Feast or Fit? Why Not Both?
It’s finally pumpkin season, and the reasons to celebrate are many. Not only is fall’s signature squash versatile, it also packs some healthy perks — like keeping heart health, vision and waistlines in check, as long as you take it easy on the pie, that is.
Both the flesh and seeds of the pumpkin are rich in antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. Pumpkin is low in fat and calories and rich in disease-fighting nutrients such as:
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin E
- Pantothenic acid
The alpha-carotene and beta-carotene are potent antioxidants found in pumpkin and are pro-vitamin A carotenoids, meaning the body converts them to vitamin A. Vitamin A promotes healthy vision and ensures proper immune function. In fact, one cup of cooked, mashed pumpkin contains more than 200 percent of your recommended daily intake of vitamin A! The beta-carotene in pumpkin may also reverse skin damage caused by the sun and act as an anti-inflammatory. Alpha-carotene is thought to slow the aging process and also reduce the risk of developing cataracts and prevent tumor growth. Carotenoids also boost immunity and lessen the risk of heart disease. And with fiber to help you feel fuller longer, pumpkin is the overlooked super hero of the fall season.
While you won’t lose any of the health benefits by using canned instead of fresh pumpkin, the real treasure you’ll be missing out on is the seeds. One ounce of pumpkin seeds (about 140 seeds) is packed with protein, magnesium, potassium, and zinc. Studies suggest pumpkin seeds provide a number of health benefits— such as blocking the enlargement of the prostate gland, lowering the risk of bladder stones, and helping to prevent depression. So next time the kids brings home a pumpkin from their school trip to the pumpkin patch, try roasting up some seeds in addition to using the fleshy, orange goodness.
Not for pies only, pie pumpkins are excellent roasted in savory bisques, curries, risottos and raviolis. Smaller, sweeter, and less grainy than their larger cousins, these little darlings are only 6-8 inches in diameter but yield about 4 1/2 cups of mashed, cooked pumpkin—about the same amount as two cans. It freezes beautifully, so it pays to put up a pureed batch to make a quick and healthy dinner this winter!
How To Roast Your Pumpkin
Wash the exterior and cut it in half vertically, scooping out the insides. (Don’t forget to save the seeds for a high protein snack!) Lightly oil it on all sides with olive oil and bake on a cookie sheet at 400 for about an hour, or until a sharp knife easily pierces the flesh. When the pumpkin is cool enough to handle, discard the skin, and puree the flesh with a food processor. To avoid a watery puree, let it rest for about a half hour and then pour off any water that settles on top
How to Roast Your Pumpkin Seeds
- 2 cups pumpkin seeds
- 2 teaspoons canola oil
- Salt to taste
- Optional seasonings to taste
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Tip: Remove pulp by rinsing the seeds through a strainer. Also, make sure the seeds are completely dry before roasting.
In a large bowl, toss pumpkin seeds with canola oil and salt. (At this stage, also add any additional seasonings to the mix.)
Spread pumpkin seeds evenly onto a baking sheet in one layer.
Bake for about 20 minutes, until the seeds are crisp, stirring every few minutes.
Remove from the oven and, if desired, re-season to taste.
Liven up this basic recipe by tossing the seeds with additional herbs and seasonings. Use about one tablespoon of seasoning for every two cups of roasted pumpkin seeds, but you can adjust to taste. For a twist, try adding these seasonings to the basic recipe:
- Barbecue seasonings
- Curry spices
- Cinnamon, ginger, and sugar
- Garlic powder and cayenne pepper
- Parmesan cheese
- Brown sugar, chili powder, and nutmeg
Other delicious, healthy pumpkin recipes: