We have entered the season of orange spice.
Pumpkins line store aisles and cinnamon scent drifts into our noses. The holiday season is in the air with its enticement to eat, celebrate and spend money. There is also good nutrition to be found in the orange foods of the season.
Pumpkin latte might not be a nutritional bonanza but using pumpkin in sides, smoothies, dips and even pies offers important nutrients. Pumpkin, like other fruits, has no cholesterol nor saturated fat.
The biggest nutrition clue is the color. Orange fruits are usually high in beta carotene, which the body converts to vitamin A and which is important for your vision, immune system and reproductive health. Pumpkins also contain alpha carotene and beta cryptoxanthin.
These three antioxidants work to neutralize free radicals that damage cells. Damaged cells contribute to cancer and heart disease.
Pumpkins are a good source of vitamin C, potassium and manganese. Pumpkin is also a good source of lutein and zeaxanthin. These two phytonutrients reduce risk for cataracts and age-related macular degeneration. Canned 100% pumpkin is a convenient ingredient if you are not in the mood to carve.
Anyone who has carved a pumpkin is well aware of pumpkin seeds. Also known as pepitas, pumpkin seeds pack a lot of goodness in a small package. One ounce of whole roasted pumpkin seeds has about 126 calories and 5 grams of protein. They are a good source of iron, copper, magnesium, manganese and vitamin K.
One ounce of roasted seeds provides 20% of daily zinc, a tasty way to boost immune function. Some studies have suggested that pumpkin seeds may help relieve symptoms of benign prostatic hyperplasia, or enlargement of the prostate gland. They even contain tryptophan, the amino acid that helps with sleep.
Pumpkin seeds are a nutrient-dense snack or add-on for other dishes. Toss some in oatmeal or a smoothie or your next loaf of pumpkin bread.
Eating orange foods year round is a tasty way to boost health.
Sheah Rarback MS, RDN is a registered dietitian in private practice in Miami.