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Pumpkin all the rage in fall food, but is it good for you?
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Pumpkin all the rage in fall food, but is it good for you?

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We’ll take pumpkin in any form, from sweet spiced desserts to savory salads, coffee, cocktails, even casseroles. It’s one of our favorite fall foods that we’d gladly eat year-round. Why? Pumpkin is a delicious, affordable and versatile ingredient. It’s also incredibly healthy.

“Pumpkin is bursting with health benefits beyond what you might think,” says Maggie Michalczyk, RDN, author of “Once Upon a Pumpkin.”

It comes in at around 50 calories per cup and packs vitamins E, C and A, as well as potassium and fiber. Pumpkin puree can even double as a butter, oil and egg replacer when modifying recipes for dietary restrictions.

“Simply sub 1/4 cup for one egg in baked goods,” Michalczyk recommends.

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There’ s a good reason to carve out a spot for everyone’ s favorite fall food.

Here’s what else you’ll reap when relishing fall’s most festive superfood.

Antioxidants

Pumpkin packs plenty of antioxidants, including beta carotene (which gives pumpkins their orange hue), alpha carotene and other carotenoids. All of these help to neutralize free radicals in your body, which keeps them from damaging your cells, and may offer strong cancer-fighting properties too.

Immunity

We know that vitamin C helps to strengthen the immune system (it encourages white blood cell production), and since the cold and flu season ramps up in the fall, there’s even more reason to add more pumpkin into your diet. Also, pumpkin’s beta carotene gets converted into vitamin A in the body, and studies have shown that vitamin A helps strengthen your body’s immune system and fight infections.

Eye health

“Vitamin A is very important for eye health and lowering your risk of sight loss,” Michalczyk says.

Pumpkin is also a great source of lutein and zeaxanthin, two carotenoids that are very important for the health of our eyes and may reduce the risk for macular degeneration and cataracts.

Heart health

Pumpkin contains a variety of nutrients that can improve heart health, including fiber, potassium and vitamin C. The antioxidants in pumpkin may also prevent LDL cholesterol (the bad kind) from oxidizing in the body, thus lowering your risk of heart disease.

Glowing skin

Studies have shown that beta carotene acts as a natural sunblock. The antioxidants in pumpkin are also good for skin texture and appearance, which is especially great in the fall when temps start to dip. The vitamin C in pumpkin helps to stimulate collagen production in the skin, too.

Protein

Whatever you do, don’t toss those pumpkin seeds: They’re a good source of protein, iron, magnesium and fiber. “Think outside the box this fall by roasting your pumpkin seeds with turmeric and black pepper or matcha powder and coconut flakes,” Michalczyk says.

Try this recipe for four-bean and pumpkin chili

Chil

A pinch of cinnamon adds bold flavor to this seasonal chili recipe.

Servings: 8

Serving size: About 1 ½ cups

Active time: 45 minutes

Total time: 1 ¼ hours

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 cups chopped onion
  • 1 ½ cups chopped carrot
  • 3 large cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
  • 3 cups diced pumpkin or butternut squash
  • 1 (28-ounce) can no-salt-added crushed tomatoes
  • 4 (15-ounce) cans low-sodium beans, such as black, great northern, pinto and red, rinsed
  • 3 tablespoons chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste

Directions

Diced onion, sliced jalapeños, Cotija cheese and/or pepitas for garnish

Heat oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add onion, and cook, stirring often, until starting to brown, about 5 minutes. Reduce heat to medium, add carrot, and continue cooking, stirring often, until the vegetables are soft, 4 to 5 minutes more. Add garlic, and cook, stirring, for 1 minute.

Stir in broth, scraping up any browned bits, and bring to a boil over high heat. Add pumpkin (or squash), tomatoes, beans, chili powder, cumin, cinnamon, salt and cayenne (if using). Cover, and return to a boil. Reduce heat to maintain a gentle simmer, and cook, uncovered, until the pumpkin (or squash) is tender, about 30 minutes.

Serve garnished with onion, jalapeños, cheese and/or pepitas, if desired.

To make ahead: Refrigerate for up to five days; freeze for up to six months.

Per serving: 276 calories; 3 g fat (0 g sat, 1 g mono); 0 mg cholesterol; 49 g carbohydrate; 0 g added sugars; 10 g total sugars; 14 g protein; 17 g fiber; 509 mg sodium; 1072 mg potassium.

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And here are 75 photos of giant pumpkins

How do you grow a giant pumpkin? "Good seed, good soil, hard work and good luck," says the Utah Giant Pumpkin Growers. Here's a look at some people who did it right.

Real Simple magazine provides smart, realistic solutions to everyday challenges. Online at www.realsimple.com.

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