Halloween is here, despite the nor’easter that we had this weekend. It feels like we should be getting ready for Christmas rather than trick-or-treating. Nevertheless, it is the season…for Halloween, that is, and while the kids may be munching on loads of sugar and chocolate, you can be enjoying your own Halloween treats that just happen to be a little healthier for you.
Chances are, the closest you get to a pumpkin is the Jack O’Lantern on your front step or a piece of pie at Thanksgiving. Pumpkin is one of those foods that people know are good for them but have little idea how to eat. Here is some of what you’ll find in a pumpkin (besides pulp and seeds):
Carotenoids. There’s a reason that pumpkins are orange, and it’s not because it’s Halloween. Orange pumpkins get their rich color from carotenoids such as beta-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin. Carotenoids help to fight harmful free radicals in the body. Lutein and zeaxanthin help to protect against macular degeneration and cataracts.
Vitamins. Along with beta carotene, pumpkin is bursting with vitamins A and C, both of which promote a healthy immune system and healthy skin.
Minerals. Magnesium, zinc, copper, and potassium are just a few of the minerals in pumpkin. Suffice it to say that we need all of these.
Fiber. Most of us don’t get enough fiber; 1 cup of pumpkin contains 3 grams, making it a “good source” of fiber.
Nutrient breakdown. One cup of mashed pumpkin contains approximately 50 calories, 12 grams of carbohydrate, 3 grams of fiber, and 0 grams of fat.
How to eat. Here’s a quick and sweet way to enjoy pureed pumpkin: Mix a 6-ounce container of fat-free Greek-style yogurt with 1/2 cup of canned pumpkin (not the pie mix) and a teaspoon of cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice. Then, enjoy! This serves two. One serving contains about 70 calories, 9 grams of carbohydrate, 9 grams of protein, and 0 grams of fat.
If you’re not so much into eating pumpkin (unless it’s surrounded by a crust and topped with whipped cream), you might consider eating pumpkin seeds. Also called pepitas, pumpkin seeds are highly nutritious, and they taste good, too! Native American Indians have long used pumpkin seeds for medicinal purposes. Here’s a rundown of some of the good stuff found in them:
Omega-3 fatty acids
Eating pumpkin seeds may help to lower blood cholesterol and reduce inflammation in the body. In fact, pumpkin seeds have been linked with reducing symptoms of arthritis.
Nutrient breakdown. Two tablespoons of pumpkin seeds contain about 140 calories, 4 grams of carbohydrate, 12 grams of fat, 9 grams of protein, 1 gram of fiber.
How to eat. Pumpkin seeds are delicious, but the calories can add up fast if you’re not careful. Try roasting your own seeds, or buy them at your grocery store (minus the salt). Sprinkle them on salads or on hot cereal. Throw a handful into your stir-fry dish. Grind some seeds up and mix them into your ground turkey or beef.
If you’re feeling a little ambitious, save the pumpkin seeds (or squash seeds, if you have a butternut or acorn squash) from your Halloween pumpkin. Wipe off any pulp. Spread them out on a cookie sheet and let them dry overnight. You can lightly spray them with olive oil and sprinkle on a dash of sea salt or a seasoning of your choice. Bake at 275° for 10–20 minutes until golden brown.
October is “National Popcorn Poppin’ Month,” and while you may not read this until November, you can still enjoy popcorn any time of the year. Popcorn sometimes gets a bad rap, and we can probably thank the movie theaters for that: Movie popcorn may taste good, but it’s doused with fat and salt. It’s easy enough to make your own popcorn at home, and you might be surprised at how healthy it can be. Here’s what you might not know about popcorn:
• It’s a whole-grain food.
• It’s full of phytonutrients (plant-derived chemicals that may have health benefits) that act like antioxidants
• It contains a lot of fiber
• It has a low glycemic index (good for blood glucose control!)
• It’s low in calories (minus the fat)
• It’s inexpensive (when you pop your own!)
Nutrient breakdown. Three cups of air popped popcorn contain roughly 90 calories, 18 grams of carbohydrate, 1 gram of fat, and 4 grams of fiber.
How to eat. Besides eating popcorn by the fistful, try using it as low-calorie croutons for your salad or in place of oyster crackers in your soup. If you do pop your own corn, go easy on the butter and salt, but try other spices, such as chili powder, oregano, garlic, or Parmesan cheese for a low-carb, low-fat kick.