Pumpkin Spice… What Is This Stuff Anyway?

Pumpkin Spice… What Is This Stuff Anyway?

It’s October. The next six weeks will be infused with a mysterious concoction: the ubiquitous pumpkin spice.

Well to answer the first question, it’s mostly cinnamon. Technically, it’s 18 parts cinnamon, 4 parts nutmeg, 4 ginger, 3 parts cloves and 3 parts allspice.

And you know what, as annoying as it may be (to some) that pumpkin spice invades every facet of our lives for two months a year, the truth is–it’s perfectly healthy.

Health Benefits

Cinnamon has a wide range of health benefits. It’s high in antioxidants, it’s anti-inflammatory, it lowers blood pressure, lowers bad cholesterol, fight insulin resistance, fight Alzheimer’s and it fights fungal and bacterial infections.

Nutmeg is a natural pain reliever and it’s known to soothe digestive distress. It fights cognitive decline and helps detoxify the liver and kidneys. It can help eliminate bad breath and even help you sleep.

Ginger is one of the world’s “superfoods” for its anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, anti-viral and anti-parasite properties. It can treat nausea, settle the stomach, treat pain in the muscles and joints, lowers the risk of heart disease and fight cancer.

Cloves have antioxidant, antiseptic, local anesthetic, anti-inflammatory, rubefacient (warming and soothing), carminative (anti-flatulence) properties.

And allspice is great for the digestive system. It can relieve bloating, cramps, gas and nausea. And it’s a powerful anti-inflammatory.

So with that being said, is there any real problem with pumpkin spice?

By itself, absolutely not! It’s like any ingredient, it matters what you do with it. Here’s a quick summary of using pumpkin spice for evil and not good. (Keep in mind this is a very random sample as there are hundreds of pumpkin spice products on the market.)

Pumpkin Pie

This Thanksgiving standard is the original reason for pumpkin spice. And it does have some health benefits. Pumpkin itself is high in good fiber, high in vision-enhancing Vitamin A, lowers blood pressure, protects the prostate from cancer and helps keep the heart healthier.

And most pumpkin pie recipes that have you making it from scratch don’t add any sugar, which is fantastic and a huge step up from most pies that will cross your path this Thanksgiving. It’s just the refined flour, gluten-filled crust that poses a problem. But this Thanksgiving, why not just eat the pie and avoid the crust. Problem solved!

Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte

This might be the most famous, and perhaps even the genesis, of the pumpkin spice craze.

On the plus side, they somehow managed to squeeze 14 grams of protein into this drink! However, it’s the sugar that shocks you. If you add the 52 grams of carbohydrates (which you should) with the 50 grams of sugar, well you’ve got the equivalent to more than 5 twinkies. It’s about four times the recommended daily sugar intake (which is still too high in my opinion) of the American Heart Association.

Pumpkin Spice Cheerios

That’s right. General Mills has hopped on the bandwagon with pumpkin spice cheerios. Doesn’t sound too bad, really… if you like pumpkin spice flavored cardboard Os.

As far as health benefits, there aren’t many, unless you count synthetically-added vitamins–which I don’t. Truth is, this stuff is just kind of a desert of nutrition. Nothing at all to speak of really.

Based on a 28 gram serving, though, you’re going to get about 8 grams of sugar–so that’s more than 25% sugar.

Fiber One Pumpkin Spice Protein Bar

It’s not bad… I mean, I’ve seen worse. I looked at the individual ingredients and there is a surprising lack of unpronounceable chemical additives. But, like so many processed products these days, the second ingredient is sugar and between carbs and sugars, you’re looking at 27 grams for one bar.

If you’re following the AHA’s sugar recommendations (again, still too high in my opinion), one bar basically does you in for the day.

A last word of warning… look out for the pumpkin spice air fresheners. It can apparently be a bit too strong and noxious. I’m not sure of the brand, amount or really any details, but a Baltimore school this season was evacuated due to the pure strength of odor from a pumpkin spice air freshener.

And for a bit of pumpkin spice fun, check out this amazing twitter account – Pumpkin Spice Watch – where you can keep up with all the latest pumpkin spice-related news.

 

 

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Dr. Aaron Ernst