By Lauren Banks, R.D.
Fall is here and that means pumpkins are everywhere! It’s no surprise that pumpkins—a bright-colored winter squash—have some great nutrients, but did you know that pumpkin even has some protein? There’s about 1.16 grams of protein per cup. In addition, pumpkins are a great source of potassium, with 394 mg per cup, as well as vitamin A (494 micrograms per cup). Pumpkins are low calorie (30 calories per cup), but be wary of cans of pumpkin pie mix, for when other ingredients are added in, the calorie count jumps to around 300 calories (depending on the brand). But interestingly, the added ingredients in pumpkin pie mix increase the vitamin A content to 1120 micrograms per cup!
The vitamin A content is one of the greatest benefits of eating pumpkin. Vitamin A is an essential nutrient, meaning the body can’t produce it naturally, so it is important to find sources of this vitamin in your diet. Vitamin A is crucial for the regulation of several key elements of human health and function, including vision, maintenance of epithelial surfaces (the outer surface of organs and blood vessels), immune function, and reproduction. So when you reach for that extra slice of pumpkin pie, you’re really helping your eyesight! But watch out for those calories—they sneak up quickly during the holidays.
In recent years, pumpkin spice flavoring has become increasingly popular. Starbucks first launched this wildly popular flavor when they introduced their now famous Pumpkin Spice Latte 15 years ago. Pumpkin spice is a combination of cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, ginger, and sometimes actual pumpkin. It’s a polarizing flavor, mainly because the variety of pumpkin-spiced foods on the market get a little more extreme every year. However, this flavor combination can be great to use in your own cooking at home to spice up your coffee, breakfast pastries, desserts, and more.
Apart from eating pumpkin pie, you may be wondering how you can get more pumpkin into your diet. There are a number of unexpected options for incorporating pumpkin into foods you may already be eating.
- Add plain canned pumpkin to your oatmeal as it’s cooking for a creamy and fall-inspired flavor.
- Mix plain canned pumpkin into your pancake mix for a new take on this breakfast favorite.
- Add canned pumpkin into pasta sauce or chili to increase nutrients and add richness to the flavor.
- Try a new take on curry by mixing canned pumpkin with coconut milk.
- Create a creamy and flavorful soup with fresh pumpkin, celery, carrots, and chicken broth.
- Add pumpkin spice ingredients into baked goods such as scones or muffins.
Other from the pumpkin itself, there is also much that can be done with the seeds. Next time you carve a pumpkin, consider saving the seeds and following these simple steps to make your own flavorful, low-calorie snack.
- Remove the seeds from the pumpkin and wash them thoroughly.
- Boil the clean seeds in salted water for 10 minutes.
- Drain the seeds, then allow them to dry.
- Add some oil and seasoning to your taste. Possible flavor combinations include: cinnamon and sugar; garlic, salt and Worcestershire sauce; or simmer in whiskey, bacon drippings, and brown sugar.
- Once flavored to your taste, place on a baking sheet and bake for ~25 minutes at 325°F or until browned and crunchy.