It's that time of the year again – when the aroma of fresh pumpkin spice latte mingles with the crisp, clear autumn air (and jack-o-lanterns begin to pop up on most front stoops).
Pumpkins have been an integral part of the fall festivities for centuries. Turns out, the giant fruit (yes, it's a fruit!) is as good for our health as it tastes.
First off, why is pumpkin good for your health?
Unlike many other fruits, every part of pumpkin is edible, including its skin and seeds. The fall-favorite fruit is "a superfood powerhouse capable of inhibiting premature aging and preventing a wide variety of diseases," says Dr. Charles Passler, NYC-based nutritionist and founder of Pure Change.
Let's take a closer look at its nutritional highlights:
- Potassium: A single cup of pumpkin meat contains 394 mg of this micronutrient which is best known for its positive effects on blood pressure and cardiovascular health, explains Dr. Passler.
- Vitamin C: Pumpkin is also a good source of Vitamin C. This nutrient is crucial for strengthening your immune system. It also facilitates iron absorption and tissue repair.
- Fiber: "One cup of fresh pumpkin contains 2.7 grams fiber while canned pumpkin has 7.1 grams of it," Dr. Passler points out. Dietary fiber improves digestion and promotes gut health.
- Beta Carotene: All orange fruits and vegetables are rich in beta-carotene. This chemical compound has been connected to a lower risk of certain cancers, says the nutrition expert whose clientele includes Bella Hadid and Adrian Lima.
- Magnesium: A quarter cup of pumpkin seeds provides you with almost half the recommended daily amount of this heart-healthy, stress-busting mineral, says Dr. Passler.
- Zinc: As little as one ounce of pumpkin seeds provides you with a whopping 2mg of this mineral that's essential for immune function, skin health, sleep, mood and much more.
- Omega 3s: Pumpkin seeds are an excellent plant-based source of these healthy oils that boost cognitive function and lower the risk of Alzheimer's, depression and heart disease.
- Phytoestrogens: According to Dr. Passler, both pumpkin seeds and pumpkin seed oil may help alleviate hot flashes and other symptoms related to perimenopause.
- Tryptophan: "These seeds are rich in tryptophan - an amino acid which is converted into serotonin (the 'bliss neurotransmitter') and melatonin (the 'sleep hormone') by your body," tells the nutritionist.
Now, what are some of the healthiest ways to eat pumpkin?
Pumpkin is a very versatile food. Besides using it to make delectable pies and creamy lattes, you can add steamed chunks to a variety of recipes like parfait, stew, soups, salads and smoothies.
Here are a couple of healthy pumpkin recipes recommended by Dr. Passler:
1) Pumpkin Smoothie
- One cup of steamed fresh organic pumpkin
- One cup of unsweetened coconut water
- 2 heaping tablespoons of organic almond butter
- ¼ teaspoon of organic cinnamon
- Several ice cubes
- Maple syrup to taste
Method: Put all the ingredients in a blender jar and blend on high speed.
2) Steamed Pumpkin
- One cup of steamed fresh organic pumpkin
- One-quarter stick of grass-fed organic butter
- One tablespoon dried tarragon
- Salt (to taste)
Method: Cut pumpkin into 1/2 inch square chunks. Steam thoroughly. Next, pour the tarragon and melted butter mixture over top. Add salt to taste and serve.
3) Toasted Pumpkin Seeds
Method: Remove the inside of a pumpkin and separate the seeds from the excess matter. Take two cups of the seeds and place them on a lightly oiled baking sheet. Spread them out so they are not laying on top of each other.
Next, lightly sprinkle coarse salt over them. Preheat your oven to 175 degrees and place them on the middle rack. Cook for 20 minutes. Cool to room temperature and enjoy!
Alternatively, you can sauté a few slices in olive oil or your favorite sauce, says Dr. Passler. He also suggests eating grilled pumpkin as a side dish. What's more, you can mix fresh pumpkin puree to hummus or throw in toasted pumpkin seeds in muesli, granola and yogurt. The options are aplenty! You might also want to try these recipes for flourless pumpkin muffins and pumpkin chocolate chip oatmeal cookies (who says healthy eating is bland and boring?).
However, as with all things healthy, moderation is the key.
When it comes to pumpkin meat, "one to two cups a day is enough to get a good dose of nutritional benefits", says Dr Passler. With the seeds, "I only recommend one to two handfuls daily. Consuming too many pumpkin seeds can lead to bloating and intestinal upset," adds the wellness expert.
Oh, and before I forget, Happy National Pumpkin Day!