Ways to include pumpkin in your daily diet
Pumpkin has a reputation as a fall staple thanks to its association with a certain coffee chain’s very famous pumpkin spice lattes, as well as its place on the Thanksgiving table as a part of a traditional dessert. However, these sugar-filled options aren’t the only ways to eat pumpkins, and they’re not the best ways to take advantage of the nutritional benefits this beloved fruit has to offer.
Dietitian Lisa Akly explained why this fall fruit is a nutritious essential for home cooking and offered some great ways to include pumpkin in your daily diet.
What’s so great about pumpkins, anyway?
“Pumpkin is technically a fruit rather than a vegetable, as it contains seeds,” said Akly. “This winter squash is usually available mid-September through November, although you can pick up canned pumpkin puree just about any time of the year.”
Akly noted five health benefits that make pumpkin an excellent addition to your diet:
- Full of fiber: Primarily found in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes, fiber helps to lower cholesterol levels, maintain bowel health and control blood sugar. Pumpkin contains 3 grams of fiber per 1 cup serving.
- Excellent on the eyes: Beta carotene, a phytonutrient probably best known for being what gives carrots their bright orange hue, causes the same result in pumpkin. Your body turns beta carotene into vitamin A, reducing eye inflammation and decreasing your risk of developing eye infections.
- Supports satiety: While a 16-ounce pumpkin spice latte can have up to 400 calories, almost none of that has anything to do with actual pumpkin. Pureed, baked or roasted pumpkin is a nutrient-dense food that is low in calories and fat while being high in fiber, helping you feel full for longer.
- Increased immunity: Pumpkins also provide vitamins C and E, which help protect cells from an imbalance between your body’s defenses against illness and free radicals in the body that can lead to disease or inflammation.
- Spice up the seeds: One of the best ways to include pumpkin in your meals isn’t about using the flesh of the fruit at all, but to eat the seeds! Pumpkin seeds are rich in unsaturated fats and nutrients like magnesium, iron and fiber. Rinse the seeds and roast them with herbs and spices for a crunchy snack. You can also find pumpkin seeds that have already been removed from the shells (often called pepitas). Toasted with a little salt, they make a great, nutritious topping for soup.
Akly added that, when it comes to pumpkin seeds, a little goes a long way. Stick to a serving size of about ¼ of a cup for pumpkin seeds, which has about the same amount of fiber as a full cup of pumpkin itself.
I don’t like pumpkin pie. Is there another way to eat pumpkin?
“Absolutely! In many places, pumpkin isn’t really seen as a sweet food, but a savory one,” said Akly. “One of the great things about pumpkin is that its creamy, mild flavor makes it an easy additive into all kinds of savory or sweet recipes you already love. There are lots of easy ways to add pumpkin into your daily diet!”
Akly recommended pumpkin puree as a great way to make a healthier macaroni and cheese. Just add it in with your cheese and mix until fully combined. You can also roast pumpkin until it begins to brown after tossing it with olive oil, salt, pepper and sage for a delicious and supremely fall-flavored side.
Pumpkin puree is also excellent as a base for a pasta sauce (mixed with garlic, onions, sage, salt, pepper, some parmesan cheese and a little chicken or vegetable broth to thin it to your desired consistency), as part of vegetarian or vegan curries, as a secret ingredient in a truly incredible chili or as the main ingredient in a soup you can season to match your own specific favorite flavors.
When it comes to ways to add pumpkin to your daily meals, the sky is genuinely the limit. Akly offered her own homemade pumpkin soup recipe as a great way to get started experiencing pumpkin as more than just a pie.
Lisa Akly’s Supreme Pumpkin Soup
- 2 tablespoons trans-fat free margarine or unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour or cornstarch
- 1 quart (32 ounces) chicken or vegetable broth (stick to lower-sodium options)
- 1 15-ounce can of pureed pumpkin
- 1 12-ounce can evaporated low-fat milk
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 2 teaspoons curry powder (optional)
- ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- Salt and pepper, to taste
Using a large pot or Dutch oven, heat the butter or margarine on medium until melted. Stir in the flour and continue stirring continuously until it just begins to turn golden brown. Gradually add the broth, stirring to keep from forming lumps, and boil for about two minutes or until fully thickened.
Reduce heat to low and add pumpkin, honey, seasonings and milk. Note: You can leave out the curry seasoning if you don’t like it, or try adding smaller amounts, starting with ½ teaspoon and then adding to suit your taste. Stir until fully mixed in. Continue cooking on medium to low heat until heated through.
Top with roasted pumpkin seeds for a crunchy topping.
Is there a way to enjoy my pumpkin spice latte without overdoing it?
“The pumpkin spice latte has a reputation as a regular fall treat for a reason … the different flavors can be really delicious together,” said Akly. “However, the regular pumpkin spice latte is high in empty calories and absolutely loaded with sugar. If you want to enjoy this sweet treat without feeling like you’re drinking a cup of liquid sweetener, there are definitely some modifications you can make.”
These modifications don’t make the PSL the healthiest thing on the menu, but they do allow you to control how much in the way of sugar, fat and empty calories that you consume:
- Order a smaller size: While a venti, or 20-ounce drink, looks like you get more latte for your money, you get the same amount of espresso as you do with a grande (16 ounce) serving! Stick to a smaller size to cut down on calories but get the same caffeine kick.
- Switch to nonfat milk: Many coffee shops default to 2% or whole milk. Ask for skim, or nonfat, milk, or check on what non-dairy options are available.
- Ask for fewer pumps of pumpkin: This can make a big difference! A 20-ounce PSL has five pumps of the sugary pumpkin sauce. Ask to go down to two or three pumps. You’ll still get plenty of sweet pumpkin flavor with half the added sugar.
- Skip the whip: Whipped cream is a delicious topping, but it adds extra calories without any real benefit. Skip the whipped cream but ask for the pumpkin spice topping on top of your milk foam to keep the flavor.
Finally, there’s one more way to get your pumpkin spice fix in a healthier way … make your own at home! A quick internet search for ‘make your own pumpkin spice syrup’ will net plenty of options for ways to create that distinct blend of perfect fall flavors while knowing exactly what went into the process. Then, when you make your morning coffee, add your desired amount of homemade syrup to taste and some warmed milk to get that perfect PSL while saving on sugar – and with a few extra dollars in your pocket.
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