I can’t think of many things that get American’s more excited in the winter than pumpkin.
Starting in October, it’s hard to get away from the stuff! From pumpkin lattes, pumpkin breads, pumpkin ravioli, and even pumpkin cereals, pumpkin is everywhere. Pumpkin-flavored products accounted for more than $290 million in sales in the U.S. in 2014, according to U.S.News, and 70 percent of those sales occurred between September and November.
Aside from being trendy, pumpkins pack a huge health benefit. The following is a list of just a few of their perks:
1) Helps keep eyesight sharp: pumpkin is loaded with vitamin A, a nutrient which aids in vision. In fact, one cup of cooked, mashed pumpkin packs a hefty 200 percent of your recommended daily value of the vitamin.
2) Aids in weight loss: one cup provides a mere 50 calories and 3 grams of fiber. Diets high in fiber keep you feeling full for longer, which means eating less over all (which means more weight loss!).
3) Helps with workout recovery: potassium is an electrolyte which is often decreased during exercise. Replacing this lost potassium keeps muscles functioning at their best. One cup of cooked pumpkin has 564 mg of potassium (that’s more than a banana!).
4) May prevent cancer: pumpkins are high in the antioxidant beta-carotene, which according to the National Cancer Institute, may play a role in cancer prevention.
5) Promotes heart health: not just the “meat” of the pumpkin is healthy, but the seeds pack a big punch too! The seeds of the pumpkin are rich in phytosterols, which is a chemical that has been shown to reduce LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels.
We all know that pumpkin makes a great latte and maybe even a great pie, but the following are some healthy uses for pumpkin that you may not have heard of:
1) Stuffed pumpkins: not only is this a great way to impress your guests, but it is also a great way to portion control! Just cut off the top, clean out the seeds and filling, place upside down on your baking sheet with a little water, and bake for 30 minutes. Then stuff it with your favorite healthy dish. One of my favorites is quinoa stuffed pumpkin.
2) Use pumpkin puree in place of fat: yep, that’s right. Use puree pumpkin in a 1:1 ratio to replace oils or butters in your baked goods. This helps to lower both fat and calories. I love using pumpkin in place of oil in breads, cookies, and muffins.
3) Use as a French fry substitute: even dietitians like French fries, and making your own baked pumpkin fries is a guilt-free way to enjoy them. Just remove the pumpkin’s skin and cut the squash into fry-like strips. Place them on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and coat them with the spice of your choice (I like cinnamon or chili powder). Bake at 350 F for 30 minutes or until lightly browned. Enjoy this lower calorie, higher vitamin A snack!
4) Roast the seeds for a healthy snack: place the seeds in a bowl of water to get the “goop” off (goop sinks, seeds float). Dry seeds and spread on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray. Season with your choice of seasoning (try garlic, cumin, or chili powder). Roast at 325 F for 15-25 minutes or until crunchy.
5) Turn Greek yogurt into dessert: let’s face it, plain flavored Greek yogurt gets old. This recipe spices up your yogurt without adding tons of added sugars or fats. Mix ½ cup pumpkin puree with 1 Tablespoon maple syrup and 1 tsp ground cinnamon. In a parfait glass, alternate layering pumpkin mix with low-fat Greek yogurt. Top with granola if desired.
Lauren Ott, RD is a registered dietitian at the University of Colorado Anschutz Health and Wellness Center at the Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora. Check out her website www.thedessertdietitian.com, Facebook page (The Dessert Dietitian), and Instagram @thedessertdietitian for nutrition tips and recipes!