It is that time of year again when pumpkin-colored and pumpkin-flavored goodies start showing up in stores and restaurants. Pumpkins, a timeless Halloween symbol, are incorporated in all fall-themed products from air fresheners to lattes. It is a sign of fall — but also a reminder to be healthy.
Health Benefits of Pumpkin
Pumpkin is not just a seasonal ornament and flavor — it’s also very good for you. The orange color of pumpkin flesh announces a healthy dose of beta-carotene in every serving. Orange foods like pumpkins, carrots, and cantaloupe protect your body from free radicals that can cause disease.
Other essential nutrients found in pumpkin include:
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin E
Pumpkin is good for heart health and is associated with a reduced risk of stroke. Pumpkin can also help you avoid:
- Kidney stones
- Brittle bones
- Muscle mass loss
- Age-related maculopathy
- Macular degeneration
Your body converts beta-carotene into vitamin A to improve immune function. Pumpkin is rich in nutrients that can be absorbed through the skin, making its use in topical products healthy for your complexion. Applying pumpkin pulp directly to your skin may cause an orange hue, so it is not recommended; however, there are a number of pumpkin-based products that you can try that do not have this effect.
Healthy Ways to Eat Pumpkin
The easiest way to benefit from the nutrients in pumpkin is to eat it. Pumpkins tend to be large and very solid, so they require some preparation before consuming. The best way to prepare a fresh pumpkin is to steam it. Cut your pumpkin into manageable chunks, scoop out the insides and place it in a pot with a small amount of water on the bottom. Cover the pot and heat until a fork passes easily through the outside shell of the pumpkin. When the pumpkin cools, you can easily scoop the flesh out of the shell and puree it.
Here are some ways to consume the nutrient-rich goodness of pumpkins:
- Bake with it — Pumpkin puree can be used in your favorite bread or cake recipe in place of oil. It will replace the moisture in your recipe and protect you from the fat and calories of the oil, all while adding nutrients and a subtle sweet flavor.
- Make pumpkin pie — When made with fresh pumpkin puree, pumpkin pie is a healthy dessert for any occasion. It is full of fiber, low in sugar and has very little dairy fat — but it still tastes delicious.
- Add it to your smoothie — Pumpkin puree can be used in a smoothie to give it a rich, thick texture. With honey, cinnamon and milk, a pumpkin smoothie could become your year-round favorite.
- Put it in soup — Peeled chunks of raw pumpkin will cook in a soup the same way potatoes do. Add them to a turkey soup to give it a traditional fall flavor. You can also make a hearty pumpkin soup by mixing some spices into pumpkin puree, heating and blending with a stick blender until smooth. Top off your pumpkin soup with some chopped walnuts or dried cranberries to add a sweet or nutty flavor and additional nutrition.
- Roast it — You can prepare pumpkin the same way you would any other hard squash or root vegetable. Peel and cube it and roast it in the oven with olive oil and salt and pepper. You can mix pumpkin cubes with potato cubes or any other vegetable and roast them together. Roasting pumpkin and beets together then sprinkling with walnuts results is a colorful, healthy side dish to accompany any fall meal.
When it comes to incorporating pumpkin into your diet, be creative. It responds well to long slow cooking or cooking in water and then pureeing. The color will hold up well through the cooking process, and flavor can blend with many different foods.