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Published on November 17, 2020

Pumpkin spice is everywhere. Is that a good thing?

Pumpkin Spice

Tis the season … for pumpkin spice.

When fall arrives, it’s hard to find a food that hasn’t had a pumpkin spice makeover. Pumpkin spice lattes? They’re everywhere. Pumpkin Spice Cheerios? Yup. Kraft’s Pumpkin Spice Macaroni & Cheese? Not for me, thanks, but feel free to give it a try.

Which might lead you to wonder … are there any benefits or downsides to revamping a familiar food with pumpkin spice?

“It's all about the sugar content, the added sugar in the food or treat,” said Tiffany Chou, a registered dietitian at Cape Cod Healthcare’s JML long-term care facility in Falmouth. “The spices in the mix do have some benefits.”

Pumpkin spice blends can vary, but they usually include ground cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and allspice. (Notice something missing? No pumpkin.)

“Using herbs in food for flavoring is a good thing, rather than using salt,” Chou said. “They increase the flavor and intensity of many foods.”

The individual components have some health benefits, she said.

Cinnamon – “It has antioxidants and some anti-inflammatory capacity. It’s like a natural preservative for us. Some studies show it can reduce LDL, which is the bad cholesterol. Other studies show that cinnamon can improve the sensitivity of insulin so it’s better able to regulate our blood sugar levels.”

Nutmeg – “Nutmeg also has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. One of the interesting things about nutmeg is that it may boost our mood because it has an antidepressant effect. Nutmeg also contains small amounts of fiber, B vitamins and minerals. Too much nutmeg can cause side effects that include hallucination and rapid heartbeat, but the amount in a pumpkin spice is far too small for that.”

Ginger – “Ginger is highly regarded in traditional medicine. It treats nausea and morning sicknesses, and it also has an anti-inflammatory factor. It may lower blood sugar and LDL. Another interesting thing is that it improves brain function. One study showed that it improves brain function for people who have Alzheimer's disease.”

Allspice – “Allspice actually comes from a small berry. It has antioxidants and can soothe an upset stomach and reduce bloating.”

If pumpkin is what you really want, roasted pumpkin or a pumpkin squash soup are better choices than a sugar-filled pumpkin pie or cake. But it’s OK to splurge now and then, Chou said.

“Feel free to have some treats, just remember to keep the portions small and choose carefully,” she said. “A 16-ounce pumpkin spice latte has 50 grams of sugar in it. That would not be a good option for people who have diabetes, or really anybody.”

The best thing about pumpkin spice, according to Chou?

“It makes people happy.”