by Leannah Seese
With fall in full swing, pumpkins, gourds and squashes are everywhere, from decorations to pumpkin spice lattes. It is time to harvest these from the garden, and the biggest and best pumpkins get plucked for jack-o-lanterns. While the sugary pumpkin-flavored drinks are tasty, they aren’t the healthiest; however, pumpkins (and squash), are quite nutritious, have significant health benefits, and can be prepared in endless ways that are delicious.
What’s in pumpkin?
One cup of raw pumpkin has only 30 calories and .1 g of fat, and it has 198 percent of the daily recommended amount of vitamin A as well as other necessary vitamins such as potassium (11 percent), vitamin C (17 percent) and small amounts of calcium, magnesium, iron and vitamin B-6—so, save the guts of the jack-o-lanterns to use in recipes! Canned pumpkin (but not pumpkin pie filling) is sufficient to use if raw pumpkin isn’t of interest. Look for canned pumpkin without any added sugar, salt or preservatives. Depending on how pumpkin is used and prepared, the nutritional information may change slightly.
Pumpkin seeds are also a great option for a healthy snack. One cup of unsalted, roasted pumpkin seeds contains 285 calories, 12 g of fat, 12 g of dietary fiber (that’s 49 percent of the recommended daily value!), 44 percent of the daily value of zinc, 42 percent of the daily value of magnesium, and 75 percent of the daily value of tryptophan. Tryptophan is a necessary is a precursor to neurotransmitters, serotonin and melatonin.
The above nutritional information translates into a few significant health benefits:
- Boost vision, thanks to the high dose of vitamin A
- Lower blood pressure with the phytoestrogens found in pumpkin seeds.
- Sleep better and stay happier from the tryptophan found in seeds.
- Stay full and protect your heart with high-fiber levels.
Satisfying a Pumpkin Palate
To roast pumpkin seeds at home, take pumpkin seeds, leaving some of the membrane on the seeds for flavor, and coat with grapeseed or sesame seed oil. Place them on cookie sheet and sprinkle with salt. For a sweeter option, use coconut oil and sprinkle all or a combination of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and allspice on the seeds. Bake at 350 F for roughly 30 minutes or until they begin to brown; let cool, and enjoy! Squash seeds work, as well.
Instead of a sought-after pumpkin spiced latté in the morning, incorporate pumpkin into a healthier breakfast option: pumpkin pancakes or waffles! Simply add puréed pumpkin to the batter along with a combination of cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and cloves. Make sure when using canned pumpkin that it isn’t pumpkin pie filling. For every two cups of batter, add 1/3 – 1/2 of a cup of pumpkin, and about 1/4 teaspoon of each of the four spices, less or more to taste.
Soups are a great way add a variety of nutrients from different vegetables to a diet, many of which come from the garden. Try the Pumpkin Vegetable Soup recipe (on the next page) that uses pumpkin as the base, and exchange vegetables to your liking!
Pumpkin Vegetable Soup
makes 4 servings
2 cups puréed raw pumpkin (or a 15 ounce can)
2 cups vegetable broth
2 cloves minced garlic
3/4 cup onion
1/2 cup chopped tomatoes
1/2 cup chopped carrots
1/2 cup peas
Salt, pepper, chili powder, and cumin to taste
Scallion, for garnish
If using fresh pumpkin, remove the membrane and seeds. Scoop 2 cups of the pumpkin meat and dice into cubes. Boil in water until soft, then place in a blender. Add up to 1/4 cup of vegetable broth and blend. If using canned pumpkin, combine the 15-ounce can with 1/4 cup of vegetable broth in a pan and warm until combined.
In a large soup pan, add the remaining 1 3/4 cups of broth. Add onion, garlic, vegetables and seasoning. Other vegetable options include green beans, black beans, peas, broccoli, cauliflower, and beyond!
Simmer on low-medium until vegetables are cooked and onions are translucent. Garnish with fresh scallion, and enjoy!
This soup is easy to freeze for later enjoyment, or stores in an airtight container up to a week.