It’s that magical time of year — the time when suddenly everything is pumpkin flavored! Pumpkin spiced lattes, pumpkin seltzer water, pumpkin ravioli, pumpkin donuts, pumpkin pie ice cream… you name it, it’s probably out there. But what about plain old pumpkin? Is it good for you? And if so, how do you fit it into your eating plan?
What is a pumpkin?
Most of us think of pumpkins as being something that we carve into jack o’ lanterns on Halloween, or purchase in a can to whip up a pie on Thanksgiving. While this is all true, there’s more to pumpkin than meets the eye.
From a botanist’s viewpoint, a pumpkin is a fruit because it’s a seed-bearing structure of flowering plants. If you’ve ever cut into a pumpkin, it’s full of seeds (which are edible, by the way). Yet, because pumpkins aren’t sweet like most fruits, we tend to think of pumpkins as being a vegetable. Like its squash and gourd cousins, pumpkins belong to the Cucurbitaceae family. This is an extended family that includes spaghetti squash, watermelon, cucumbers, honeydew melon, and those hard, inedible gourds that are used for decorating. But pumpkins… well, they’re basically a type of squash.
There are about 100 varieties of pumpkins out there with catchy names such as Big Max, Batwing, Autumn Gold, Baby Bear, Baby Boo, and Blue Doll, to name a few. Starting in early September, you can find a vast assortment of pumpkins of all colors and sizes in supermarkets and farm stands.
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What’s the best pumpkin for carving… and for eating?
All pumpkins are edible, but some varieties are better suited for carving than eating. The Autumn Gold or Hobbit pumpkin are medium-sized pumpkins that are top-notch for carving. But if you prefer a larger jack o’ lantern, try the Gold Rush or Wolf varieties.
For eating, try Sugar Pie, Baby Pam, or New England Pie varieties. Choose pumpkins that are between three and six pounds and are free of blemishes.
What are the health benefits of eating pumpkin?
Pie and lattes aside, pumpkins are chock-full of nutrition. In particular, pumpkin is a great source of antioxidants, including beta carotene (an antioxidant that’s converted into vitamin A in the body), and lutein and zeaxanthin. These antioxidants play a role in eye health and cancer prevention. In addition, beta carotene is thought to help protect the skin from UV ray damage.
Pumpkin’s potassium, fiber, and vitamin C is linked with lower blood pressure and a lower risk of stroke. Also, because it’s a good source of fiber, eating pumpkin (and any food high in fiber) can help with weight loss and blood sugar management.
Let’s not overlook pumpkin seeds: These are packed with even more nutrients, such as omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, potassium, magnesium, calcium, plant sterols, squalene, and tocopherols. As a result, pumpkin seeds may play a role in bone health, lower cholesterols levels, a lower risk of heart disease, and a healthy immune system.
What’s the nutrition content of pumpkin?
One cup of cooked, mashed pumpkin contains:
- 49 calories
- 0.1 gram of saturated fat
- 12 grams of carbohydrate
- 2.7 grams of fiber
- 1.8 grams of protein
- 2.5 milligram of sodium
For carb-counting purposes, think of pumpkin as a starchy vegetable: one cup is equal to one carb choice.
How do you eat pumpkin?
A scoop of mashed pumpkin on your dinner plate may not seem all that appealing (although it’s very similar to eating mashed butternut squash). So, if that’s not for you, here are some other nutritious ways to sneak some pumpkin into your eating plan:
- Drizzle a small, halved pumpkin with olive oil and a small amount of salt and pepper on a baking sheet. Bake at 350°F for about 45 minutes.
- Add a generous spoonful of pumpkin puree to your morning oatmeal, smoothie, or yogurt.
- Stir pumpkin puree into to your favorite chili or pizza sauce.
- Serve up a batch of Spicy Pumpkin Soup with Green Chile Swirl.
- Enjoy a cup of tea with a slice of lower-carb Whole-Wheat Pumpkin Bread.
And if you’re simply craving a pumpkin spiced latte, check out this healthier version from the website Amy’s Healthy Baking. One serving contains just 90 calories and 14 grams of carb!