Some call it fall and others call it autumn, but one thing we can all agree on is: It’s pumpkin season. From pumpkin-flavored coffee and smoothies to pumpkin-inspired cookies and granola bars, pretty much every food brand has capitalized on the pumpkin obsession. Pumpkin is most definitely fall’s favorite flavor.
But you don’t have to purchase pre-made pumpkin products — many of which are sky-high in sugar and calories — to enjoy the flavor. After all, pumpkin itself is incredibly healthy.
“Pumpkin and pumpkin seeds are nutrient-dense foods,” says Kimberly Pierpont, a registered dietitian at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus. “They contain multiple vitamins and minerals, fiber and antioxidants.” Pumpkin puree is low in calories — clocking in at just 45 calories per half cup. That same serving size also contains 4 grams of fiber and 1 gram of protein.
A few standout nutrients include:
— Vitamin C. Pumpkin is a rich source of immune system-boosting vitamin C, also called ascorbic acid. This antioxidant helps wounds heal, helps the body metabolize protein and limits the damaging effects of free radicals. Adults ages 19 and older should consume between 75 and 120 milligrams daily depending on sex and reproductive status. One cup of pumpkin contains 10.4 milligrams of vitamin C.
— Vitamin A. Pumpkin is also rich in vitamin A, which supports immune function, eye and vision health, skin health and other functions. “A half cup of pumpkin puree contains over 100% of your daily value of vitamin A,” Pierpont says.
— Potassium. This electrolyte helps keep your heart, nerves and muscles working properly. It also helps balance sodium in your body, thereby helping regulate high blood pressure. A cup of pumpkin contains nearly 400 milligrams of potassium, or about 10% of the 4,700 milligrams of potassium the National Institute of Health Office of Dietary Supplements says that adults aged 19 and older should consume each day.
— Beta carotene. This powerful antioxidant is what gives pumpkin (and carrots) its bright orange color. “Our bodies convert beta carotene into vitamin A,” Pierpont says.
Pumpkin also contains vitamins K and E, copper, manganese and riboflavin, Pierpont says.
And that’s just what’s in the flesh. Pumpkin seeds are also highly nutritious. One ounce, or about 85 pumpkin seeds, contains:
— 125 calories.
— 5 grams of fiber.
— 5 grams of protein.
They also provide magnesium, phosphorus, copper and zinc along with some good fat, which can help you feel fuller longer. That can be a big plus if you’re looking to manage your weight.
Meet the Nutrition Experts
So, it’s clear that pumpkin can be a healthy addition to your diet. But how can you do it in a tasty way?
To help you get the most out of the quintessential fall flavor — and actually make your diet healthier in the process — some of the country’s most creative nutritionists have offered up their ideas, including Pierpont and several other experts including:
— Wesley Delbridge, a registered dietitian nutritionist and school nutrition expert based in Phoenix.
— Mandy Enright, a registered dietitian nutritionist, yoga instructor and the author of “30-Minute Weight Loss Cookbook: 100+ Quick and Easy Recipes for Sustainable Weight Loss.”
— Albert Matheny IV, vice president of performance at ARENA, a company that makes a versatile at-home fitness system, and co-founder and president of SoHo Strength Lab, Inc., in New York City.
— Kelly Pritchett, assistant professor of clinical nutrition at Central Washington University.
— Tori Schmitt, registered dietitian nutritionist and founder of YES! Nutrition services in the Dayton and Columbus, Ohio areas.
— Jessica Swift, chief executive officer at Sauce Foods in Washington, D.C.
— Jim White, a personal trainer, registered dietitian and owner of Jim White Fitness & Nutrition Studios in Virginia Beach and Norfolk, Virginia.
20 Ways to Add More Pumpkin to Your Fall Menu
First off, Pierpont notes that while you can always rely on pureed, canned pumpkin, “which is just pumpkin,” it’s best to steer clear of pumpkin pie filling or mix, which can contain a lot of sugar as well as spices like nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, allspice and ginger. To be clear, the spices aren’t the issue — it’s the sugar you should limit.
You can also make your own pumpkin puree by baking a small pumpkin. Pierpont recommends cutting it in quarters and removing the seeds, pulp and stem. “You can season the inside with oil and seasonings or leave it plain. Bake face down on a baking sheet in the oven at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.” After it’s cooled, you can peel off the skin and mash it or puree the flesh in a food processor.
Once you have that puree ready to go, it’s time to have some fun. “You can add pumpkin puree to almost anything,” Pierpont says. Try these tips as a jumping off point and get creative.
1. Replace some of the cheese in any macaroni and cheese recipe with pumpkin puree to cut down on fat while adding flavor.
2. Substitute cooked and mashed pumpkin for potatoes as a lower-calorie side dish.
3. Mix pumpkin seeds and your favorite nuts for a healthy, filling snack.
4. Replace breadcrumbs with pumpkin seeds on your go-to salad for a healthy dose of fat and fiber, plus zinc and magnesium.
5. To make a pumpkin pie smoothie, blend almond milk, banana, pumpkin, vanilla protein powder and pumpkin pie spice, which is a blend of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and allspice.
6. Switch up your usual pasta sauce by mixing cooked and diced pumpkin into marinara sauce.
7. Add a dollop of canned pumpkin, a dash of cinnamon and a drizzle of maple syrup to your regular oatmeal recipe for a sweet breakfast or healthy dessert.
