Superfood Spotlight: The Great Pumpkin!

Photo by Jeremy Seitz

At last, cooler weather is here! And since fall and Halloween are right around the corner, I thought it would be a great time to talk about one of the most amazing, health-building foods on earth: pumpkin. And, of course, this time of year is when you start to see the plethora of not so healthy pumpkin products hitting the shelves like candies, coffee, ice cream and doughnuts. Ugh! Avoid these junky foods and go for the plain pumpkin and the seeds because these are some of the most nutrient dense foods that you can eat.

Pumpkins are a great source of beta-carotene, alpha-carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin, and antioxidants which are part of the group of phytonutrients called carotenoids. These carotenoids are so important for the proper functioning of your immune system, because they defend your body’s tissues against oxidative damage. This in turn helps to prevent chronic diseases and premature aging. Fantastic! And did you know that lutein and zeaxanthin are the only carotenoids located in the human retina? They help protect your eyes from damage and can even enhance vision. Wow!

Now, we all know that pumpkin makes a great pie but it has so many other uses. For example, you can stir pumpkin puree into soups, stews or chilis which ups their nutritional density considerably. How about a pumpkin smoothie? Blend some pumpkin puree with a banana, kale, a couple of dates, non-diary milk (CLICK HERE to learn how to make almond milk), cinnamon, and nutmeg. Yum! If you don’t want to make your own pumpkin puree, look for it in non-BPA containing cans or cartons at your local grocery store. If you do decide to make your own puree, look for lighter colored pie pumpkins or sugar pumpkins rather than orange jack-o-lantern pumpkins, because they are sweeter and less watery than the jack-o-lanterns.

Here’s how to make your own puree:

  1. Cut the top from the pumpkin and scrape out all of the stringy membranes and seeds.
  2. Cut the pumpkin into large pieces and place in a roasting pan.
  3. Pour ½ cup water into the bottom of the pan and cover with foil.
  4. Bake at 350° for 45-60 minutes or until pumpkin is soft and the pulp comes out easily.
  5. Scrape the pulp from the skin into a food processor or blender and puree.

You can freeze leftover pumpkin puree in an airtight container for up to 12 months.

If you do make pumpkin puree or will be carving a jack-o-lantern, don’t throw away the seeds. You’ll want to toast these in the oven. If you haven’t done this, you are in for a treat, trust me! The seeds inside the pumpkin are not only very delicious, they are a nutritional powerhouse. Pumpkin seeds are a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, high in phytonutrients and are loaded with zinc, calcium and iron.

Here’s how to toast your own:

  1. Rinse the seeds under cold water and pick out all of the pulp and strings.
  2. Place the seeds in a single layer on a non-stick baking sheet and if you want, sprinkle with your choice of seasonings. If you do use salt, try to use it very sparingly (CLICK HERE to read about why to avoid salt). But, I find that they are delicious plain, so I don’t add any seasoning to mine.
  3. Bake at 225° until lightly toasted, about 45 minutes, checking and stirring frequently.

Now you have a delicious and nutritious treat to sprinkle on salads or even use them as a topping for soups. Pumpkin soup, anyone? Yum! To your good health!

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