat to the taste buds,” Fernstrom says. That and the salt (a 16-ounce pumpkin spice latte contains one-tenth the amount you should consume in a day) also boosts the overall taste.

We associate it with happy times. Autumn often brings thoughts of happy times, like picking out pumpkins for Jack-o-lanterns, carving them, dressing up for Halloween and jumping into piles of leaves. For most people, the spices associated with fall help to bring joyful memories to mind.

It’s a good excuse to get that much-needed caffeine boost. Fernstrom notes that caffeine is sometimes called the “most commonly used mood-altering drug in the world,” and when that pumpkin spice latte comes out around the start of fall, it’s just another great excuse for a hit of caffeine that will make you more alert and give you a boost of energy. She also adds that it can cause you to “crave more and seek out caffeinated drinks” like these.

With that in mind, it’s hard to give up all of those wonderful benefits we associate with Starbucks most popular latte. Fortunately, there is an alternative. While you’ll need to resist the temptation to go inside of an actual Starbucks, you can enjoy the pleasures of its pumpkin spice latte without all of the negative impacts by making one right at home.

There are quite a few great recipes that can be used – just experiment and find the one you like best. You can even tweak the ingredients a bit to meet your particular diet requirements.

Homemade Pumpkin Spice Latte Recipes:

Mama Natural offers its healthier version which calls for espresso or strong coffee (just use your favorite organic, free-trade coffee), milk (if you’re non-dairy, use coconut milk), organic pumpkin puree (available at many health food stores, co-ops and some traditional grocery stores, as well as amazon), real maple syrup, those fabulous fall spices, pure vanilla extract and coconut sugar. Coconut sugar is a natural sugar made from sap that, unlike regular table sugar, contains some nutrients and a fiber known as inulin which may slow glucose absorption and explain why it has a lower glycemic index as compared to regular sugar.

100daysofrealfood.com has a number of simple recipes too, including a version for a pumpkin spiced hot cocoa which calls for honey (use raw, local honey if possible) or maple syrup, pumpkin pie spice, milk (again, coconut milk can be used), and unsweetened dark cocoa.

POPSUGAR offers a healthy alternative using unsweetened vanilla almond milk, pumpkin puree, pumpkin pie spice, vanilla, stevia (you can use honey or maple syrup instead), coffee/espresso and cinnamon.

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