If the first talk of pumpkin spice lattes gets you giddy, you're not alone. Many food companies rolled out their seasonal items earlier than ever this year, thanks to our country's penchant for pumpkin foods.
The good news: pumpkins are your friend. “Remember, it’s actually a vegetable,” says Jaclyn London, a New York City-based registered dietician, “and it’s a high-quality one at that. Unlike some other produce, you don’t even need to buy pumpkin in its freshest form to reap the benefits.” And the benefits are many. One cup of canned pumpkin contains a mere 83 calories, 1 gram of fat, and 7 grams of fiber, while providing vitamins and minerals—potassium, magnesium, iron, vitamins C and E—that boost immunity and lower blood pressure. “It’s an incredibly versatile, heart-healthy flavoring option,” says London.
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The bad news: Many processed “pumpkin” treats contain very little of the real thing, packing tons of added sugar, saturated fat, and empty calories in its place. If you want to enjoy the taste of the orange superfood and avoid resembling one, read on for a list of the best and worst pumpkin treats in the land.
And for more smart ways to save calories and slash sugar without sacrificing your favorite foods, check out The Sugar Smart Diet
740 calories, 31 g sat fat (additional nutrition information N/A)
You’d have to eat half a stick of butter, 29 slices of bacon, or eight fast-food hamburgers to take in as much saturated fat as you’ll find in this devilish dessert. The scariest part: it’s meant to be ordered on top of a meal. But we can’t say we’re surprised by The Cheesecake Factory’s gluttonous ways. Our food-cop friends at Eat This, Not That! recently named the chain’s French Toast Napoleon the “Worst Food in America.”
590 calories, 22 g fat, 53 g sugar
To take in as many calories as there are in this colossal muffin, you'd need to put away eight Candy Corn Oreos or 80 pieces of candy corn. If you can't resist a pumpkin fix at Panera, go with the slightly less guilt-inducing Pumpkin Muffie (290 calories, 11 g fat, 26 g sugar) or the Pumpkin Bagel (380 calories, 5 g fat, 24 g sugar).
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480 calories, 17 g fat, 43 g sugar
Starbucks sells several pumpkin-flavored pastries, but this little guy takes the, er, cake in terms of calories, sugar, and fat. The scone beats out both the Pumpkin Cream Cheese Muffin (340 calories, 13 g fat, 28 g sugar) and the Pumpkin Bread (390 calories, 14 g fat, 38 g sugar). Plus, don't expect much of a health boost from the seasonal squash. Icing and butter come before pumpkin puree in the ingredient list.
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360 calories, 21 g fat, 20 g sugar
Give in to this gut-busting breakfast and you'll have a hard time staying satisfied until lunchtime. The doughnut delivers only 1 g of fiber and 3 g of protein. A bowl of cereal, like Nature's Path Flax Plus Pumpkin Raisin Crunch, is a smarter way to fill your belly on a fall morning. A three-quarter cup serving with non-fat milk contains 250 calories, 4.5 g of fat, and 19 g of sugar along with 7 g of fiber, 19 g of whole grains, and 6 g of protein.
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330 calories, 7 g fat, 50 g sugar for a 16-ounce grande made with non-fat milk
Whatever you do, don't wash Starbucks' orange eats down with a Pumpkin Spice Latte. Sure, it screams fall, but the blend of espresso, pumpkin-flavored syrup, and steamed milk topped with sweetened whipped cream delivers more than 12 spoonfuls of sugar.
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220 calories, 13 g fat, 22 g sugar for 9 pieces
If you can't stop yourself from sampling the bite-sized candies you've stashed away for Halloween, skip these limited edition Kisses and opt for a lower-calorie confection. Nine Starburst fruit chews still set you back 22 g of sugar, but cost you only 130 calories and don't contain any fat. Similarly, six Jolly Ranchers add up to 140 calories, 22 g of sugar, and 0 g of fat.
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35 calories, 1.5 g fat, 6 g sugar for 1 tablespoon
This seasonal coffee creamer gets its "worst" label for a simple reason: it's a fat trap. While 35 calories, 1.5 grams of fat, and 6 grams of sugar seems reasonable, those stats are for a measly one-tablespoon serving. You'll likely pour two, three, or four times that amount in your cup, which will quickly turn your morning joe into a serious sugar and calorie bomb. What's worse, highly-processed additives like "partially-hydrogenated oil" are high on the ingredients list, making this an unnatural option that gives one of nature's most nutritious foods a bad name.
0 calories per cup
Pumpkin flakes, ginger, and cinnamon mix to provide the perfect fall pick-me-up--with zero calories. Just make sure to go easy on any sugar you may add.
Approx. 2-5 calories per cup
Pumpkin-flavored lattes can pack upwards of 470 calories per serving. Get a similar flavor with a fraction of the fat by sipping on spiced coffee instead. Your taste buds--and belly--will thank you.
80 calories, 0 g fat, 18 g sugar
With 2 g of protein, and no fat, this guiltless pleasure if perfect for those unseasonably warm autumn days. It's also less than 100 calories per half cup, giving you plenty of wiggle room to add on a topping--or two.
90 calories, 1.5 g fat, 12 g sugar
As far as pumpkin treats go, this one is surprisingly waistline-friendly at 90 calories per half-cup serving. Although it carries a few preservatives and isn't exactly a nutritional powerhouse, its modest fat and sugar totals make it a decent option for a pumpkin-flavor fix.
102 calories, 1 g fat, 8 g sugar
It's hard to find this seasonal favorite packaged, but it's incredibly easy to whip up. Armed with chicken broth and canned pumpkin, you'll find yourself slurping away the best of fall in less than 30 minutes. Get the recipe here.
110 calories, 1 g fat, 3 g sugar per bagel
A blend of cinnamon, pumpkin, and nutmeg complement this soft whole-grain bagel--all for less than half the carbs you'd down in a traditional bagel. Added bonus: They're made with real pumpkin.
170 calories, 6 g fat, 10 g sugar for 2 bars
We love that each serving includes 4 g of fiber, 6 g of protein, and Omega-3s. And with only 10 g of sugar per serving, you'll tame your sweet tooth for about half the sugar you would consume in a doughnut or piece of pie.
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240 calories, 4.5 g fat, 25 g sugar per bar
Made with organic oats, raisins, and packing 9 g of protein, it's everything you would expect in an energy bar--with a little of the season baked-in. Put this on the list of post-workout snacks to stock up on this fall.
240 calories, 12 g fat, 10 g sugar
We don't make a habit out of recommending fast-food desserts, but the McDonald's classic baked pumpkin pie is a surprisingly solid choice if you're craving pumpkin on the go. At 240 calories, the snack won't derail your diet, and it's also low in sugar and sodium. Best of all, the pie-in-a-box provides portion control, eliminating the overeating temptation that tends to happen when you can simply grab another from the container, pour more into your glass, or cut a second--or third--slice.
310 calories, 6 g fat, 7 g sugar per meal
Pumpkin, asparagus, butternut squash, and apple make this a deliciously sweet and savory entrée. We love that most of the ingredients on the label are recognizable.