I would make a bet that Cinderella had no idea her carriage would soon be a multi-million dollar industry. This spice of life is a seasonal craze across the States (*dunks pumpkin paleo bread in pumpkin chai*). Many associate pumpkin spice as their fall go-to for their lattes, their muffins, their oatmeal...all the things, make it pumpkin spice. Though my personal spice of life is still Whitney Houston as the Fairy Godmother in Roger and Hammerstein’s 1997 Cinderella, I find this trend to be an important one to investigate from a nutrition perspective.
Before you check out, afraid I am going to tell you actually how much sugar is in your Grande PSL, stay with me! I actually believe there are some huge benefits behind the pumpkin spice craze. Without further ado, here are five things you should know about Pumpkin Spice.
(and it’s 50 grams of sugar, by the way)
1. Why You Crave Pumpkin Spice In The Fall:
There are scientifically-backed reasons behind why you crave pumpkin spice, especially during the fall. More than just an Instagram photo-op, psychologically your body associates the flavor with the time of year and creates a cup full of nostalgia. Fall is a season of anticipation, of change that is thrilling. Even those that are fearful of change are bio-chemically able to associate the fall with the type of change that is good (much like the thrill of riding a rollercoaster) and overlook the fear they usually feel with uncontrollable shifts.
On top of this, your brains love novelty change. We love the anticipation of a rare or special occasion that is repeated. It’s similar to the response we have when we get a reward. Additionally, your brain is able to associate the fall with positive thoughts and experiences. The beauty of nature that comes with the fall, autumn traditions; you love the comfort that comes from getting warm with fuzzy socks and a roaring fire. These memories have a powerful pull on your mind's desire to feel a certain way and all of this is triggered when you indulge in your favorite pumpkin spice __(fill in the blank)__.
Together, this means that as the season starts to change, our minds start wandering to the things that feel like fall, including your favorite fall flavor. Pumpkin Spice can trigger nostalgia; it symbolizes the things we love about fall and it encourages our minds to embrace change. Pumpkin Spice is the quintessential representation of the power of association.
2. Health Benefits Of Pumpkin Spice:
There is a surprising list of health benefits associated with pumpkin. Firstly, pumpkin has been noted to reduce chronic disease due to its high antioxidant content. It is high in Vitamin A, magnesium and fiber, which can be translated as beneficial for your skin, immune system and gut health. This, of course, is if you are not pairing the pumpkin with a literal ton of sugar.
The other side of pumpkin spice is the “spice”. These spices usually include cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and cloves. Cinnamon is a proven anti-inflammatory, as is ginger. Ginger also acts as an anti-nausea medicine (side note -- 10/10 recommend ginger tea for anyone facing stomach problems, including nausea!). Surprisingly, cloves are extremely high in antioxidants, kill bacteria and may help regulate blood sugar. All of these, partnered with nutmeg (which helps digestion and improves skin quality), make for an award-winning combination of spice for both taste and nutrition.
3. Pumpkin Spice Allergen Warning:
Unfortunately, many common Pumpkin Spice products aren’t what they appear to be. For example, the PSL from Starbucks likely doesn’t contain any real pumpkin and even after being questioned, Starbucks refuses to release its list of ingredients of what is used in their PSL. When facing artificial and “natural” flavorings, there is no telling exactly what you are up against.
Despite this, there are easy allergens to be aware of, including gluten, eggs, dairy, and soy. Though it is not directly related to the “pumpkin” or the “spice” it is common that any one of these allergens will be combined in whatever pumpkin spice treat you might be faced with. If you have severe allergies, it could be best to make your treats at home.
A common myth is that those with a tree nut allergy will be allergic to the “nut”meg portion of the spice. Despite its confusing name, nutmegs are completely safe for those with a tree nut allergy. Actual pumpkin spice is usually safe for anyone who is not allergic to any of the basic ingredients; it’s the additives that you should be wary of.
4. Eating With The Season:
Just think of it as a fashion trend. Match your lipstick with your purse and eat the veggies that could grow in your garden right now. There are so many reasons why you should consider eating with the season. It’s good for the environment; it’s easier to support local farms (which is good for the economy and your body!) and it’s primally what your body expects and needs for its healing process.
There is a reason why produce grows when it does. Yes, the climate impacts this greatly, however, have you ever stopped to question the nutritional reasoning of why certain things grow when they do? For instance, watermelon is a beloved summer treat. Why? Because it is primarily water-based and is an EXCELLENT way to cool down on a hot summer day. Similarly, pumpkins are antioxidant-rich and an immune support food that is prominent in the season when colds are prevalent. Coincidence? I think not.
5. Recipes You Should Try:
Save yourself the sugar headache, calories and $8 and try these Pumpkin Spice drinks instead!