How many of us are secretly (or not so secretly) relieved when Halloween comes to an end? Despite the hours spent excitedly planning the perfect costume and dreaming of chocolatey trifles and chewy fruity sweets, I am more than ready to stow the spooky decorations and toss the wrapper once those sugar highs really begin to take their toll. And the 50% off jumbo bags of candy corn sitting on grocery store shelves? No thank you! By early/mid-November, I am ready to indulge in holiday traditions with a little more….. substance.
As a food-loving nutrition enthusiast, I appreciate the weeks surrounding Thanksgiving as a time with more opportunity for creative (and delicious!) nutrition. After a brief session of wracking my brain for which item to showcase in this blog, I somewhat reluctantly settled on the least original but most fitting item: pumpkin.
Pumpkin, pumpkin, pumpkin spice everything! If we’re being honest, many Americans adopt this craze at the first sign of an Autumn breeze, but for me it really sets in during that transition from spooky to festive, from “witches brew” to cider. Many of the drinks and deserts usually imbibed to satisfy this craving are laden with sugar and other questionable ingredients, but when you look at the base- the actual PUMPKIN- you’ll discover a nutrient dense vegetable packed with fiber, vitamins and minerals.
The most emphasized vitamin found in pumpkin is vitamin A, present as its highly bioavailable precursor beta-carotene. Not only does beta-carotene provide the lustrous color characteristic of pumpkin, but once converted to Vitamin A in the body it has several functional roles, including vision optimization and normal growth and development*. Vitamin A is even crucial for proper immune function! One ½ cup serving of pumpkin provides 2-3x the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of vitamin A.
Micronutrients are fun and all, but let’s switch gears and talk about macros. As far as protein goes, pumpkin is not the place to look, but hey- that’s what the turkey is for. Did I also mention that pumpkin has almost no fat? Let’s instead talk about one of my favorite nutrition topics: fiber. The same half cup of pumpkin that is packing vitamin and minerals also provides 3 grams of fiber! That more than 10% of what is recommended for a day. Most fiber in pumpkin is soluble fiber, which absorbs water to form a gel and has health benefits including regulation of blood cholesterol and blood sugar*. Soluble fiber is also amazing for your gut*! It bypasses normal digestion and provides a food source for the beneficial bacteria residing in your colon, allowing them to thrive and compete with pathogenic bacteria for “living space”.
In addition, the high fiber content makes pumpkin filling, which may help prevent you from overeating and support body weight maintenance this holiday season*. Be warned however, not all pumpkin products are created equal! When you are grocery shopping in the canned food aisle, be sure that 100% pure pumpkin that makes it in your basket, not pumpkin pie mix. They may look virtually identical, but the pie mix has a fraction of the fiber and a whopping 23 GRAMS of added sugar per ½ cup serving.
So, you have your pure, no-sugar-added pumpkin…. What now? Maybe you have the stomach to grab a spoon and eat it out of the can. If so, kudos to you! For the rest of us, the options are endless! Pumpkin pie? Duh. Pumpkin smoothie? If it is an unseasonable warm November, right on! If not, it might be time to try your hand at making pumpkin soup. HEAVENLY. And, of course, there is a whole world of options in the baking department. Dump cake, Cookies, Bread, muffins. Pick your poison, and don’t be afraid to ramp up the nutrient content by pairing with other superfoods! Try adding nuts, bananas, apples, cocoa powder, and berries to your favorite pumpkin recipes. Below is a recipe I will DEFINITELY be using on Thanksgiving Day for some pre-dinner indulgence. - Danielle Ashley
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, cure, treat, or prevent any disease.
Anhe FF, et al. A polyphenol-rich cranberry extract protects from diet-induced obesity, insulin resistance and intestinal inflammation in association with increased Akkermansia spp. population in the gut microbiota of mice. Gut. 2015. 64(6): 872-883.
Jensen NC, et al. Facts About Vitamin A. IFAS. 2013.
Mayo Clinic. Dietary Fiber: Essential for a healthy diet. Nutrition and healthy eating. 2015. Available Online: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/fiber/art-20043983
Nantz PM, et al. Consumption of cranberry polyphenols enhances human γδ-T cell proliferation and reduces the number of symptoms associated with colds and influenza: a randomized, placebo-controlled intervention study. Nutr. J. 2013. 12:161.
Novotny JA, et al. Cranberry Juice Consumption Lowers Markers of Cardiometabolic Risk, Including Blood Pressure and Circulating C-Reactive Protein, Triglyceride, and Glucose Concentrations in Adults. J. Nutr. 2015. 145(6):1185-1193.