We all know that pumpkins make great pies and autumnal decorations, but what about their “meat” and seeds? Now’s the time to learn more about the health benefits of pumpkins and try a few new recipes for your next dinner party.
Health Benefits of Pumpkin
Pumpkins are sources of some powerful nutrients to help keep you healthy and glowing through the holidays and beyond, says registered dietitian Jenny Champion. Pumpkins are rich in beta-carotene, which plays an important role in skin and vision health. They’re also a low-calorie source of satisfying fiber, says Champion.
Even the seeds of pumpkins can help make a healthy, delicious snack. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 1 ounce of dried pumpkin seeds contain 8.5 g protein and 10.5 g unsaturated fat. Pumpkin seeds also contain phytosterols, plant-based chemicals that play a role in lowering cholesterol levels, says Champion.
Choosing the Perfect Pumpkin
Because pumpkins are a seasonal vegetable, they’re only available in certain areas during a specific time of year. The best time to buy pumpkins in season is during the early autumn, says Champion. To determine the ripeness of your pumpkin, Champion suggests you poke your fingernail into the skin; if the skin doesn’t break, it’s ripe enough to eat. A whole pumpkin should last for about two months if stored in a cool, dark place.
Should you be looking for pumpkin during an off season, canned varieties and packaged pumpkin seeds are likely available at your local grocer. Both fresh and canned pumpkins are full of beneficial nutrients. Just be sure to check the label of your canned pumpkin: Products labeled “pumpkin pie mix” can be much higher in calories than regular canned pumpkin.
Cooking With Pumpkin
Pumpkin can be easily incorporated into any meal, including snacks and non-traditional holiday desserts. Use the pureed kind to whip up a batch of pumpkin muffins, or make pumpkin granola with pumpkin seeds and Kellogg’s Raisin Bran Original, a heart-healthy selection* that’s a good source of dietary fiber and made with whole grains. Pumpkin lends itself easily to soups and casseroles at lunch and dinner, with toasted pumpkin seeds making an excellent snack throughout the day. For dessert, leave your pie tin in the cupboard and try pumpkin ice cream, soup or cookies instead.
*While many factors affect heart disease, diets low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease.