Harvesting the Health Benefits of Pumpkins Year Round
It’s that time of year – time when it seems almost every food product has been infused with pumpkin spice. With every Halloween that passes, the orange gourd’s popularity seems to explode beyond the previous year's long list of foods with added pumpkin flavor. This year, the list has grown to include pumpkin-spiced Pringles, pumpkin-flavored Moonshine, infused protein powder, even instant pumpkin spice latte for dogs from a company called Honest Kitchen.
If you can’t find your favorite food already laced with pumpkin spice, there is spray-on pumpkin oil. And, for people who really want to be healthy, there’s pumpkin flavored kale chips and kombucha. Kaela Ketcham is a registered dietician at OSF HealthCare. She says be careful because pumpkin flavor is often added to sugary products.
“You do want to be cautious about what pumpkin spice products you are buying because one, they may not contain any pumpkin at all and two they might just contain a lot of sugar,” she advised.
Ketcham says pumpkin is a highly nutrient-dense food. It is rich in vitamins and minerals but low in calories. Also, pumpkins seeds can be a good protein snack because they are high in fiber and make you feel full longer, so they suppress hunger pangs.
The seeds also contain serotonin which can help promote better sleep and their monounsaturated fatty acids help lower bad cholesterol and increase good cholesterol in the blood.
You can find pumpkin infused protein powder, especially in nutrition stores. But, Ketchum says it’s better to go with the real thing.
“If you’re making a smoothie, you can always add always add a little bit, two tablespoon or so of pureed pumpkin. Even if you’re making pumpkin spice lattes at home, you can even add a couple of tablespoons of real pumpkin to get that depth of the pumpkin flavor to have it a little bit healthier, not as much sugar and actually get more pumpkin than what they use in a store’” she suggested.
You might be surprised to know pumpkin is a fruit and contains 94 percent water. That is what makes it low in calories. Ketcham adds it’s also great for a body’s immune system because it’s high in beta-carotene which your body turns into Vitamin A and boosts your ability to fight infections.
Because of all of its great nutritional qualities, Ketcham suggests talking to your grocer’s produce manager about stocking edible pumpkins or look for canned, no sugar-added pumpkin puree and find ways you can incorporate the orange gourd into your diet all year long.
Ketcham recommended, “You can also incorporate it in your oatmeal. You can put it in soups and stews and chilies. And then another way you can do it is … I saw a recipe for pasta shells. You stuff pasta shells with pumpkin and cheeses. You really get the benefit of pumpkin all year round without having to put it in a baked good and then putting all that sugar on top of it.”
Fun fact about pumpkins, 85% of the processed pumpkin in the United States comes from Libby's plant in Morton, Illinois.
Here is a healthy recipe for Savory Pumpkin Ravioli from Explore Health
- 1 cup canned pumpkin
- 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
- 24 wonton wrappers
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup chicken broth
- 1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- Chopped parsley
Combine 1 cup pumpkin, 1/3 cup Parmesan, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
Spoon about 2 teaspoons pumpkin mixture into center of each wonton wrapper
Moisten edges of dough with water; bring 2 opposite sides together to form a triangle, pinching edges to seal
Place ravioli into a large saucepan of boiling water with 1 teaspoon salt
Cook 7 minutes, and drain in a colander
Place 1/2 cup broth and 1 1/2 tablespoons butter in pan; bring to a boil
Add ravioli, tossing to coat. Sprinkle with parsley
*This recipe has less than 200 calories per serving