Pumpkin Health Benefits & Recipes

Cooking With a Seasonal Fall Staple

Autumn is the season of all things pumpkin, from pumpkin spiced coffee to jack-o-lanterns filling doorsteps and windows.

Pumpkin Health Benefits & Seasonal Pumpkin Recipes

Naturally sweet and low in calorie density, pumpkins are a healthy and nutritious vegetable to add to your well-rounded healthy eating plan. Learn more about the health benefits of pumpkins and get new pumpkin recipes.

But did you know that there are also a number of health benefits to eating pumpkin? This season, don't just use the bright orange, lush and round derivative of the squash family merely for decorative purposes, consider these delicious recipes and health benefits instead. 

The health benefits of pumpkins are packed into very few calories.

The health benefits of pumpkins are packed into very few calories. Pumpkins are a great source of vitamins A and D, and only have about 25 calories per cup.

Health Benefits of Pumpkin

This festive gourd offers much more than just its appearance. Similar to all other member of the squash family, the pumpkin is filled with a number of nutritious health benefits, according to Pritikin's Chef Anthony Stewart.

"All yellow fruits and vegetables contain the sunshine vitamin, making them a great source of vitamins A and D," Chef Anthony said. "They're a good source of potassium and minerals as well, because these plants grows on the ground allowing them to absorb minerals from the earth."

In fact, each part of the pumpkin from its golden-yellow flesh to its seeds has nutritional value. Pumpkin seeds – which can easily be roasted in the oven for snacking – are filled with protein, vitamins and minerals and are a great source of omega-3 fatty acids. The soft, naturally sweet inner flesh of the pumpkin is rich in vitamins and minerals as well. It also boasts antioxidants and dietary fiber, without containing any cholesterol or saturated fats, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.

Pumpkin is also low in calorie density, at just about 25 calories per half cup, making it an excellent choice for those following the Pritikin Diet and Eating Plan.

History of Pumpkin

While your personal history of pumpkin likely dates back to your grandmother's dining room table during Thanksgiving dinner, the roots of this plant go back more than 7,500 years to where they were believed to have originated in Central America, according to The History Kitchen of PBS. The oldest pumpkin seeds were found by archeologists in the Oaxaca Highlands of Mexico.

The Best Pumpkins for Cooking

The best pumpkins for cooking will be anywhere between three and six pounds, with their stem intact. While the larger, tougher pumpkins are great for Halloween carving, the smaller, softer ones will be best for cooking.

In North America, the pumpkin was one of the original crops grown specifically for eating. This was largely because of their long shelf life, which was due to the thick outer flesh that could last through bitterly cold winters. One of the very first recipes using pumpkin was written down around 1670. Similar to what would become the common dish of mashed potatoes, the pumpkin was diced and boiled down during the day. The popular pumpkin pie, however, didn't come about until the early 1800s.

How to Buy Pumpkin

Perhaps you've never cooked with this seasonal staple before, saving your trip to the pumpkin patch for the once-a-year Halloween celebrations. However, it's time to add pumpkin to your healthy eating plan on a regular basis.

"This is a vegetable that people can find readily, readily available," explained Chef Anthony. "People see pumpkin every day but pass over it, only using it for Halloween."

This bright and festive gourd is actually in season beginning in September and lasting through November, enjoying its peak in October. While the larger, tougher pumpkins are great for Halloween carving, the smaller, softer ones will be best for cooking. These pumpkins contain less moisture and are much denser and fleshier, according to U.S News & World Report. They can be found at farmers stands and farmers markets, as well as grocery stores.

Pumpkins best for cooking will be anywhere between three and six pounds, with their stem intact. However, be sure not to carry the gourd by its stem. The pumpkin should be uniform in color without any green spots. It's also important to check for any soft spots on the outside, which could indicate mold.

How to Cook Pumpkin

Once you've picked out the perfect pumpkin, it's time to get cooking. Contrary to popular belief, the pumpkin is good for much more than just the traditional confectionery pie. In fact, there are numerous creative and nutritious recipes that are low in calorie density and easy to prepare. First, there are a few basics to prepping the pumpkin for cooking, as explained by the Farmer's Almanac:

  1. Use a vegetable brush to wash the outside of your pumpkin.
  2. Cut the gourd in half and scrape out the fibers and seeds with a spoon.
  3. Save, rinse and dry seeds if planning to use them later.
  4. Cut pumpkin halves into smaller chunks.
  5. Place them skin side up in a shallow baking dish.
  6. Add a little bit of water just to coat the bottom of baking dish.
  7. Cover tightly.
  8. Bake in the oven at 325 degrees, until pumpkin is tender with a touch of the fork.
  9. Cook time will vary depending on size and thickness of pumpkin.
  10. Allow pieces to cool and then cut off peel or scoop out flesh.

Now you have cooked pumpkin to use with any of your favorite recipes!

How to Eat Pumpkin: Recipes

By following the Pritikin Diet and Eating Plan's recommendation to eat at least five servings of vegetables per day, you'll naturally consume fewer calories and even shed excess weight. Pumpkin is one of those vegetables that can help you do this! It's flavorful and versatile, whether enjoyed as vegetable wedges for a side dish or as a banana ginger pumpkin parfait. Pumpkin even makes for a mouth-watering, naturally sweet dessert, according to Chef Anthony.

Pumpkin Mashed Potatoes

"Healthy" does not have to mean "blah!" Pumpkin Recipe

Pumpkin Pie Recipe

Leave out the sugar and fat. Leave in scrumptious flavor. Pumpkin Pie Recipe

"The pumpkin is so naturally palatable that you can roast it to get it even sweeter," he said. "Then, toss it with nutmeg, vanilla and cinnamon. Mix it with some fat free cream in a food processor and freeze it for pumpkin ice cream!"

By incorporating pumpkin as one of the many whole, natural and unprocessed foods to your healthy eating plan, you gain the the health benefits of this naturally sweet squash as well as the nutrition of a balanced diet. By consuming fruits, vegetables, whole-grains, legumes, lean sources of protein and lean calcium-rich foods each day, along with doing your best to avoid oil, salt, refined sugars and grains, you'll be well on your way to a happier and healthier lifestyle.

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