You can do lots more with pumpkin than serve it up as a Thanksgiving dessert or carve it for Halloween! If you’ve been overlooking this superfood, now is the time to add pumpkin to your diet (did you know pumpkin is a fruit?). For starters, it’s packed with antioxidants that support immune function, good vision, and heart health. It may even protect against cancer. “Pumpkin packs a lot of nutritional power,” says Amy Kimberlain, RDN, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “It’s also incredibly versatile and can be added to many different dishes.”
Here’s how to get the most from its health benefits:
Pumpkin has lots of good-for-you nutrients.
“It’s an incredibly nutritious food that supplies you with high levels of vitamins and minerals such as vitamins A, C, and E,” says Kimberlain. “Adding pumpkin to your diet gives you nutritional benefits with no fat, 2 grams of protein, and 3 grams of fiber. And one cup of cooked pumpkin has only 49 calories.”
Pumpkin supports immune health.
Pumpkin provides 245 percent of your daily recommended intake of vitamin A, which helps your body fight off infections, says Kimberlain. It also boasts 19 percent of your daily needs for vitamin C, which helps immune cells work more efficiently and wounds heal faster.
Pumpkin is good for your vision.
Pumpkin also contains high levels of beta carotene, which gives this winter squash its beautiful bright orange color. In a National Eye Institute clinical trial, high doses of vitamins C, E, and beta carotene reduced the risk of progression of age-related macular degeneration. Although they didn’t study pumpkin specifically, pumpkin contains all these nutrients so it makes sense to add it to your diet, says Kimberlain.
Pumpkin is heart-healthy.
Pumpkin has high levels of potassium. One study showed that a reduction in sodium and an increase in potassium helped lower blood pressure to potentially reduce stroke risk. Also, the antioxidants in pumpkin such as vitamin C, E, and lutein may reduce inflammation linked to heart disease.
Pumpkin may protect against cancer.
Preliminary research shows that antioxidants such as betacarotene found in high levels in pumpkin may protect against certain kinds of cancer such as lung or prostate cancer. One study also showed the protective effects of carotenoids such as beta carotene against colon cancer.
How to add pumpkin to any meal
We're not talking about a pumpkin spice latte. It’s totally fine to indulge in a piece of pumpkin pie or cake occasionally because all foods fit into a healthy lifestyle, says Kimberlain. But you don’t have to save pumpkin for dessert! Incorporate pumpkin into meals with these healthy pumpkin recipes:
Add roasted chunks of fresh pumpkin to chili
Mix with grains such as risotto and quinoa or toss roasted pieces over pasta
Stir pureed pumpkin into your oatmeal or Greek yogurt with cinnamon and nutmeg
Combine with black beans for a twist on tacos
Swap out for other fats in your pancake batter at a 1:1 ratio
Is canned or fresh pumpkin better?
It doesn’t really matter! Use whatever is easier for you. “Keeping a can in the pantry makes it convenient to stir into dishes without having to plan ahead,” says Kimberlain. “Make sure you buy canned ‘pumpkin’ and not ‘pumpkin pie mix,’ which contains added sugars and is meant for baking.” If you’re feeling ambitious, pumpkins aren’t that difficult to grow in your garden.
How do you roast a pumpkin?
If you do want to use fresh pumpkin, it’s super-easy to roast! Look for sugar pumpkins, which are smaller and sweeter than carving pumpkins. Wash, then cut in half or into large strips, and remove the pulp (save the seeds to roast separately!). Place pieces in a jelly roll pan, drizzle with your oil of choice, and roast at 400 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes. When you can poke a fork in easily, it’s done. Let cool, then scoop out the soft pumpkin with a spoon. Pumpkin also freezes well.
How do you roast pumpkin seeds?
The pumpkin seeds, which also contain antioxidants, are just as yummy! Rinse well, spread on a jelly roll pan, drizzle with olive oil, and bake at 325 degrees for about 30 minutes. Top with seasonings of your choice such as garlic powder or cayenne pepper. Or sauté them in a pan on low heat until dry and crispy. Eat whole!
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