Fall hasn't officially arrived, but that hasn't stopped national coffee chains from rolling out their tasty fall-inspired beverages. Pumpkin is king, and apple is queen, with classics like Pumpkin Spice Latte being ubiquitously served hot, iced, frozen, or swirled alongside a spattering of differently decadent apple-flavored selections.
And while the hype is real (#PSL anyone?), are these drinks worth it when it comes to your health and wellness goals? That's what we set out to discover with the help of Amy Goodson, a registered dietitian and certified specialist in sports dietetics.
The following is her list of eight fall-inspired coffee drinks to stay away from (or at least modify with healthier substitutions) listed from bad to absolute worst.
We're not saying you can't enjoy the toasty notes of pumpkin spice or sweet caramel apple, but you should know some of these drinks are brimming with far more calories and saturated fat than a McDonald's Big Mac cheeseburger!
For each drink listed below, Goodson suggests a better ordering option to save on calories and extra unwanted fats, carbs, and sugars.
Peet's Caramel Apple Latte
PER MEDIUM-SIZED HOT LATTE WITH WHOLE MILK: 390 calories, 11 g fat (7 g saturated fat), 45 mg cholesterol, 200 mg sodium, 61 g carbs (0 g fiber, 50 g sugar) 13 g protein
While pumpkin reigns supreme, other fall-flavored coffee drinks have been loaded up with sugar and calories. A blend of apple butter syrup, espresso, steamed milk, and caramel sauce, the medium Caramel Apple Latte comes in at 390 calories with 13 grams of protein and 50 grams of sugar.
"Although having a decent amount of protein, this drink is also heavy in sugar and fat, making it a not-so-optimal option," Goodson says.
The better option? "If you just have to get your fall fix, a better option would be to get the small 12-ounce Caramel Apple Latte made with 2% milk," suggests Goodson. "Have them put in half the syrup and ask them to go light on the caramel sauce or skip it altogether."
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Starbucks' Pumpkin Spice Latte
PER GRANDE HOT: 390 calories, 14 g fat (9 g saturated fat), 50 mg cholesterol, 230 mg sodium, 52 g carbs (0 g fiber, 50g sugar), 14g protein,
The long-awaited seasonal return of PSL from Starbucks still comes with a decent punch of calories and sugar. Containing 50 grams of added sugar, it has almost twice the recommended daily allowance for adults and about one-third of the recommended amount of fat for one day, warns Goodson.
The better option? "Order a tall Pumpkin Spice Latte made with 2% milk," says Goodson. "Ask for one to two pumps of pumpkin spice and skip the whip!"
Krispy Kreme's Pumpkin Spice Latte
PER MEDIUM WITH 2% MILK: 400 calories, 10g fat (6g saturated fat), 40 mg cholesterol, 300 mg sodium, 64 g carbs (0 g fiber, 37 g sugars) 15 g protein
Krispy Kreme is not exactly known for healthy options, and its specialty coffees are no exception. Goodson notes you could enjoy two glazed donuts for fewer calories than what the medium Pumpkin Spice Latte with 2% milk contains at 400 calories.
The better option? "To cut back, enjoy a small 12-ounce Pumpkin Spice Iced Coffee for 140 calories, 1 gram of fat, and 22 grams of sugar," Goodson says.
Tim Hortons' Pumpkin Spice Iced Cappuccino
PER MEDIUM: 470 calories, 25 g fat (17 g saturated fat), 81 mg cholesterol, 125 mg sodium, 62 g carbs (<1 g fiber, 58 g sugar), 4 g protein,
According to Goodson, Tim Hortons' medium Pumpkin Spice Iced Cappuccino has more calories and saturated fat than a KFC fried chicken breast and a little more than two days' worth of added sugars. "It may be wise to fulfill your pumpkin spice craving elsewhere," she says.
The better option? "If you're looking for a limited-time seasonal beverage at Tim Hortons, a better option would be the small 12-ounce Roasted Hazelnut Latte for 140 calories, 3.5 grams of fat, and 20 grams of sugar," Goodson suggests.
Biggby's Frozen Caramel Apple Cider
PER MEDIUM FROZEN CIDER: 515 calories, 16 g fat (12 g saturated fat), 37 mg cholesterol, 153 mg sodium, 90 g carbs (0 g fiber, 75 g sugar) 2 g protein
You may be tempted to try Biggby's Frozen Caramel Apple Cider this season because who doesn't love cider? But Goodson says the medium-sized version of this frozen treat has two and a half days' worth of added sugars, more calories than a Sonic regular chili cheese dog, and the same amount of saturated fat!
