Pumpkins: A nutrition powerhouse

Pumpkins are here! I am most likely in the minority as I have never cared for pumpkin pie, but I do love a nice warm pumpkin muffin on a cool fall morning or a creamy pumpkin smoothie. Pumpkins are a nutritional powerhouse and are high in carotenoids, lutein, and zeaxanthin, all of which are antioxidants that can neutralize free radicals. This fruit, yes it is technically a fruit, is also a very good source of beta carotene/vitamin A, vitamin C, riboflavin, potassium, copper, manganese, dietary fiber, vitamin E, thiamin, niacin, vitamin B6, folate, iron, magnesium, and phosphorus. One cup of mashed pumpkin has just 50 calories, zero fat, 12g of carbohydrates, 3 grams of fiber, and 2 grams of protein. Wow!

Eating pumpkin pie is probably not the best way to include more pumpkin in your diet since it is traditionally made by combing pumpkin with heavy cream and whole eggs. When cooked in a “standard” pie crust, a slice gets ~50% of calories from fat. Healthier ways to add pumpkin into your diet are easy to do by utilizing canned pumpkin and it is actually one of the only canned foods that has no added salt or sugar. If you have the time to cook a whole pumpkin simply peel off the outer skin, cut it into pieces and boil. The seeds can be scooped out and roasted in the oven with a bit of oil for 30 minutes or even eaten raw.

Some easy ways to eat more pumpkin include: adding canned pumpkin to ready-to-eat butternut squash soup, stirring canned pumpkin into oatmeal, spreading pumpkin butter on bread and muffins, and snacking on pumpkin seeds. Pumpkin seeds, also called pepitas, are high in copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, and zinc. Pumpkin seeds are also high in phytosterols which are thought to strengthen the immune system. The seeds can be added to salads, hot or cold cereals, cookies, even homemade veggie burgers.

Pumpkin also makes a great, creamy smoothie and nutritious breakfast or post-workout recovery shake. There are endless variations on this smoothie recipe so have fun experimenting with other ingredients like yogurt, frozen bananas, etc. Pair this shake with some whole grain toast with peanut butter and you have a perfectly balanced breakfast/recovery meal chock full of vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, fiber, and protein.

Pumpkin Recovery Smoothie
6 ice cubes
1 cup light vanilla Silk soymilk (or rice, hemp, almond, cow)
1/3 cup canned pumpkin
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice (or substitute nutmeg and cinnamon)
½-1 Tbsp honey (or substitute stevia or splenda)
¼ tsp vanilla extract
1 scoop vanilla soy protein (or whey, rice)

Blend all ingredients in a blender until smooth. Makes 1 serving.
Nutrition analysis:
236 calories, 3 g fat, 24 g CHO, 3 g fiber, 30 g protein

The versatility of this fruit makes it a great addition to your diet, adding powerful antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and fiber without a lot of calories.