Ultra-Processed, Hyper-Palatable Pumpkin Spice Lattes

Farmer with PumpkinsWe hate to be the bearer of bad news. But those pumpkin spice lattes that define the pleasure of fall are both ultra-processed and hyper-palatable. In other words, they spell doom for our dietary health. That is, they do if we accept the current presumption that UPF and HPF explain all that is increasingly unhealthy about the global food supply. We have too much food, made with too much processing, that tastes too good.

The pumpkin spice latte has seduced us and we hardly suspected a thing. Always a discerning RDN, recipe analyst Linn Steward confirms that pumpkin spice lattes meet the definitions for both ultra-processed and hyper-palatable:

“If the spice mix is used in Starbucks pumpkin spice latte, the spice blend itself looks pretty clean except for the preservative. But the total package qualifies as UPF.

“The Starbucks latte meets Fazzino HPF criteria for fat / sugar cluster. But so does every other recipe in my collection. Even my Christmas special – Pear and Parmigiano Salad.”

Damning Associations

In case you’ve been living under a rock, the coolest food policy advocates want you to know that ultra-processed and hyper-palatable foods (and thus pumpkin spice lattes) have a link to every health problem you can imagine. Tera Fazzino told us earlier this month that hyper-palatable foods come from the evil genius of tobacco companies:

“Hyperpalatable foods can be irresistible and difficult to stop eating. They have combinations of palatability-related nutrients, specifically fat, sugar, sodium or other carbohydrates that occur in combinations together.”

Ultra-processed foods are linked to depression, cardiovascular disease, cancer, death, and destruction of the planet. These are headline findings from just a small sample of studies this year. Setting aside any skepticism about causality, the steady stream of bad news is enough for many food policy advocates to shout for limits on UPFs and HPFs.

But Pumpkin Spice Lattes Persist

Despite all of this, the pumpkin spice latte is firmly entrenched in the popular culture of fall. This year’s PSL season marks the beginning of a third decade of popularity for this ubiquitous fall beverage. Food writer Emily Heil sees no end to its seasonal popularity in the near future.

Will the frenzied fear of ultra-processed and hyper-palatable foods last as long?

Click here and here for more on the rise and robust success of the pumpkin spice latte. For more on hyper-palatable and ultra-processed food, click here and here.

Farmer with Pumpkins, painting by Ilya Mashkov / WikiArt

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September 30, 2023