Pumpkin spice has practically become a national holiday in the United States – every fall, people eagerly anticipate everything from pumpkin spice lattes and pumpkin rolls to more unusual treats such as pumpkin spice yogurt, Oreos, and even cough drops. Unfortunately, nearly every pumpkin spice product is high in sugar and flavored with artificial pumpkin flavor.
Real pumpkin, a type of squash, actually has many health benefits when used in healthy recipes, plus the taste is more fresh and natural than those artificial flavors. Like all fruits and vegetables, pumpkin is naturally high in fiber, which helps keep you full longer and is good for your digestive system. The orange color of pumpkin (and other orange vegetables such as carrots) comes from beta-carotene, which is converted to vitamin A in the body. Vitamin A is an essential vitamin for your vision, and can help fight off viruses and bacterial infections. You can make your own pumpkin puree using sugar pumpkins, which are smaller and rounder than carving pumpkins. Simply cut the pumpkin in half, remove the seeds and pulp, cover each half with foil, and bake in the oven for one hour at 325 degrees.
You can also buy canned pumpkin puree, but make sure it is pure pumpkin and not pumpkin pie filling, which has added sugar. Unsweetened pumpkin puree is a great addition to smoothies and oatmeal, and pumpkin soup is perfect for a cold fall day! Many websites also have recipes for healthier homemade pumpkin spice lattes, which will save you a few dollars and a lot of calories.
When you carve pumpkins this year, don’t throw away the seeds! Lay them on a tray until they are completely dry, then roast them in the oven until they are lightly browned and crunchy. Pumpkin seeds contain magnesium, zinc, and iron, as well as healthy fats. As with all nuts and seeds, be sure to eat them in moderation due to the fat content – a handful a day is an appropriate serving.
No matter how you like pumpkin spice, make sure to include real pumpkin to reap the health benefits of this fall vegetable!