Even though Halloween is over, pumpkins are everywhere this month, and you can do just about anything with them. Pick them, paint them, carve them, and yes, eat them. You may normally eat them in pie form, so you know that they can taste pretty delicious. But, let’s take them out of the crust, and give them a more substantial—and healthy—role in your diet.
Pumpkins are pretty unique in that they have two nutrient-dense parts: the pulp (also known as the meat) and the seeds. The meat is saturated with all sorts of nutrients, including vitamins A and C. You probably know vitamin A for its role in protecting your peepers, but it also boosts your immune system, supports cell growth, and even plays a role in reproduction. With a similar consistency to butternut squash, the culinary possibilities for pumpkin meat are endless. It’s hearty enough to bake on its own, “heavy” enough to stand in as a starchy side, and creamy enough to blend into a soup.
When scooping out that pumpkin, there is one thing you should not do: toss the seeds! The seeds are just as nutritious as the rest of the pumpkin and equally as versatile. Also called pepitas, these are one of the most nutritious types of seeds around, and did I mention they are extremely tasty? I recommend them in salads and trail mix and on top of soups, oatmeal or yogurt.
A quarter cup of pepitas has 71 calories, and 3 grams of fat and protein. They are rich in phytonutrients, phytosterols, manganese, tryptophan, magnesium, copper, zinc, and iron. The phytosterols in these oval-shaped seeds may reduce blood cholesterol and lower your risk of certain types of cancer. Phytosterols provide so many health benefits that they are actually extracted from other sources, such as soybeans, and put into “cholesterol-lowering foods,” like butter-replacement spreads. Why not get them straight from Mother Nature?
Power up on pumpkin with the following recipes:
Roasted Pumpkin, Plum, and Pecan Spinach Salad
• 1 cup fresh pumpkin, chopped into cubes
• 1 teaspoon olive oil
• 1 teaspoon grapeseed oil
• 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
• 2 cups baby spinach
• 1 ripe, medium-sized plum, cut into 1-inch pieces
• 2 tablespoons (1 ounce) reduced-fat feta cheese
• 2 tablespoons chopped pecans
• 1 tablespoon raisins
• 1 tablespoon finely-chopped red onion
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2. Toss pumpkin in olive oil, and place on a baking sheet.
3. Roast for about 45 minutes or until squash is brown and caramelized.
4. Allow to cool.
5. Combine the oil and vinegar in a small bowl. Set aside.
6. Place the pumpkin, spinach, plum, cheese, pecans, raisins, and onion in a medium bowl; toss with the reserved dressing.
As the pumpkin roasts, it gets soft and sweet, becoming the perfect complement to the crunchy, raw ingredients of the salad.
• 1 tablespoon olive oil
• Pumpkin seeds
• Sea salt to taste
1. Toss pumpkin seeds in olive oil, and spread on a baking dish.
2. Bake at 400 degrees until the seeds crack, about 10 to 20 minutes.
• 1 3/4 cup pumpkin
• 3/4 cup apple cider
• 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
• 1 to 2 teaspoons vanilla essence
• 1/4 cup brown sugar
• 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
• 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1. Combine all ingredients in sauce pan.
2. Bring mixture to boil and reduce heat. Simmer until thickened, about 30 minutes. Continue stirring to keep the pumpkin from burning.
3. Cool the mixture, and chill in refrigerator until ready to serve.
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Keri Glassman, MS, RD, CDN, is the founder and president of Keri Glassman, Nutritious Life, a nutrition practice based in New York City, and Nutritious Life Meals, a gourmet, healthy, daily diet delivery program available across the U.S. She is a member of Women’s Health Magazine’s advisory board and has authored three books: Slim Calm Sexy Diet, The O2 Diet, and The Snack Factor Diet. Her expertise is regularly featured on the Today show, Good Morning America, and Access Hollywood Live, among others, and she hosts “A Little Bit Better” on Youtube’s Livestrong Woman channel. Read more of Keri’s tips every day on Facebook!