Autumn is pumpkin season, when many of us replace our morning coffee with a high-calorie, sugar-rich pumpkin spice latte from the nearby coffee shop. But is it really pumpkin in that drink, cake or cookie?
In truth, most seasonal sweets made with pumpkin flavor often contain very little of the fruit, instead adding simulated pumpkin flavor to sweeteners and saturated fats.
If you have had your fill of those artificially enhanced treats, take a fresh look at what the heart-healthy pumpkin can do for you on its own.
Pumpkin and Your Body
According to Angela Charlton, R.D.N., a Carilion Clinic registered dietitian and nutritionist, a half-cup of plain pumpkin puree contains only 25 calories and plenty of dietary fiber and potassium, but no cholesterol, sodium or fats.
"That creamy scoop contains more than the full U.S. Department of Agriculture’s recommended daily allowance for vitamin A," she said. "Also known as retinol, vitamin A supports healthy vision, strong bones and teeth, immune function, healthy skin and even reproduction."
The antioxidant beta-carotene gives pumpkin its bright orange color. According to the National Institutes of Health, the beta-carotene found in pumpkin, sweet potatoes and carrots protects our cells from the free radicals associated with aging and chronic disease, and may reduce cancer risk. Dietary supplements containing beta-carotene do not have the same effect.
Pumpkin and Your Kitchen
Adding pumpkin to your favorite recipes is simple, as the packed puree is fully cooked and ready to eat. Try any of the ideas listed below, or use your imagination. Pumpkin adds mild flavor and a rich, creamy, natural sweetness to meals and snacks.
- Swirl a spoonful of pumpkin puree into your warm oatmeal
- Blend a dollop into your favorite smoothie
- Enrich any soup with a few tablespoons of pumpkin; use an immersion blender or mix the puree with a half-cup or so of broth before adding it to ensure even distribution
- Sprinkle puree with pepper and use as a sandwich spread instead of mayonnaise
- Stir a spoonful into homemade or store-bought hummus and other dips to eat with raw vegetables
- Add a scoop of pumpkin to pasta sauces, chilis, stews and other crockpot or slow cooker recipes
- Spoon leftover pumpkin into curry at the end of cooking and serve over brown rice
- Stir pumpkin into plain yogurt and top with fruit and granola
- Use pumpkin in place of up to a half-cup of butter or oil in recipes for baked goods
Even if you start by using up the last of an already-opened can of pumpkin puree, we think it won't be long before you buy more just to have it on hand.
The best part about using pumpkin at home is that the canned variety is as beneficial as fresh, so you can enjoy its benefits year-round. Just be sure you are purchasing plain pumpkin puree, not pumpkin pie filling. Canned pumpkin should have only one ingredient: pumpkin.