Sure, the foliage is beautiful and the air is crisp and refreshing, but we all know the real reason everyone looks forward to fall each year: the proliferation of pumpkin snacks—obviously!
Pumpkin and autumn have been having a steaming-hot love affair for years now, which puts your hard-earned summer bod in the danger zone. When enjoyed in its purest form, the orange gourd is a nutrient-filled addition to any weight loss plan, but many people mistakenly believe that anything spiked with pumpkin is a healthy choice. And in the era of Pumpkin Spice Lattes and Pumpkin Pop-Tarts, that couldn't be farther from the truth.
"If you believe the sales pitch, the pumpkin is the happiest, healthiest food ever," said Suzy Weems, Ph.D., registered dietitian and professor of nutrition sciences in Baylor University's College of Health and Human Sciences. But pumpkin-laced candy is still candy, and things like pumpkin donuts still have sugar, she adds. Weems goes on to say that most of these products only use a small amount of pumpkin for its flavor, which means reaping the health benefits of the vegetable is near impossible.
So which of this year's pumpkin snacks are the worst in the patch? We scanned supermarket shelves to find out. Below, the sugar- and chemical-filled treats you should steer clear of this season, plus, what to nosh on instead:
Cosmo Creations Pumpkin Spice Premium Puffed Corn
1.25 cups, 130 calories, 5 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 100 mg sodium, 21 g carbs, 0 g fiber, 13 g sugar, 1 g protein
Some news outlets are referring to this as a "healthy snack," but we respectfully disagree. This puffed corn is mostly composed of sugar and fat, which makes for an addictively delicious flavor but offers little in terms of nutrition. And because Cosmo's creation is totally void of belly-filling fiber, it won't do much to sate your hunger, which ups the odds you'll go back for a second serving.
Eat This Instead! To make a healthy version of this snack at home, coat 3 cups of air-popped fibrous popcorn with ⅓ cup olive oil, 1 tablespoon of pumpkin pie spice, 2 tablespoons of granulated sugar and ¼ teaspoon of salt. Then, place the popcorn on a parchment-paper-lined cookie sheet and bake for 10 minutes in a 325° F oven.
Kellogg's Frosted Pumpkin Pie Pop-Tarts
1 pastry, 200 calories, 5 g fat, 1.5 g saturated fat, 170 mg sodium, 36 g carbs, <1 g fiber, 14 g sugar, 2g protein
Pop-Tarts are notoriously indulgent, so we weren't surprised to learn that this breakfast pastry is spiked with waist-widening soybean oil, high fructose corn syrup and a slew of artificial dyes. Though the toaster pastry actually does carry a bit of real pumpkin, it's not enough to make up for its otherwise unimpressive nutritional profile and mile-long ingredient list. Without a doubt, this treat is better left on the shelf!
Eat This Instead! Start your day with a bowl of our Pumpkin Pie Overnight Oats. It has the fall-inspired taste you're looking for, with far more satiating fiber and protein than a pastry.
Pillsbury Ready To Bake! Pumpkin Cookies with Cream Cheese Flavored Chips
1 cookie, 140 calories, 6 g fat, 2.5 g saturated fat, 75 mg sodium, 21 g carbs, 1 g fiber, 13 g sugar, 1 g protein
These cookies are as dangerous as they are delicious. Each small treat carries a whopping 140 calories and 13 grams of sugar—and no one ever eats just one. To make matters worse, Pillsbury uses Red 40 and caramel color (two possible human carcinogens) to give their cookies an ultra-appetizing browned hue.
Eat This Instead! These 8 Healthy Pumpkin Snacks are all safe for picks or anyone trying to lose a few.
Jif Whipped Peanut Butter & Pumpkin Pie Spice Flavored Spread
2 Tbsp, 140 calories, 12 g fat, 2.5 g saturated fat, 95 mg sodium, 6 g carbs, 2 g fiber, 2 g sugar
There should only be two things inside your peanut butter jar: peanuts and maybe a bit of salt. Jif, however, packs far more ingredients inside its pumpkin-flavored containers—and pumpkin isn't one of them. So what is in there? Dangerous hydrogenated vegetable oils. The man-made fats counteract the effects of the peanut's healthy fats by contributing to heart disease risk.
Eat This Instead! Slather your bread with a 50/50 mixture of canned pumpkin and all natural peanut butter. For some additional flavor, top of the combo with some cinnamon. And while you're at it, load up on these 10 Foods That Make Your Heart Younger.
Chobani Flip Pumpkin Harvest Crisp
5.3 oz container, 210 calories, 8 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 100 mg sodium, 24 g carbs, <1g fiber, 17 g sugar, 12 g protein
Though this isn't the worst pumpkin snack in the grocery store (it is Greek yogurt after all), it carries far more calories and sugar than similar treats of the same size.
Eat This Instead! Go with Chobani Pumpkin Spice blended instead. Unlike its competition, the recipe is free of sweetened condensed milk, brown sugar, and rice syrup which gives it a more wholesome, slimming nutritional profile.
Ben & Jerry's Pumpkin Cheesecake Ice Cream
1/2 cup 260 calories, 15 g fat, 7 g saturated fat, 140 mg sodium, 30 g carbs, 0 g fiber, 25 g sugar, 4 g protein
Four types of sugar, four sources of fat and a host of fresh fall spices join together to create this drool-worthy yet diet-derailing treat. Though 260 calories may not seem terrible for a dessert, that number represents a small half-cup serving. And let's be honest: No one—no matter how strong-willed they may be—can stick to such a small portion.
Eat This Instead! Whip up a batch of our Pumpkin Spice "Ice Cream." The recipe replaces sugar and dairy with processed frozen bananas, which not only saves you mega calories but amps up the fiber and nutrient content, too. And if only the real deal will do, check out these 9 Best Brand Name Ice Creams for Weight Loss.