If the first talk of pumpkin spice lattes gets you giddy, you’re not alone. Many food companies rolled out their seasonal items earlier than ever this year, thanks to our country’s penchant for pumpkin foods.
The good news: pumpkins are your friend.
“Remember, it’s actually a vegetable,” says Jaclyn London, a New York City-based registered dietician, “and it’s a high-quality one at that. Unlike some other produce, you don’t even need to buy pumpkin in its freshest form to reap the benefits.”
The benefits are many. One cup of canned pumpkin contains 83 calories, 1 gram of fat and 7 grams of fiber, while providing vitamins and minerals — potassium, magnesium, iron, vitamins C and E — that boost immunity and lower blood pressure.
The bad news: Many processed “pumpkin” treats contain very little of the real thing, packing tons of sugar, saturated fat and empty calories in its place.
Here is a list of the best and worst pumpkin treats in the land.
WORST: THE CHEESECAKE FACTORY PUMPKIN CHEESECAKE
740 calories, 31 gram sat fat (additional nutrition information not available)
You’d have to eat half a stick of butter, 29 slices of bacon or eight fast-food hamburgers to take in as much saturated fat as you’ll find in this devilish dessert. The scariest part: it’s meant to be ordered on top of a meal.
WORST: PANERA PUMPKIN MUFFIN
590 calories, 22 grams fat, 53 grams sugar
To take in as many calories as there are in this colossal muffin, you’d need to put away eight Candy Corn Oreos or 80 pieces of candy corn. If you can’t resist a pumpkin fix at Panera, go with the slightly less guilt-inducing Pumpkin Muffie (290 calories, 11 gram fat, 26 grams sugar) or the Pumpkin Bagel (380 calories, 5 grams fat, 24 grams sugar).
WORST: STARBUCKS PUMPKIN SCONE
480 calories, 17 grams fat, 43 grams sugar
Starbucks sells several pumpkin-flavored pastries, but this little guy takes the cake in terms of calories, sugar and fat. The scone beats out both the Pumpkin Cream Cheese Muffin (340 calories, 13 grams fat, 28 grams sugar) and the Pumpkin Bread (390 calories, 14 grams fat, 38 grams sugar).
WORST: STARBUCKS PUMPKIN SPICE LATTE
330 calories, 7 grams fat, 50 grams sugar for a 16-ounce grande made with nonfat milk
Whatever you do, don’t wash Starbucks’ orange eats down with a pumpkin spice latte. Sure, it screams fall, but the blend of espresso, pumpkin-flavored syrup and steamed milk topped with sweetened whipped cream delivers more than 12 spoonfuls of sugar.
WORST: PUMPKIN SPICE HERSHEY’S KISSES
220 calories, 13 grams fat, 22 grams sugar for nine pieces
Skip these limited edition Kisses and opt for a lower-calorie confection. Nine Starburst fruit chews still set you back 22 grams of sugar, but cost you only 130 calories and don’t contain any fat. Similarly, six Jolly Ranchers add up to 140 calories, 22 grams of sugar, and 0 grams of fat.
WORST: INTERNATIONAL DELIGHT PUMPKIN PIE SPICE COFFEE CREAMER
35 calories, 1.5 grams fat, 6 grams sugar for 1 tablespoon
This seasonal coffee creamer gets its “worst” label for a simple reason: it’s a fat trap. While 35 calories, 1.5 grams of fat and 6 grams of sugar seems reasonable, those stats are for a one-tablespoon serving. You’ll likely pour two, three, or four times that amount in your cup, which will quickly turn your morning joe into a serious sugar and calorie bomb.
BEST: BIGELOW PUMPKIN SPICE TEA
0 calories per cup
Pumpkin flakes, ginger and cinnamon mix to provide the perfect fall pick-me-up — with zero calories. Just make sure to go easy on any sugar you may add.
BEST: GREEN MOUNTAIN PUMPKIN SPICE COFFEE
Approx. 2-5 calories per cup
Pumpkin-flavored lattes can pack upwards of 470 calories per serving. Get a similar flavor with a fraction of the fat by sipping on spiced coffee instead. Your taste buds — and belly — will thank you.
BEST: EDY’S SLOW-CHURNED PUMPKIN PATCH ICE CREAM
90 calories, 1.5 grams fat, 12 grams sugar
As far as pumpkin treats go, this one is surprisingly waistline-friendly at 90 calories per half-cup serving. Although it carries a few preservatives and isn’t exactly a nutritional powerhouse, its modest fat and sugar totals make it a decent option for a pumpkin-flavor fix.
BEST: KASHI CRUNCH GRANOLA BARS PUMPKIN SPICE FLAX
170 calories, 6 grams fat, 10 grams sugar for 2 bars
We love that each serving includes 4 grams of fiber, 6 grams of protein, and Omega-3s. And with only 10 grams of sugar per serving, you’ll tame your sweet tooth for about half the sugar you would consume in a doughnut or piece of pie.
BEST: CLIF BAR SPICED PUMPKIN PIE
240 calories, 4.5 grams fat, 25 grams sugar per bar
Made with organic oats, raisins, and packing 9 grams of protein, it’s everything you would expect in an energy bar — with a little of the season baked-in. Put this on the list of post-workout snacks to stock up on this fall.
BEST: MCDONALD’S BAKED PUMPKIN PIE
240 calories, 12 grams fat, 10 grams sugar
We don’t make a habit out of recommending fast-food desserts, but the McDonald’s classic baked pumpkin pie is a surprisingly solid choice if you’re craving pumpkin on the go. At 240 calories, the snack won’t derail your diet, and it’s also low in sugar and sodium.
BEST: HEALTHY CHOICE PUMPKIN SQUASH RAVIOLI
310 calories, 6 grams fat, 7 grams sugar per meal
Pumpkin, asparagus, butternut squash and apple make this a sweet and savory entrée.