The Health Benefits of Pumpkin
From your doorstep to your latte, pumpkins are everywhere this time of year. And with all the tricks and treats, it’s easy to forget that pumpkin is in fact a vegetable. The truth is that winter squashes offer amazing health benefits. One cup of beautiful orange pumpkin packs almost an entire day’s worth of vitamin A in the form of beta-carotene, an antioxidant that can help reduce inflammation and lower disease risk. Snack on the seeds, and you’re getting fiber and healthy fats. Here’s how to carve, cook, and savor it this autumn.
How Do You Prepare Pumpkin?
When shopping for pumpkin, there are many varieties, with different types intended for carving and eating. Your average jack ’o lantern is thin and watery, so let him shine as décor. For cooking, baking, and eating, look for “sugar pie” or “pie” pumpkins, which have better flesh and flavor.
When prepping a fresh pumpkin, you need a sharp knife and conviction to slice it in half, scrape out the seeds, trim away the tough peel, and cut into cubes for roasting. If that sounds scary, and you’re planning on mashing anyway, it’s super easy to bake the halves first, and then scrape the tender flesh from the rind. But there’s no shame in picking up a can! You’ll still get great vitamins. Just make sure it’s pure pumpkin, without any added sweeteners.
What Can You Do with Pumpkin?
Yes, there’s pumpkin pie. But pumpkin is surprisingly versatile in both savory and sweet dishes. Try it roasted, tossed with other veggies, blended into soups, simmered in curries, or mixed with pasta. And you know you’re craving golden pancakes and waffles. Here are three fresh ways to try it.
Pumpkin Curry with Chicken & Basil
You can make a Thai-style curry for a quick and comforting meal. In a pot over medium-high heat, whisk together 2 tablespoons red curry paste, 1 can (15 oz/470 g) lite coconut milk, 1 tablespoon fish sauce, and 1 tablespoon packed brown sugar and bring to a simmer. Add 2 cups (8 oz/250 g) cubed pumpkin and cook until the pumpkin is tender when pierced with a fork, about 15 minutes. Add 1 cup (6 oz/185 g) cooked shredded chicken and ½ red bell pepper, thinly sliced, and stir to warm through. Top with fresh basil leaves and serve over steamed brown rice. Makes 4 servings.
Nutrition facts (per serving): 338 calories, 18 g protein, 48 g carbohydrate, 4 g fiber, 6 g total sugars, 3 g added sugars, 10 g total fat, 6 g saturated fat, 721 mg sodium
Pumpkin Pasta with Bacon & Sage
Toss roasted pumpkin with pasta and lots of crispy bits. Preheat the oven to 450°F (230°C). Place 4 cups (16 oz/500 g) cubed pumpkin on a baking sheet, drizzle with 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and toss to coat. Roast until tender and golden, about 25 minutes. Cook ½ lb (250 g) whole-wheat pasta shells according to package instructions. In a frying pan over medium-high heat, warm 1 tablespoon olive oil. Brown 4 slices turkey bacon, chopped. Add a handful of fresh sage leaves and sizzle until fragrant, 1 minute. In a large bowl, combine the pasta, pumpkin, bacon, and sage, season with salt and pepper, and toss to combine. Sprinkle with ½ cup (2 oz/60 g) shaved parmesan cheese. Makes 4 servings.
Nutrition facts (per serving): 386 calories, 17 g protein, 52 g carbohydrate, 7 g fiber, 4 g total sugars, 0 g added sugars, 15 g total fat, 5 g saturated fat, 341 mg sodium
Pumpkin Bread or Muffins
Amp up the spices and add dried cranberries or dark chocolate chips, if you like! Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Oil a loaf pan or muffin pan. In a bowl, whisk ½ cup (4 fl oz/125 ml) canola oil, ¾ cup (5 oz/155 g) packed brown sugar, 2 large eggs, 1 cup (8 oz/250 g) pumpkin puree, and 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract. In a separate bowl, whisk 1½ cups (7½ oz/235 g) whole-wheat pastry flour, 1 teaspoon baking soda, 1 teaspoon baking powder, 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, and ½ teaspoon salt. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and stir just until combined. Scrape the batter into the pan and bake until a toothpick comes out with a few crumbs attached, about 50 minutes for bread or 20 minutes for muffins. Makes 12 servings.
Nutrition facts (per serving): 209 calories, 3 g protein, 27 g carbohydrate, 3 g fiber, 14 g total sugars, 13 g added sugars, 10 g total fat, 1 g saturated fat, 290 mg sodium
More Pumpkin Recipes and Ideas
Hungry for more? There are so many autumn recipes to enjoy. Try adding pumpkin to your morning meal, or substituting it for butternut squash in a savory soup or salad.
This article is not intended to substitute for informed medical advice. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.