Incorporating pumpkin into your diet this season

Try adding pumpkin into your recipes this fall, for festive and nutritious meals.

Fall is right around the corner, which means being regularly tempted by foods such as pumpkin pie, caramel apples and pumpkin spice lattes, but did you know there is a way to embrace the fall flavors without all the extra calories, saturated fat and added sugar?

Pumpkin can be used in a variety of ways to provide delicious flavors as well as wonderful health benefits. According to the USDA National Nutrient Database, one cup of pumpkin, cooked, boiled and drained, with no salt added, is low in calories, saturated fat and sugar. This low fat food is also nutrient dense, which means it contains a high amount of nutrients with a low amount of calories.

For adults over 18 years old, 1 cup of pumpkin provides over 100 percent of the recommended amount of vitamin A you should consume each day. According to the National Institute of Health, “vitamin A is involved in immune function, vision, reproduction and cellular communication.” One cup of pumpkin also provides over 10 percent of the daily value of vitamin C and E, which are antioxidants. Evidence suggests that antioxidants counteract the processes in the body that cause oxidative stress, therefore consuming high amounts may “help prevent or delay the development of certain cancers, cardiovascular disease and other diseases in which oxidative stress plays a causal role” according to the National Institute of Health. Both vitamin C and E can help improve immune function.

Additionally, 1 cup of pumpkin provides over 10 percent of the daily value of riboflavin, potassium and iron and over 5 percent of the daily value of thiamin, B6, folate and niacin.

Pumpkin can be used as a low calorie alternative in baking recipes. It is a great option since it is low in saturated fat and high in fiber and nutrients. According to the 2015 article “How to Bake with Canned Pumpkin Instead of Eggs & Oil” by Krista Sheehan, simply substitute ¼ cup of pumpkin for each egg and an equal amount of pumpkin for oil.

Pumpkin seeds are also healthy and delicious. According to the USDA National Nutrient Database, 1 oz of pumpkin seeds provides 5.26 g of protein, 5.5 g of fat, 15.24 g of carbohydrates, 126 kcals and 5.2 g of fiber. The fat in pumpkin seeds is mostly healthy fats, with 4 g being from unsaturated fats and only 1 g from saturated fats.

Incorporating pumpkin into every day foods can increase the nutrient content and add a new flavor to snacks. Try this Pumpkin Pudding below for a healthy, festive snack from the USDA Mixing Bowl.

Pumpkin Pudding

Start to finish: 5 minutes

Servings: 6

  • 1 can pumpkin
  • 2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice (or 1 teaspoon cinnamon, ½ teaspoon ginger, ¼ teaspoon nutmeg and ¼ teaspoon cloves)
  • 1/8 teaspoon table salt
  • 1 ½ cups milk (1% low-fat)
  • 1 vanilla pudding (instant, 3.5 oz (small box))

Remember to start by washing your hands. In a large bowl mix pumpkin, salt and pumpkin spice together. Slowly stir in milk and mix well. Add instant pudding mix and stir for 2 minutes until it thickens. Refrigerate until serving time.

(Source: Oregon State University Cooperative Extension Service, Healthy Recipes)

For a quick and delicious snack, great for on the go, try this Roasted Pumpkin Seed Snack Mix from the USDA Mixing Bowl.

Roasted Pumpkin Seed Snack Mix

Start to finish:  5 minutes

Servings: 8

  • 2 cups crispy rice or wheat cereal squares
  • ½ cup roasted whole pumpkin seeds
  • 1/3 cup slivered almonds
  • ½ cup dried cranberries
  • ½ cup  raisins

Mix all ingredients together and serve.

(Source: Regional Mental Health Center. Regional Mental Health Center Cookbook.)

For more ideas on healthy food choices, visit the Michigan State University Extension Food and Health webpage for healthy eating tips and programs to become involved in.

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