The better option? "Some good news—if you need a burst of fall in your mouth, try a Pumpkin Spice Latte with nonfat milk (hot or cold) and no whip cream for less than 200 calories," Goodson says. "If you must have your whip cream, you could size down to a small 10 oz nonfat Pumpkin Spice Latte and still come in under 200 calories."
Dutch Bros.' Caramel Pumpkin Brûlée Freeze
PER MEDIUM BLENDED: 760 calories, 23 g fat, 70mg cholesterol, 350mg sodium, 121g carbs (0 g fiber, 109 g sugars), 16g protein
This decadent drink lives up to its name with a whopping 760 calories, 23 grams of fat, and 109 grams of sugar, almost four days' worth of the recommended intake of added sugars for adults. Yikes. "You would be better off eating two slices of pumpkin pie and still save on calories and sugar," Goodson says.
The better option? "Try their medium Nitro Cold Brew at just 20 calories," suggests Goodson. "You can even get one to two pumps of your favorite flavor to customize it to your liking."
Dunkin's Pumpkin Swirl Frozen Coffee with Cream
PER MEDIUM COFFEE: 890 calories, 31g fat (17g saturated fat, 1 g trans fat), 100 mg cholesterol, 260 mg sodium, 146g carbs (0 g fiber, 139g sugar), 8 g protein,
According to Goodson, this frozen fall favorite is a juggernaut, with more calories than an average meal. Let that settle in. It is also overflowing with fat, carbs, and added sugar, containing more than four times the daily recommended amount of added sugar for adults. Even if you were to order the Pumpkin Swirl Frozen Coffee with skim milk rather than cream, it still would be a hefty 680 calories. For comparison, a McDonald's Big Mac cheeseburger is 560 calories.
The better option? "A healthier option at Dunkin' would be the medium 16-ounce Vanilla Cold Brew with Sweet Cold Foam for 90 calories, 3 grams of fat, and 11 grams of sugar," Goodson says. "You could request one pump of pumpkin spice syrup for a little fall flavor."
Caribou's Pumpkin White Mocha Cooler
PER MEDIUM: 850 calories, 21 g fat (13 g saturated fat), 70 cholesterol, 330 mg sodium 155 g carbs (0 g fiber 147 g sugar), 7g protein
The medium Pumpkin White Mocha Cooler is decadence in a cup. Goodson says this rich beverage is heavy-laden with calories, fat, and sugar, has enough calories to outmatch a large meal, and contains almost five days' worth of added sugars. If that wasn't enough, it also has a significant dose of sodium.
"The XL version of this drink has a staggering 1,280 calories, almost an entire day's worth in just one beverage!" warns Goodson. "And if you think the hot option might be better for you, watch out because the hot Pumpkin White Mocha still comes in at 730 calories with 95 grams of sugar!"
The better option? "The Caribou Coffee medium iced Pumpkin Crafted Press still delivers the seasonal taste at just a fraction of the calories, fat, and sugar, coming in at an acceptable 180 calories," Goodson suggests.
Additional ordering tips for coffee drinks this fall (and beyond)
Goodson recommends the following tips for making your coffee order healthier.
Order a smaller size! By default, a smaller coffee will be lower in calories and sugar.
Choose low-fat dairy milk as the base. Dairy milk provides one gram of protein per ounce, so, in a 16-ounce latte, you typically get close to 16 grams of protein to balance out the sugar rush you might experience from some of these beverages. Some of the plant-based alternatives are much lower in protein and might leave you with an energy crash shortly after drinking your cup of joe.
Watch your pumps! Many baristas are pumping lots of sugar into your cup of coffee with syrup. Three, four, maybe five pumps of flavor, and you are looking at a lot of sugar. Try getting one pump of syrup to give you some flavor without all the sugar.
Skip the whip! Whips and drizzles add fat and sugar! Yep, they are tasty, but cutting back on these can help you cut back on calories as well.
Check out the nutrition facts before you order! Some of these beverages have more calories than a meal, and if you are drinking one with a meal or snack, you could be taking it overboard quickly, especially if pumpkin spice calls your name every day.