Beyond the Pie

Why pumpkin should be put to use in your diet.

‘Tis the season for all things pumpkin. Between October and December the flavor of pumpkin is infusing everything from pies and breads to coffees, teas and ice creams. Rare is the holiday reveler who considers the nutritional value of all that pumpkin—which is unfortunate, because the orange gourd is packed with nutrients.

Technically considered fruits rather than veggies, pumpkins “add fiber, antioxidants such as alpha- and beta-carotene, and vitamin C” to your diet, says Courtney Mosser, a dietitian at Florida Hospital Celebration Health.

Our bodies convert carotenoids into vitamin A, “which is good for the eyes and skin,” Mosser says. Vitamin A also helps the heart, lungs, kidneys and other organs to work properly, according to the National Institutes of Health, while vitamin C is essential for growing and repairing the body’s tissues as well as maintaining bones and teeth. We all know that fiber helps maintain bowel health, but it can also lower cholesterol and control blood sugar. 

Even pumpkin seeds are nutrient rich, says Mosser, who likes to bake them in sweet batches with cinnamon and nutmeg, and in spicy batches with chili powder. 

“All seeds are a good source of protein and healthy fats,” she notes, “but pumpkin seeds are good for magnesium and zinc. Magnesium helps with blood pressure and glucose control, and zinc is really good for immune system support.”

Mosser stocks up on canned pumpkin during the holidays so she can reap its benefits throughout the year—in smoothies, in oatmeal and in other healthful recipes that are the best way to make the most of pumpkins’ nutritional wallop.

The sugar in the goodies ingested during the holidays counteracts the nutritional advantages of the pumpkin, Mosser says. All that pumpkin flavoring “is just to make us feel like the holidays.”

Self-professed “pumpkin diva” Marci Arthur also cooks with pumpkin year-round. The founder of the Orlando cooking school Truffles and Trifles says pumpkin is among the most versatile of foods.

So why don’t more of us use pumpkin during the other nine months of the year? “Because a lot of people say ‘That’s for pumpkin pie,’” Arthur says. “I think that’s why people get sick of it. It’s an overload in a certain kind of area; mostly you’re talking about a very sweet taste.”

So Arthur makes a point of exposing her students to the variety of recipes they can prepare to add the good-for-you gourd to their kitchen repertoires.

“Pumpkin adapts itself to flavors and complements other flavors,” Arthur says. “You can use it for fancy food, for country-type food, as an appetizer, in main dishes, side dishes and desserts.” Not to mention soups, soufflés, risotto and lasagna.

“That’s what shocks people,” Arthur says. “Pumpkin is not pumpkin pie; pumpkin is a million things.”

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