8. When baking, sub out some oil for pumpkin puree. Use a 1-to-1 ratio — if you take out 1 tablespoon of oil, add 1 tablespoon of pumpkin puree.
9. Crush pumpkin seeds to use as a protein-packed crust for meat or fish.
10. Swirl pumpkin puree into hummus for a fall-inspired dip.
11. For super-moist baked goods, use pumpkin puree instead of butter at a 4-to-3 ratio. (If you take out 4 tablespoons of oil, add 3 tablespoons of pumpkin puree.)
12. Add a scoop of pumpkin puree to pancake batter for a moist, fall-flavored breakfast.
13. Top your cereal with pumpkin seeds for extra protein and crunch.
14. Roast pumpkin with coconut oil and pumpkin pie spice for an easy, low-cal snack.
15. Switch up your regular weeknight pasta dish by adding pumpkin, roasted pecans, lemon zest and parsley to whole-wheat noodles.
16. Mix pumpkin puree and cottage cheese to make a creamy, protein-packed snack.
17. Season pumpkin seeds with your favorite spices and bake for 15 to 20 minutes at 350 degrees.
18. Combine pumpkin puree, pumpkin pie spice, peanut butter and vanilla protein powder into healthy energy bites.
19. Make pumpkin waffles by adding a quarter-cup of pumpkin puree and a teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice to the batter.
20. Build a yogurt parfait by layering pumpkin and high-protein Greek yogurt, then sprinkling pumpkin pie spice and fruit on top.
Three Yummy Pumpkin Recipes
Pierpont offers three pumpkin-based recipes from the Wexner’s Nutrition Services Department.
Maple Pumpkin Custards
— 1 can of pumpkin.
— 1-2 tsp pumpkin pie spice (use your judgment — if you like extra spice, add two if you like mild spice, add one).
— Pinch of salt.
— ¾ cup milk.
— 3 eggs.
— ¼ cup packed dark brown sugar.
— 1 tbsp cornstarch.
— 1 tsp vanilla.
— 1 tsp maple extract.
— ¼ cup toasted pecans.
1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Heat milk to scalding (just before boiling).
2. In a mixing bowl, combine eggs, sugar, spices, cornstarch and salt.
3. Once the milk is heated through, slowly mix milk into egg mixture to temper the eggs.
4. Replace the milk on the stovetop with 4 cups of water (we will use this for our hot water bath around the ramekins).
5. Add pumpkin to the custard mix and portion into ramekins.
6. Bake for 25-35 minutes or until a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean.
7. Allow to cool and serve with sugar free whipped topping and toasted pecans.
Nutrition information (per 1 ramekin):
— Calories: 130.
— Fat: 6.9 grams.
— Carbs: 10 grams.
— Protein: 5.4 grams.
— Fiber: 2.5 grams.
— Sodium: 66.6 milligrams.
[See: 8 Healthy Fall Recipes.]
Pumpkin Pie Smoothie
— 1 banana (fresh or frozen).
— ½ cup pumpkin puree.
— 1/8 tsp cinnamon (can use more if you prefer).
— Pinch of nutmeg.
— ½ cup oats.
— ½-? cup unsweetened plant-based milk.
— ½ serving protein powder (either unflavored or a vanilla flavor).
— 1 tsp pumpkin seeds.
— 1/3 cup ice cubes.
1. Add all the ingredients into the blender.
2. Puree until smooth and creamy.
3. Adjust to taste: add a little more cinnamon if you prefer, or a drop of stevia.
Nutrition information (per 1/2 recipe):
— Calories: 211.
— Fat: 4.4 grams.
— Carbs: 28.1 grams.
— Protein: 10.9 grams.
— Fiber: 5.9 grams.
— Sodium: 93.4 milligrams.
— 2 tsp olive oil.
— ½ large onion.
— 1 small carrot.
— 1 rib of celery.
— 2 to 3 cloves of garlic.
— ½ tsp oregano.
— 1 tbsp chili powder.
— 1 tbsp cumin powder.
— 1 tsp smoked paprika.
— Pinch of cinnamon and clove.
— 1 ½ cup of pumpkin puree.
— 2 cans of either red kidney beans or chili beans (rinsed and drained).
— 1 large (28 oz can) crushed tomatoes.
— 2 cups of vegetable stock.
— 1 ½ cup of meatless crumble.
1. Place a medium soup/saucepot over medium heat and add the olive oil.
2. While this comes to temperature, chop your onion, celery, carrot into small/medium dice. Mince garlic and add all the veggies to the pot.
3. Sauté until the onion becomes translucent and the veggies are beginning to soften and caramelize on the bottom of the pot.
4. Add the spices and pumpkin to the pot and allow them to cook and marry together for a minute or two.
5. Add the tomatoes and the stock and bring soup to a simmer. Let the soup continue to simmer for approximately 15-20 minutes.
6. Add the beans and the crumbles to the soup and allow to cook for another 10 minutes.
7. Adjust seasoning to taste and serve.
Nutrition information (per ¼ recipe):
— Calories: 153.
— Fat: 2.8 grams.
— Carbs: 15.9 grams.
— Protein: 10.8 grams.
— Fiber: 7.9 grams.
— Sodium: 586 milligrams.
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Update 10/07/22: This story was previously published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.