The sun is setting lower on the horizon, kids are back in school, and grocery store shelves are packed with pumpkin spice this and pumpkin spice that. It is officially pumpkin season! Along with other iconic fall foods like beets, cabbage, pears, and cranberries, pumpkin lures us in when the evenings get crisp.
Pumpkin, one of the most popular winter squash varieties, is packed with nutrients and is naturally low in calories. The rumors are true—pumpkin is a superfood. While many Americans limit their pumpkin consumption to pies and breads, pumpkin is versatile and is at home in a wide range of savory and healthy pumpkin recipes.
Is pumpkin fattening? No, it is a low-calorie food that is also low in saturated fat and very low in cholesterol and sodium. Eating pumpkin is a terrific way to get your dietary fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, riboflavin, potassium, copper, and manganese needs met. Few foods score this well, and when you are looking to boost your immune system before heading into winter, adding healthy pumpkin recipes to your week is a great way to go.
Pumpkin Health Benefits
Pumpkin is a known antioxidant, and clinical research points to pumpkin also having antibacterial properties. Carotenoids in pumpkin are believed to protect against diseases including certain cancers and eye disease. Carotenoids, which include beta-carotene, lutein, lycopene and others, is what gives healthy fall foods a boost of bright colors and an abundance of nutritional benefits.
If you are wondering how this delicious and healthy fall food traditionally known for sweet preparations plays in the savory food world, here are some ideas to get your mouth watering and you licking your lips:
And check out our yummy Pumpkin Pie Protein Smoothie recipe below!
Pumpkin Seeds and Pepitas
Let’s not forget about the other nutrient-dense opportunity living inside a pumpkin—the seeds. Pumpkin seeds, or pepitas, are tasty when roasted, but like pumpkin, nutritionally pumpkin seed benefits the body. They are high in protein, healthy fats, vitamin K, and essential minerals including iron, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, and manganese.
If you purchase pumpkins, either to eat or to carve, you’ll notice that the seeds inside are white and rather flat. Most of us rinse them off, toss with some salt, and roast them in the oven until they are golden brown and delicious. But, if you’ve ever shopped for them already processed, you’ve likely come across small green seeds called pepitas that have had their white shell stripped.
Pumpkin Seed Health Benefits
Are pumpkin seeds fattening? Like many other seeds and nuts, pumpkin seeds are high in both fat and protein. And, if you eat too many, they may cause weight gain. However, eaten in moderation, pumpkin seeds benefit the body as pumpkin seeds are antioxidant rich and may even help prevent breast cancer according to German researchers.
After a workout, a handful of these protein-rich and mineral-packed pumpkin season treats can give you a boost of energy. But, you can also incorporate them into some of your favorite dishes in place of other seeds or nuts. Raw or toasted, pumpkin season’s plethora of pepitas can be ground into a paste to replace the tahini in hummus or the nuts in a rich mole sauce.
Of course, you can simply sprinkle pumpkin seeds or pepitas on top of yogurt or salads or include this pumpkin season’s bounty in your homemade trail mix, but with their size and crunch, pumpkin seeds can easily replace the much more expensive pine nuts in Italian recipes.
Other pumpkin seed recipe ideas include:
- Black Bean Poblano Soup with Pepitas
- Cherry Quinoa & Pepitas Protein Bars
- Oatmeal with Cashews, Turmeric and Pumpkin Seeds
- Cauliflower “Couscous” with Pumpkin Seeds
- Pumpkin Seed Pesto
Prepare for Next Pumpkin Season—Grow Your Own Pumpkin
Once you’ve fallen in love with healthy pumpkin recipes, next spring, grow your own pumpkin. Pumpkins grow well (and are often prolific) in most areas of the U.S. If you live in an apartment, you can even grow them on a sunny balcony. Organic vertical gardening is becoming more and more popular as people are searching for ways to add fresh and seasonal healthy foods to their diets.
At Gardening Know How, they even provide a cheat sheet on how to grow your own pumpkin on a trellis. Pumpkins are started from seed, early in the spring, and are moved outdoors (after the last chance of frost) as small plants. The best way to get seeds is to purchase an heirloom variety of pumpkin, like the Cinderella Pumpkin. If you are picturing Cinderella’s carriage, these pumpkins won’t disappoint.
But don’t worry, they aren’t all that large, and there are smaller organic pie pumpkin varieties that are available too. This fall, grab a few fresh pumpkins at a fall food harvest, clean the seeds, and allow them to air-dry for several weeks. Next spring, just nestle a few seeds into a peat pot, water well, and keep in a sunny window until they are ready for the great outdoors. Then, next pumpkin season, you will be the envy of your family and friends because of your healthy fall food bounty.
The hype around pumpkin season typically focuses on unhealthy commercial options. Skip the pumpkin pie spice coffee drink and pumpkin pie spice cookies and instead opt for real pumpkin and healthy pumpkin recipes. Rich in vitamins and minerals, the pumpkin bestows health benefits that may help protect you from certain types of cancer, boost your immune system, improve eye health, and more. Enjoy this super delicious superfood!