Whether it's fresh or canned, pumpkin is packed with nutrition.
Fall is bursting with nutrient-packed orange vegetables. One of the most nutritious, yet often overlooked, is the humble pumpkin. Sure, it's a favorite in pies and lattes, but this lovely squash also boasts a number of health benefits. Because it's such a versatile ingredient, incorporating it into your cooking is an easy way to bump up the nutrition and color in all of your meals.
While fresh pumpkin is delicious, you can get all the health benefits of pumpkin from canned varieties, so feel free to go the canned route. Just be sure to choose a version that is plain, pureed, and free of added salt and sugar.
If you'd like to harvest the health benefits of pumpkin but aren't sure where to start, try these tips.
Whip up a healthier hot chocolate. Lattes aren't the only drink that pairs perfectly with pumpkin. Whisk two tablespoons of pureed pumpkin into a steaming cup of hot chocolate for a richer, creamier spin on this cold-weather favorite.
Nutrition bonus: This silky drink packs a healthy dose of beta-carotene, a nutrient in pumpkin that may help alleviate arthritis pain.
Upgrade your oatmeal. Few of us eat the four- to six-weekly servings of red and orange vegetables that nutrition experts recommend for optimal health. An easy way to get your fix? Simply stir one-quarter of a cup of pumpkin into your morning oatmeal. Top it with a sprinkle of cinnamon and a drizzle of honey for extra flavor.
Nutrition bonus: This warm, comforting breakfast provides a good dose of vitamin A, a nutrient in pumpkin that may help strengthen your immune system.
Pump up your pancakes. Who doesn't love pancakes? Next time you whip up a batch, give them a nutrition boost by folding one-third of a cup of pureed pumpkin and two tablespoons of chopped pecans into the batter.
Nutrition bonus: The healthy fats in the pecans will help your body absorb more of the pumpkin's fat-soluble vitamin A and beta-carotene.
Make yogurt even healthier. Filled with calcium and probiotics, yogurt is a smart snack. Trouble is, many brands load their fruity flavors with added sugar. Instead, try adding pumpkin to sweeten your plain yogurt (it will add a nice bit of color, too!). One-third of a cup of pumpkin contains only three grams of sugar, making it an ideal addition to yogurt. Simply whisk one-third of a cup of pureed pumpkin with a pinch of pumpkin pie spice into a single serve container of plain nonfat yogurt. If you want to add some extra sweetness, try a packet of Stevia in the Raw as a sugar substitute.
Nutrition bonus: Swapping this pumpkin-infused yogurt for a container of fruit-flavored yogurt saves a significant amount of sugar.
Explore its savory side. You know pumpkin pairs beautifully with cinnamon and spice. It's also a natural in savory dishes too. Plus, it adds a gorgeous golden hue to fall favorites like chili. For an autumn-inspired twist on your next batch of chili, add in a cup of chopped pumpkin.
Nutrition bonus: Pumpkin is packed with potassium, a mineral that may help balance blood pressure. One cup packs more potassium than one small banana!
Try it as a time saver. No time to cook a side of vegetables with dinner? No problem. Simply fold a cup of canned pumpkin or small chunks of fresh, chopped pumpkin into your next potful of risotto or polenta for an instant veggie fix. Then, top it with finely chopped fresh sage for extra savory goodness.
Nutrition bonus: You'll gain seven grams of digestion-friendly fiber per cup of pumpkin.
With these easy ideas, you can enjoy the health benefits of pumpkin all season long!
By Karen Ansel, MS, RDN
USDA Choose My Plate, What Foods Are In The Vegetable Group? - Weekly Vegetable Subgroup Table.
U.S. National Library of Medicine, Medline Plus, Vitamin A.
Chobani, Blended Peach.
U.S. National Library of Medicine, Medline Plus, Dietary Fats Explained.
USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Pumpkins, Canned, Without Salt.
USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Bananas, Raw.
American Heart Association, How Potassium Can Help Control High Blood Pressure.