Autumn is the season of pears, pumpkins, apples, sweet potatoes and late-harvest corn, all of which boast complex carbs that are actually good for you, thanks to the vitamins A and C and other nutrients they contribute to your diet, plus their high-fiber content. Unfortunately, it’s also the season of nutritional wannabe’s: candy corn, caramel apples, autumn harvest donuts, and of course, sugary pumpkin spice beverages.

“With flavors and colors so suggestive of fall fruits and veggies, it’s easy to trick yourself into thinking you’re eating something healthy, or at least something that’s not as bad for you as other foods,” points out Alison Massey, Director of Diabetes Education at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore.

Here's a look at some of the unhealthiest foods people will be eating this autumn.

Candy Corn

Technically, candy corn is derived from corn, as it is made up mostly of sugar and corn syrup. But each handful (about 19 pieces) packs 140 calories and 28g (7 teaspoons) of sugar. To put things in perspective, the advisory committee for the 2015 Dietary Guidelines recommends limiting sugar to no more than 10 percent of total calories. That works out to a limit of 20g added sugar in a standard 2,000 calorie diet, give or take a few grams for different calorie allowances. The American Heart Association more specifically recommends no more than 6 teaspoons of added sugar a day for women and a limit of 9 teaspoons a day for men.

Caramel Apples

Caramel is little more than sugar and fat that has been melted and boiled until it turns sticky and brown. That sweet sticky coating on an apple adds as much as 150 calories and 20g of sugar to what was once an easy-to-eat, good-for-you piece of fruit. Caramel is also terrible for your dental health because it coats and sticks to your teeth, paving an easy path for cavities to form.

Pumpkin Spice Lattes and Pumpkin Donuts

A donut serves up 21g of fat and 20g of sugar, while a pumpkin spice latte contains 14g of fat and a whopping 50g of sugar in a 16-ounce serving—250% of the maximum recommended intake of sugar for the day, in a one drink.

Healthier Autumn Eats

When you add too much sugar to your diet, you’re not only consuming unnecessary calories that can lead to weight gain, you may be increasing your risk of high blood pressure, high blood fats, or having a stroke.

If you’ve got a sweet tooth, find fall foods that can satisfy with little or no added sugar. Roast slices of sweet potato, pumpkin or winter squash to caramelize the cut edges, making them sweeter and more flavorful. When you’re looking for a sweet snack or dessert, enjoy baked apples or poached pears, or homemade unsweetened or lightly sweetened applesauce or pear-applesauce, with a touch of cinnamon or nutmeg. Add nuts for crunch, flavor, and extra nutrients.

“Just like any other time of year, focus on preparing and eating whole foods, and keep fast foods and processed foods to minimum, no matter how tempting the flavor,” Massey recommends.

Alison Massey, MS, RD, LDN, CDE reviewed this article.


Massey, Alison MS, RD, LDN, CDE. Emails to author September 8, 2015.

Te Morenga LA, Howatson AJ, Jones RM, Mann J. "Dietary sugars and cardiometabolic risk:systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials of the effects on blood pressure and lipids." American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. July 2014;100(1):65-79.

Larsson S, Akesson A, Wolk A. "Sweetened beverage consumption is associated with increased risk of stroke in women and men." The Journal of Nutrition. June 1, 2014;144(6):856-860.

Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. "Adding Sugars and Low-Calorie Sweeteners." Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion website. Accessed September 8, 2015.

Candy Corn. Brachs website. Accessed September 3, 2015.

Nutrition Catalog. Dunkin Donuts website. Accessed September 3, 2015.

Pumpkin Spice Latte. Starbucks website. Accessed September 3, 2015.

Concord Foods Caramel Apple Wrap. Wegman’s website. Accessed September 3, 2015.