Pumped for Pumpkin

November 24, 2014 | Found In:  Healthy Body

punkinThe plethora of pumpkin-containing products on grocery shelves, and in coffeehouses and restaurants has become akin to the Fall Punxsutawney Phil (Mr. Phil is, of course, the beloved groundhog who, according to tradition, is a harbinger of Spring if he doesn’t see his shadow after emerging from his little hole in February) —it’s a sign that Fall is upon us!

While it’s true that some of these products are laden with added sugars and oils not conducive to a balanced, healthy diet, pumpkin itself is indeed a super food! What exactly are the benefits of Fall’s hallmark squash?

  • Aids weight loss. In addition to being low in calories, pumpkin is rich in fiber, which helps slow digestion so you feel fuller longer. Just one cup of pumpkin puree contains about 7.1 grams of fiber – more than you would get from two slices of whole-grain bread.
  • Supports eye health. Pumpkin contains almost double the recommended daily amount of vitamin A, which aids vision, especially in dim light. It also contains lutein and zeaxanthin, two antioxidants that are thought to help prevent cataracts and macular degeneration.
  • Protects the skin. The carotenoids in pumpkin may help keep skin wrinkle-free. Vitamin A also promotes skin elasticity.
  • Boosts immunity. Pumpkin is packed with iron, zinc, and vitamins C, E and A, which help the body fight infections, viruses and infectious diseases.
  • Supports heart health. High in fiber and the antioxidant beta-carotene, pumpkin helps reduce the risk of heart disease.
  • Fights cancer. Beta-carotene and other antioxidants in pumpkin are great for your eyes and skin, but studies also show that a diet rich in beta-carotene is associated with a reduced risk of developing some types of cancer, including prostate and lung cancer.

It’s important to note that pumpkin as a whole food carries all these health benefits, but isolated supplementation of beta-carotene (the carotenoid present in pumpkin) does not! The Carotene and Retinal Efficacy Trial (CARET) actually found negative effects associated with the beta-carotene supplementation.

This finding adds to the literature emphasizing that the best way to reap the benefits of superfoods is to eat them in their naturally occurring, whole form. Nutrients are described as acting “synergistically,” so trying to isolate them from natural sources can have unintended and unpredictable consequences.

While many of us think of pumpkin pie and other desserts incorporating the squash, there are many healthy ways to incorporate pumpkin into your diet. Add chunks to a stew or vegetable medley, sprinkle seeds on your salad, roast seeds for an easy snack, or use pumpkin puree in soups, smoothies or as a spread. Canned pumpkin puree is available year-round, but we recommend taking advantage of fresh pumpkin while it’s in-season. Organic pumpkin puree can be found at Trader Joe’s and most other grocery stores.

Here’s a festive Pumpkin Soup recipe from the Mayo Clinic:

Makes Four Servings

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup water, divided
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 can (15 ounces) pumpkin puree
  • 2 cups unsalted vegetable broth
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 cup fat-free milk (or Almond milk)
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 green onion top, chopped

Directions

  1. In a large saucepan, heat 1/4 cup water over medium heat. Add onion and cook until tender, about 3 minutes. Don’t let onion dry out.
  2. Add remaining water, pumpkin, broth, cinnamon and nutmeg. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Stir in the milk and cook until hot. Don’t boil.
  3. Ladle soup into warmed bowls and garnish with black pepper and green onion tops. Serve immediately.

Nutritional analysis per serving

Serving size: About 1 cup

  • Total carbohydrate: 14 g
  • Dietary fiber: 4 g
  • Sodium: 57 mg
  • Saturated fat: Trace
  • Total fat: 1 g
  • Trans fat: 0 g
  • Cholesterol: 1 g
  • Calories: 77
  • Protein: 3 g
  • Monounsaturated fat: 1 g
  • Sugars: 0 g

Happy fall! What are your favorite pumpkin recipes?

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