Nothing says autumn like pumpkins.
They add a splash of color to rural landscapes and table decorations. And every Halloween they grin and shine on the verandas.
But pumpkins are much more than just a pretty (or creepy) face.
They’re nutritional powerhouses packed with vitamins, antioxidants, and fiber.
“It’s a cool fruit,” said Holly Dykstra, RD, a dietitian with Spectrum Health. “For some reason, people don’t turn to it until the fall and then they go crazy.”
Yes, as a seed-bearing structure of a flowering plant, a pumpkin is classified as a fruit.
It is also a type of winter squash and belongs to the cucurbit family, which includes gourd, squash, melons, and cucumbers.
And its diet extends beyond the meat of the pumpkin. The flower, seeds and peel are also edible.
Dykstra provided reasons to add pumpkin to your diet – and suggestions for delicious ways to enjoy it.
An A + bonus
Pumpkins provide a whopping dose of vitamin A – one cup is 245% of the recommended daily allowance.
“This is really important for healthy vision,” said Dykstra.
Pumpkin is also rich in vitamin C.
“Both vitamins A and C are important to keep our immune system running,” said Dykstra.
It contains several B vitamins, including folic acid, that have been shown to support reproductive health.
“Pumpkin is also high in potassium, which is great for lowering blood pressure and maintaining good muscle function,” added Dykstra.
And lowering blood pressure can reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke.
The fiber in pumpkin – 7 grams per cup – offers significant health benefits.
“This is great for anyone looking for digestive health, blood sugar and cholesterol management,” said Dykstra.
Most people should aim for 25 to 30 grams of fiber a day, but Americans only average about 12 grams, she said.
With 7 grams of fiber per cup, pumpkin can help increase your fiber intake.
Pumpkin also contains antioxidants like alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, and beta-cryptoxanthin. They have been shown to neutralize free radicals, protect the skin from sun damage, and reduce the risk of heart disease, cancer, and eye diseases.
Despite all of these health benefits, pumpkin is low in calories: one cup of pumpkin contains 50 calories.
“It’s really nutritious,” said Dykstra. “It provides a lot of nutrients for the amount of calories it has.”
Puree, sauté, fry and bake
When you buy pumpkin, you can buy it canned or fresh.
For the fresh pumpkins, look for the little round ones. They’re typically known as pie pumpkins – or sugar or sweet pumpkins.
Dykstra offered options to add pumpkin to your meals.
- Cut the pumpkin into slices and roast in the oven or fry in a pan.
- Use pureed pumpkin to make pumpkin soup. Or add pieces of pumpkin to the vegetable soup.
- Add it to waffles, pancakes, muffins, and cookies. It goes especially well with pecans, Dykstra said.
- If you’re looking to remove fat from baked goods, replace pureed pumpkin with oil or butter.
- Make a pasta sauce from pumpkin.
- Serve pumpkin puree as a side dish, as an alternative to potatoes. Or mix with sweet potato puree.
The most famous pumpkin dish is, of course, the most popular autumn dessert – pumpkin pie.
“Even if pumpkin pie isn’t the most nutritious food available, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t eat it,” said Dykstra. “If you want to eat it, enjoy it. And make sure you eat healthy foods and balanced meals for the rest of the day. “
Don’t forget the seeds
The large pumpkins that we make jack-o-lanterns have their own nutritional benefit: They are a great source of pumpkin seeds.
Pumpkin seeds are rich in protein and antioxidants. They are a good source of iron, magnesium, and zinc.
Traditionally, the roasted seeds are salted. However, if you want to reduce sodium intake, Dykstra recommends trying different combinations of herbs and spices.
“A lot of people like to roast the seeds when they are carving pumpkins,” she said. “It’s fun, it reduces food waste, and it’s a really nutritious practice.”
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