It’s 3 PM—you have about 30 minutes to spare before your next meeting, but that energy you started the day with is nowhere to be found. You need a pick-me-up if you’re going to keep your eyes open while your boss drones on in his infamously monotonous voice.
The good news is you’ve got a perfect excuse to indulge in some of those pumpkin-flavored foods you’ve been eyeing. Pumpkins have a ton of health benefits, and they aren’t naturally loaded with carbs or sugar, either. (One cup only contains 7.5 grams of carbs and 3.2 grams of sugar.) So, this means that it won’t cause your blood sugar to fluctuate rapidly—leading to a crash right as your meeting gets going (I’m looking at you, candy bars).
Of course, you’re not going to carve open a gourd in the office break room. Rather, you’re probably getting your pumpkin fix from breads, soups, and sweet, sweet lattes. But, will the other ingredients in these foods help or hinder your productivity?
On this list, I’ve compiled five classic pumpkin favorites and gave each one a productivity score, with one being the worst (a.k.a., most likely to cause a sugar crash) and five being the best (i.e., a safe bet to keep you fueled). Do note that I’m not a nutritionist, just someone who loves productivity almost as much as pumpkin.
1. Pumpkin Spice Latte With Whipped Cream: 1 out of 5
Ahhh, It’s PSL season once again! Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know someone who can’t seem to get enough of this sweet and spiced dose of caffeine. But what exactly is in this popular pumpkin drink?
Although pumpkin spice lattes have a healthy 14 grams of protein, they also have a whopping 50 grams of sugar! News flash: That’s twice the daily recommended amount. And while the espresso might give you a mental boost in the morning, all that sugar is bound to have you crashing later.
But you can make some changes: Downsizing to a tall cuts 11 grams of sugar. Better yet, for your everyday beverage, choose something without added syrups, like a cappuccino, an Americano, or a plain old cup of java. Save the PSL for a chat with a friend instead. (I know—the struggle is real.)
2. Pumpkin Bread: 2 out of 5
Have a craving for pumpkin bread? Who doesn’t this time of year?
However, if you also want to be productive, it’s best to skip the Starbucks version, which is packed with 39 grams of sugar and 63 grams of carbs. This is one food that could definitely cause a productivity downspiral in the afternoon.
Fortunately, you can create a healthier version of pumpkin bread at home. Cut down on energy-disrupting ingredients like sugar and butter, or substitute them with healthier options. For example, you can swap applesauce for oil or raw honey for refined sugar in many recipes.
3. A Slice of Pumpkin Pie: 3 out of 5
Maybe you laughed a little bit when you read that last paragraph, because your idea of homemade is putting what you bought at a store on your own plate. Hey, no judgment here. That’s why for this one, we’re focusing on something you can pick up at the grocery store.
Nutrition-wise, store-bought pumpkin pie is actually OK and is still a total fall indulgence. One slice of pumpkin pie, on average, has only 46 grams of carbs, 323 calories, and 25 grams of sugar. If you can find a pumpkin pie that offers more protein and dietary fiber, that would be ideal.
Regardless, a slice of store-bought pumpkin pie is one of the better productivity-enriching foods you can opt for.
4. Pumpkin Soup: 4 out of 5
Pumpkin soup is a great way to eat fall’s signature fruit. It’s a pretty straightforward recipe including pumpkin puree and fat-free milk, plus there’s zero added salt. And with some seasonal spices like nutmeg and cinnamon to top it off, what’s not to love?
With only 77 calories and 14 grams of carbs, pumpkin soup still gives you a little fiber and protein without making you feel sluggish.
The only points against this pumpkin option are that it takes time to cook, and it could potentially leave you feeling hungry later in the day. My suggestion: Couple pumpkin soup with some pumpkin seeds on the side to keep you from feeling hungry and to give you an energy boost mid-afternoon! On that note:
5. Pumpkin Seeds (Whole, Roasted, Without Salt): 5 out of 5
We have a winner! A serving of pumpkin seeds has 34 grams of carbs and 285 calories. However, if you consider their 12 grams of fiber and protein—and the fact that they have no sugar—the seeds are actually very healthy. They’re also a great source of many vitamins and minerals, including mood-boosting L-tryptophan.
You won’t experience a sugar crash from these guys, so keeping a baggy of them at your desk could be just what the productivity doctor ordered.
All of these foods have the potential to boost or inhibit your productivity. The trick is to eat a well-balanced diet, so it’ll be much easier for you to benefit from the many pumpkin-flavored foods tempting your taste buds this fall (or rationalize another PSL).