The No. 1 Pumpkin Spiced Latte Ingredient to Avoid This Fall

With pumpkin spice frenzy in full swing, you may find yourself reading over pumpkin spice latte ingredient lists and wondering what it all means. I’m not here to rain on your pumpkin spiced parade. In fact, the right pumpkin spice latte recipe can serve as an incredibly delicious, energizing and even healthy drink. The problem is you won’t find this at most coffee shops and convenience stores around the country. And if you’re not doing it right, these seasonal pumpkin spice splurges could be doing a real number on your liver and digestive tract.

Starbucks has come under a lot of fire in the media for its pumpkin spiced ingredient choices. It’s important to note that the company did take steps to clean up its ingredients list. It now contains real pumpkin puree and uses vegetable and fruit juice for color. But an obvious remaining concern is the insane levels of added sugars in these pumpkin spice lattes. For instance, a 16-ounce pumpkin spice latte made from 2 percent milk and topped with whipped cream from Starbucks contains 50 grams of sugar. At a time when we desperately need to reduce sugar consumption, consider this: That one, 16-ounce drink contains about all of the added sugars an adult should consume in an entire day. (1)

With out-of-control added sugars like this, it’s not hard to see why children, for instance, are averaging 32 teaspoons of sugar a day. (2) In fact, modern-day diseases like non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is now traced back to ingesting too much sugar.

 But that’s not even the No. 1 pumpkin spiced latte ingredient I want to warn you about …

Pumpkin Spiced Latte Ingredient Public Enemy No. 1

Carrageenan. That’s an ingredient on many pumpkin spiced latte ingredient lists that makes me pause. Often marketed as a “natural” ingredient derived from seaweed, the research suggests we may want to take a closer look. So what is carrageenan?

Carrageenan is extracted from red edible seaweeds and is widely used in the food industry for gelling, thickening and stabilizing foods and drinks. It’s very popular for use in dairy and dairy replacement products for its strong binding ability to food proteins. It’s banned in infant formula in the European Union but is used freely in products in the U.S., including organic foods and drinks. (3)

Dairy, almond, coconut and soy milk manufacturers also use carrageenan because it recreates a fatty “mouthfeel” in low-fat or non-fat products. The problem? Carrageenan is an extremely reliable inflammatory agent and carcinogen. In fact, it’s so inflammatory that researchers often use it to to study the molecular signals involved in cancer and anti-inflammatory drugs. More than 3,800 studies show carrageenan causes inflammation.

In fact, in April 2016, the Cornucopia Institute published summary research exposing the industry’s withheld data showing that even food-grade carrageenan — the kind the industry proclaimed safe for decades — contained the carcinogenic contaminant low-molecular weight poligeenan. Aside from cancer-causing properties, studies show carrageenan causes GI inflammation, a higher risk of intestinal lesions, ulcerations and even malignant tumors. Scientists found carrageenan triggers an immune reaction that causes an inflammatory response in the gastrointestinal system. (4)

This hides out in the whipped cream in Starbuck’s pumpkin spice latte. I recommend avoiding these drinks altogether mainly because of excessive sugar, but if you do grab a small for a treat here and there, be sure to say “no whipped cream.”

And while Starbucks is in a lot of hot water over its pumpkin spiced latte ingredient list, including the use of carrageenan, other coffee giants aren’t serving up completely benevolent beverages, either. For instance, Dunkin’ Donuts’ pumpkin spice products contain caramel coloring. This fake food dye is often created by heating a sugar compound with ammonium compounds, acids or alkalis. When produced with ammonia, the contaminants 2-methylimidazole and 4-methylimidazole are produced. The World Health Organization classifies these compounds as “possibly carcinogenic to humans.” Dunkin’ Donuts also uses high-fructose corn syrup in its pumpkin spice drinks. (5, 6)

A Cleaner Pumpkin Spiced Latte Ingredient List

The coffee base in pumpkin latte drinks is a health food rock star. What we know of coffee nutrition facts through emerging research links coffee to:

  • protection against neurodegenerative diseases
  • improved heart health
  • cancer protection
  • diabetes protection
  • ability to fight depression
  • increased energy and concentration
  • better physical performance
  • improved asthma control
  • lower risk of select gastrointestinal diseases

But this do-good ingredient is tarnished by excessive sugar and often unnecessary ingredients like fake flavors and carrageenan (depending on the company producing the drink, the bad actor ingredients vary).

If you want to enjoy an autumn treat teeming with brain-benefiting healthy fats, free radical-fighting spices and digestion-friendly coffee (and without all of the nonsense ingredients), try this pumpkin spice latte recipe. (Check out this buying guide to source carrageenan-free coconut milk.)


Final Thoughts on Pumpkin Spiced Latte Ingredient 

An honest to goodness pumpkin spiced latte can be a wonderful thing, but sadly, you’re going to probably have to take matters into your own hands. Most commercial franchises are using questionable or outright harmful ingredients. Carrageenan is an unnecessary ingredient linked to digestive inflammation and disease. Save money and your health by using my recipe to create your own antioxidant-packed pumpkin spiced latte at home, sans all the excess sugar and industrial ingredients.


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Dr. Josh Axe, DNM, DC, CNS, is a doctor of natural medicine, doctor of chiropractic and clinical nutritionist with a passion to help people get well using food as medicine and operates one of the world's largest natural health websites: He is the author of the groundbreaking health book Eat Dirt, which uncovers the hidden causes and cures of leaky gut syndrome. Dr. Axe is an expert in digestive health, functional medicine, natural remedies and dietary strategies for healing. He has been featured on many television shows, including the Dr. Oz Show, CBS and NBC, and has his own Eat Dirt program running on select PBS TV stations. Dr. Axe founded one of the largest functional medicine clinics in the world, in Nashville, TN, and has been a physician for many professional athletes. is one of the most visited websites worldwide for healthy recipes, herbal remedies, nutrition and fitness advice, essential oils, and natural supplements.