“Trick or Treat”: How about Both?

As a returning college student, these past few weeks have been extremely busy for me.  Between studying for midterms and writing papers I have spent most of my time with earphones in and my face buried in the computer screen. My go to place to get productivity flowing through my veins is Starbucks.  The constant supply of fresh brewed coffee gives me that extra push I need to cross things off my never-ending to do list.

I always look forward to sipping on their seasonal treats, my favorite being the pumpkin spice latte. Given my area of study, dietetics, I am always watching my food and beverage intake a little more than the average person. So I’m going to share my secret of how I get the same great pumpkin taste, while consuming fewer calories.

A traditional Starbucks, tall (12 oz), pumpkin spice latte contains 300 calories, 11 g fat, 7 g of which is saturated, and 39 g sugar. By making minor changes, ordering it without the whipped cream and replacing 2% milk with non-fat milk, you can decrease the calorie content to 200 and get rid of all the fat.

I don’t like to drink my calories, so I have gotten crafty to come up with an even lower calorie version.  My go to order at Starbucks is always a tall, Cafe Misto, which is coffee mixed with frothed milk. I always request that mine is made with the dark roast coffee and non-fat milk.  To get the pumpkin flavor I also request just 1 pump of pumpkin spice syrup be added.  A pump of the syrup is equivalent to 1 tablespoon and 75 calories.  A traditional pumpkin spice latte has 2 pumps of the pumpkin spice syrup, which totals to approximately 150 calories of pure sugar.  By asking for 1 pump I get to enjoy the pumpkin flavor, without consuming too much sugar.

I also request that they include the spices, normally put on top of a pumpkin spice latte, to give it that extra fall flavor.  My version of the pumpkin spice latte comes in at 135 calories, 0 g fat and 26 g sugar. This cuts the calorie content of the original by more than half. Every year I ask if they have a sugar-free pumpkin syrup and I always get the same answer, “not yet”.  So, until they do I will continue to use my little trick so that I can enjoy on of my favorite treats.

Enjoying a Cafe Misto with a little pumpkin flavoring!

Enjoying a Cafe Misto with a little pumpkin flavoring!


The Powerful Pumpkin

It goes without saying, but fall is officially here again. Like me, I’m sure you’ve been bombarded with social media posts excited about the prospect of warm sweaters, bonfires and this season’s hot commodity, pumpkin. In the past few weeks I’ve learned that people will try to put pumpkin in almost anything that can be consumed.  I’ve seen posts boasting about pumpkin muffins, bars, lattes, cakes, dips and the list goes on.

I, myself, am a sucker when it comes to pumpkin flavored treats.  There is just something about the flavor that goes so well with fall.  But let’s not judge this food by its flavor.  There is more to the trendy pumpkin than it’s oh-so-deliciousness.  Pumpkins are also jam-packed with nutrients our body needs to function properly.

The pumpkin is unique in that, by some, it is considered a fruit and by others, a vegetable.  Botanists classify it as a fruit, while those in the culinary world consider it a vegetable because of how it is used when cooking.  The United States Department of Agriculture states that half a cup of pumpkin is equal to an entire serving of vegetables. Pumpkin is great for anyone trying to eat healthy and is especially beneficial to those watching their weight. This is due to the fact that it is remarkably low in calories and contains a significant amount of fiber, which helps us feel fuller for a longer period of time.

Pumpkin also contains a plethora of micronutrients: Vitamin A, Iron, Vitamin C and many more. Why should you care about these little guys, which usually go overlooked? They play important roles in the daily functions of your body. Let’s skip over the scientific mechanisms of how these micronutrients work in the body and go straight to the good stuff.  That is, WHY they are necessary.

  • Vitamin A helps maintain good eyesight, which is crucial as we age.  It also reduces our chance of getting sick by maintaining the barrier of skin that protects our body against the entry of disease pathogens.  Vitamin A may also act as an antioxidant in the body, which decreases the risk of diseases such as certain types of cancer.
  • Iron is part of many enzymes, which aid our body in food digestion.  It also carries oxygen through the blood and, without it, our body’s important reactions could not continue.
  • Vitamin C is another natural form of antioxidant that helps protect the body’s cells from damage. It is also needed in the growth and repair of body tissues.  For example, when you get a scratch on your arm, vitamin C assists in the healing process.

Even though there is so much good packed into this fall staple, when mixed with other ‘not so healthy’ ingredients, it can do some damage to your waist line.  I found this great recipe, from none other than Martha Stewart.  It can be made in under 30 minutes and has very few ingredients.  I made a few tweaks* that guarantee this dish to be light on calories, heavy on nutrients and exploding with flavor.  Help ring in fall by giving it a go and don’t forget to let me know how it goes!

Penne with Creamy Pumpkin Sauce (servings 4)

*with my tweaks this dish comes in at 222 calories, 8 g. protein, 26 g. carbohydrates, 5 g. fiber, 11 g. fat, 3.2 f. sat fat, 7 g. mono and polyunsaturated fats, 11.7 mg. cholesterol


12 oz. 100% whole grain penne pasta, or other short pasta

Coarse salt

2 Tbl. olive oil

1 Tbl. fresh rosemary

1 can (15 oz.) pure pumpkin puree

1 garlic clove, minced

1/2 cup, low-fat, half-and-half

1/3 cup grated parmesan

1 Tbl. white-wine vinegar

1/4 tsp. red-pepper flakes


Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water. Reserve 2 cups pasta water. Drain pasta and set aside.

In pasta pot, heat oil over medium. Add rosemary and fry stirring, until starting to brown (1-2 minutes). Using slotted spoon, transfer rosemary to a paper towel, leaving oil in pot.

Carefully add pumpkin puree, garlic, half-and-half, parmesan, vinegar, red-pepper, and 1 cup of reserved pasta water to pot. Stir sauce until heated through (2-3 minutes).

Add pasta to sauce and toss.  If sauce is too thick, add some more reserved pasta water.  Season generously with most salt and the fried rosemary.

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