Crisper air, shorter days and colorful leaves all mean fall at last. With the cool down, you may be trading in your icy summer drinks for a piping hot pumpkin spice latte or another fall favorite. With the help of two nutrition experts, Cassie Bjork, RD, of Healthy Simple Life, and Sonja Goedkoop, RD, of Zesty, Inc., we’re weighing in on five toasty drink trends. To find out if they’re really worth the hype, read on.
The Claim: Matcha is a very finely ground tea powder made from shade-grown green tea leaves. It’s commonly used in Japanese tea ceremonies and centuries ago was mainly reserved for Japanese royalty. Today it’s enjoyed by many who wish to benefit from its higher antioxidant content. While most teas are made by steeping tea leaves in hot water, matcha allows drinkers to ingest the actual leaves. Ever heard of the benefits from drinking green tea? One glass of matcha is said to equal 10 glasses of regular green tea in terms of nutrients and antioxidants, and since matcha drinkers ingest the entire leaf, they get a bit of fiber and chlorophyll, too.
Sonja Goedkoop: Yes, matcha is essentially a more concentrated, better absorbed form of green tea, which does contain variety of antioxidants to protect against heart disease and cancer. Keep in mind that these diseases are complex, and studies on the benefits of matcha or any other teas are limited. That said, you can still enjoy matcha. If you’d rather do matcha lattes, I recommend making your own, unsweetened version at home since these drinks can be loaded with added sugar. Moreover, a small study has shown that adding milk to tea might reduce the absorption of beneficial antioxidants.
Bottom Line: A winning choice in its original form, made with matcha powder and hot water. If you must have it in a latte form, opt for a non-dairy milk and as little sugar as possible.
2. PUMPKIN SPICE LATTE
No drink has been more synonymous with the arrival of fall than pumpkin spice lattes, first introduced by Starbucks in 2003. Made with pumpkin puree, spiced syrup and milk, then topped with whipped cream, this drink is pretty much dessert in liquid form. A 16-ounce pumpkin spice latte made with whole milk and whipped cream is approximately 420 calories, with 160 calories from fat, 52 grams of carbs and a whopping 50 grams of sugar. You may be able to reap a tiny bit of protein and calcium from the dairy in the latte, as well as a touch of vitamin A, but die-hard fans of this holiday-inspired quaff might want to rein in their addiction.
Cassie Bjork: There are no real benefits to the infamous PSL. It’s a sugar bomb waiting to hit you a couple hours after drinking, which may result in a crash in energy and focus a few hours later. You can make your own version at home with coffee, steamed heavy cream, pumpkin puree and cinnamon. If you’re going to order one anyway, order it with “half pumps” for half of the sugar — or better yet, just a single pump of syrup.
Bottom line: Not so great, but if you can’t resist, ask for less syrup and skip the whip to keep the calories and sugar content more reasonable.
3. CHAI TEA LATTE
This drink dates back 5,000 years to India. Black tea is steeped with a variety of spices and herbs to create the chai flavor, and steamed milk is added to make it a latte. A popular drink for noncoffee drinkers, chai lattes typically start at 210 calories per 16 -ounces and may be slightly sweetened. Chai tea has historically been lauded as being full of antioxidants, and it’s said to aid with digestion and provide anti-inflammatory properties.
Goedkoop: Regular black tea contains healthful components, including caffeine, and some beneficial phytochemicals that may help protect against chronic disease. However, most people are not drinking black tea in quantities large enough to gain the health benefits. Moreover, typical chai lattes contain added calories and sugar and make it far more likely to be harmful than helpful to your body.
Bottom Line: Enjoy in moderation. Ask for reduced-fat milk, and go light on the sweetener.
4. BULLETPROOF COFFEE
First spotted on Dave Asprey’s blog (the founder of the Bulletproof brand), Bulletproof coffee is made by adding butter and medium chain triglyceride oil to coffee instead of cream or milk. This fat-enriched take on coffee has been trending with top-level executives and athletes alike. The idea behind the blend is that grass-fed butter and MCT oil can aid cognition and trigger weight loss through ketosis. The calorie count for Bulletproof Coffee is a whopping 441 per 16-ounce drink.
Goedkoop: The MCT oil added to Bulletproof coffee is more readily absorbable and metabolized differently than other types of fats. One study found that replacing other fats with MCT oil could be beneficial for weight loss; however, the research is still lacking. Supporters of Bulletproof coffee suggest that drinking it in the morning in place of breakfast may aid in weight loss and improve mental clarity, but science doesn’t fully support this. There’s more evidence that eating a balanced breakfast can help with long-term weight maintenance. Given the choice between Bulletproof coffee and eating breakfast, choose the latter.
Bottom Line: Incorporating healthy fats (think: avocado, salmon, nuts) into your eating plan is beneficial. Drinking fat-infused coffee and expecting miracle weight loss or mental clarity is not.
5. YERBA MATE
This earthy, slightly bitter drink is made from the naturally caffeinated leaves of a South American holly tree. The Guarani, a rainforest-dwelling tribe, has been sipping on Yerba Mate for centuries, mostly for nourishment and invigoration. Mate teas are said to contain antioxidants, polyphenols, xanthines (similar to caffeine and theobromine found in coffee and chocolate), phosphorus, iron, calcium, vitamin C, thiamin and niacin.
Goedkoop: Dried yerba mate leaves, used to make this popular tea, do contain high levels of many nutrients and beneficial polyphenols. There are claims that yerba mate can boost energy, help weight loss and support the immune system; however, scientific evidence is lacking. In fact, epidemiologic evidence shows an association between drinking mate tea and increased risk for cancer of the GI tract and bladder.
Bottom Line: It’s a nice alternative for those who want caffeine but don’t like coffee or black tea, but drink it in moderation.