Fall Fanatics Rejoice: The Impressive Health Benefits of Pumpkin

Pumpkins are a rich source of beta-carotene, an antioxidant that gives orange vegetables their color. Your body converts beta-carotene to vitamin A once you eat it. 
Pumpkins also contain a lot of vitamin C, vitamin E, riboflavin, potassium and other nutrients.
Pumpkins are a rich source of beta-carotene, an antioxidant that gives orange vegetables their color. Your body converts beta-carotene to vitamin A once you eat it. Pumpkins also contain a lot of vitamin C, vitamin E, riboflavin, potassium and other nutrients.

Nothing says fall quite like pumpkins and pumpkin-flavored foods. Pumpkin bread, pumpkin coffee, pumpkin smoothies — the list goes on!

Not only do pumpkin foods taste good, they are full of vitamins and minerals. They’re a rich source of beta-carotene, an antioxidant that gives orange vegetables their color. Your body converts beta-carotene to vitamin A once you eat it.

The vegetable also contain a lot of vitamin C, vitamin E, riboflavin, potassium and other nutrients.

Here’s how this fall favorite can boost your health.

Some health benefits of pumpkin  

  • Cancer prevention: The National Cancer Institute says antioxidants including beta-carotene may play a role in preventing cancer. The substances in pumpkin seeds have also been linked to lower levels of stomach, breast, lung, prostate and colon cancers, says the National Foundation for Cancer Research.
  • Eyesight: Vitamin A helps with good vision, especially in the dark.
  • Tougher immune system: Vitamin A may help your body fight infections and viruses, while vitamin C could help you recover from colds faster.
  • Heart health: Pumpkin seeds contain chemicals that may reduce “bad” cholesterol and decrease your risk of heart disease, the National Institute of Health says.
  • Weight loss: Pumpkin has less than 50 calories per cup, and most pumpkin recipes contain far less than a cup. It’s also a good source of fiber, which can help you stay full longer.
  • Mood booster: Pumpkins contain the amino acid tryptophan, which helps form serotonin. Serotonin regulates mood, sleep and your appetite.

Watch out for added sugar

Despite the gourd’s health benefits, not everything pumpkin-flavored is healthy!

Take a look at Starbucks’ popular pumpkin spice latte: A 16-oz. grande, with 2 percent milk and whipped cream, has 380 calories, 14 grams of fat and 50 grams of sugar.

In fact, many items labeled “pumpkin spice” don’t actually contain any pumpkin. It’s a mixture of spices, including cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and clove, or allspice, which taste like pumpkin pie.

A typical slice of pumpkin pie, by the way, contains 323 calories and has 13 grams of fat and 25 grams of sugar.

If you’re still craving a pumpkin spice latte, here is a healthier option:

Pumpkin Spice Latte

1/ 2 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk

3 tablespoons pumpkin puree

1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

1/ 2 teaspoon vanilla

1 teaspoon sugar

8 ounces brewed coffee

Sprinkle with cinnamon and enjoy!

Each latte contains 55 calories, 1.5 grams protein, 8 grams carbohydrate, 2 grams fat and 136 percent of your daily vitamin A needs.

And if you’re in the mood for dessert, these cranberry pumpkin muffins are only 200 calories each.

Cranberry pumpkin muffins

Ingredients

2 cups flour

1/ 2 cup sugar

3 teaspoons baking powder

1 /2 teaspoons salt

1 /2 teaspoons cinnamon

3 /4 teaspoons allspice

1/ 3 cup vegetable oil

2 large eggs

3/ 4 cup canned pumpkin

2 cups fresh or frozen chopped cranberries

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  • Sift together dry ingredients (flour through allspice) and set aside.
  • Beat oil, eggs, and pumpkin together until well blended.
  • Add the wet ingredients (pumpkin mixture) to the dry ingredients all at once. Stir until moistened.
  • Fold in chopped cranberries.
  • Spoon into paper-lined muffin cups.
  • Bake at 400 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes.

Makes 12 servings

Each muffin contains about 200 calories, 7 grams total fat, 1 grams saturated fat, 35 milligrams cholesterol, 230 milligrams sodium, 32 grams carbohydrates, and 3 grams protein.

Toasted pumpkin seeds also make a healthy fall snack.

  • First, rinse seeds well to wash away pumpkin pulp.
  • Spray nonstick cooking spray on a baking sheet, then spread seeds. Or place seeds on the sheet, then add a bit of olive oil.
  • Bake for 30 minutes at 325 degrees Fahrenheit, stirring occasionally. Bake until seeds are toasted lightly.
Authors

Caldwell Shackelford Photo3

By Ann Caldwell and Maureen Shackelford, nutritionists and registered dietitians at Anne Arundel Medical Center. To reach them call 443-481-5555.

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