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Pumpkin for health and holidays

By Patte Smith; courtesy photo

PumpkinSoupSeeds

Autumn is here, and families, friends and neighbors are starting to plan for an outing to a pumpkin patch, a scrumptious Thanksgiving dinner, and happy holiday fun when December arrives. What do these events have in common? Pumpkin. Whether harvesting seeds to roast from a pumpkin, baking a pumpkin pie or sipping on a pumpkin spice latte, no one is thinking, “oh this is good for me.”

Tasty as it is in breads, pies and soups, pumpkin is also very nutritious and a good source of fiber, iron, potassium, vitamin E, iron and folate. More importantly, it is high in beta-carotene that is converted into vitamin A in the body. Vitamin A is essential for eye health. It also contains lutein and zeaxanthin, two antioxidants that are thought to help prevent cataracts and may even slow the development of macular degeneration.

“Most of us think of pumpkin as a flavoring for our coffee or pumpkin pie, where, in reality, pumpkin is a great source of vitamins and nutrients,” says Anya Guy, a Mayo Clinic dietitian.

Full of protein, unsaturated fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals, pumpkin can reduce risk factors of some chronic diseases, including cancer. It is strong for the immune system and for healthy skin and mucous membranes.

Pumpkin is a good choice to use in recipes. Rich in fiber, it slows digestion, making a person feel full longer. One cup of cubed pumpkin provides 30 calories and less than 1 gram of fat.

Pumpkin is a versatile, healthy substitute in recipes. It can be used as a replacement for butter or oil in baking recipes, and it can be cubed into soups or stews or pureed to put in pancake mixtures. Try putting pureed pumpkin in Greek yogurt.

From breads to desserts, pureed into a smoothie or creamed for a marinara sauce for pizza, this healthy squash kills two birds with a stone, so to speak when eating – health benefits with yummy fare.

Use the smaller and rounder pumpkins for cooking and baking, such as Early Sweet Sugar Pie pumpkins. If using pumpkin from a can, make sure it is 100% pumpkin or pumpkin puree without added sugar.

When carving the Halloween jack-o’-lantern, keep the seeds for a very healthy snack. Roast them and add spices. Even though seeds are nutritious, they are high in fat content, so a handful is a serving.

Pumpkin squash is one of the healthiest winter vegetables. Enjoy carving, roasting, and baking a few delicious and nutritious treats.

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