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One Major Side Effect of Pumpkin Spice Drinks, Experts Say

Following this week's fall releases, nutrition pros share a dietary warning for some unsuspecting consumers.

You've probably heard that Starbucks has just released this year's pumpkin spice latte. For PSL lovers who can have dairy, this came as exciting news. However, an Eat This, Not That! nutrition analysis has highlighted a significant issue with some pumpkin-flavored drinks for consumers with one particular dietary restriction. Here's what nutrition experts suggest you may want to know.

After Starbucks dropped their fall menu on Wednesday, we heard from one reader who was seeking recommendations for dairy-free pumpkin drinks after they'd visited one of the major chains. (In this case, it wasn't Starbucks.) "[I] couldn't wait to have a PSL," she said. "I drank half, then googled it. The pumpkin spice flavoring is made with condensed milk."

It's true. Lots of consumers don't realize that many of the major coffee chains, including Starbucks, include some form of milk as an ingredient in their pumpkin syrup. For consumers like the one in this instance—a nursing mom with an infant who has an extreme dairy sensitivity—this can be confusing. "I thought getting oat milk and no whipped cream would be enough," she told us. Unfortunately, some fall drink lovers are learning the hard way. For nursing mothers in particular, this may be especially concerning because recently, it was reported that dairy is now the biggest food allergy threat to children.

Says Katie Bressack, a board-certified holistic nutritionist in Los Angeles (and a mom of twin infants herself): "I personally would not have thought that there was dairy in [a coffee drink made with plant milk]." Adding: "It's a good reminder that you have to triple-check everything, just like you would read labels in the grocery store."

To help you navigate pumpkin spice season, here's a quick list of options to consider if you cannot, or do not, drink dairy.

Seek out plant-based pumpkin spice products at the supermarket.

Courtesy of Califia Farms

The grocery store's refrigerated section may offer a range of dairy-free pumpkin spice sips. Purchasing at the grocery store allows you time to review the label and educate yourself.

One plant-based fall treat we're enjoying this season is the Pumpkin Spice Latte Cold Brew with almond milk from Califia Farms.

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Research the ingredients online.

ordering starbucks

Margaret Wesdock, RD, LDN, CDCES is a clinical dietitian specialist at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center in Baltimore. "It's surprising how many people don't know the Nutrition Facts are published online for chain restaurants and eateries," Wesdock tells Eat This, Not That! "I use a nutrition facts brochure I picked up from a Starbucks as an education tool with my patients, as well. It's always an eye opener!"

Most chains do publish their nutrition information online—however, that's not always the case with limited time offerings and seasonal drinks. In that case, keep reading for another suggestion…

Ask the barista.

If you're unsure of what's in an order and can't find the information online, ask the barista. If they haven't been trained to know the answer offhand, they should be able to check the ingredients' containers for you.

33 Delicious Pumpkin Recipes

Don't lose hope!

Courtesy of Peet's Coffee

Some cafés do offer dairy-free pumpkin syrup. Read The Best & Worst New Coffee Drinks This Fall, Dietitian Says to find out which of the major coffee chains has made that a priority for their coffee lineup this season.

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Krissy Gasbarre
Krissy is a senior news editor at Eat This, Not That!, managing morning and weekend news related to nutrition, wellness, restaurants and groceries (with a focus on beverages), and more. Read more about Krissy