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Pump Up the Pumpkin

By Janet Helm, MS, RD

pumpkins

Now that the temperature is getting crisp and the leaves are beginning to change colors, I’m starting to crave some traditional fall foods, such as apples, sweet potatoes, and winter squashes – especially pumpkin.  It seems like a lot of other people are craving pumpkin, too, but in the form of drinks – pumpkin spice lattes, pumpkin coffee creamers, pumpkin beer, pumpkin cocktails.  Of course, none of these pumpkin drinks actually contain pumpkin – or at least very little of it.

It’s too bad that we’re merely drinking pumpkin flavoring instead of actually eating these orange-fleshed gourds in their natural form: pumpkins and other winter squashes are nutritional powerhouses.

Pumpkin, like other orange-hued vegetables, is loaded with carotenoids, including beta carotene, which our body converts to vitamin A. Pumpkin is also rich in vitamin C, fiber and potassium (one of the nutrients most likely to be lacking in the American diet).  You’ll also find the compounds lutein and zeaxanthin, which are good for our eyes.

And you can do more with a pumpkin than just make a Jack O’Lantern. Once you remove the seeds (save those for roasting) and the hard outer shell, pumpkin is delicious roasted with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of sea salt and spices, such as cinnamon or cayenne.  You can also easily make your own pumpkin puree with fresh pumpkin.  That way you can control the amount of sugar that’s used.

Of course, canned pumpkin is more convenient. And it can be used in lots of ways beyond pie – including stirred into muffins, quick breads, pancakes and waffles, or added to soups, risottos and pasta dishes.

MyPlate recommends 4-6 cups of orange-red vegetables every week.  Pumpkin, a uniquely American vegetable, is a good place to start. Just try eating it, instead of simply sipping it.

What are your favorite ways to prepare pumpkin or other winter squashes?

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