Monday, October 24, 2011

Eating Pumpkin can help you avoid chunkin’ (up)

       Halloween is one week away and pumpkins are available everywhere. Sure, they are fun to carve and look at, but did you know that pumpkin is an incredibly nutritious food? Pumpkin itself, whether baked, or canned, is a low-calorie food that is incredibly high in the antioxidant beta-carotene (a precursor to Vitamin A). A ½ cup serving of canned pumpkin has only 40 calories, 9 g carb (5 g fiber), 350% DV (Daily Value) Vitamin A, 8% DV Vitamin C, and 10% DV Iron.  
            Beta-carotene has shown to help prevent cancer and heart disease, boosts immunity, aids in reproductive function, and supports good vision. Pumpkins are an easy way to get a large dose of beta-carotene, but other good sources include sweet potatoes, carrots, winter squash and dark leafy greens (spinach, collards, kale, etc.).
            In addition to pumpkins being an easy way to get a large dose of a healthy antioxidant, pumpkins can help lower the caloric value of recipes. Here are some tips to try:
·        Add canned pumpkin instead of eggs, oil, and other ingredients to boxed cake mix to create a lower-fat and calorie dessert (with more fiber and antioxidants!)
·        Use canned pumpkin in replace of fat in other baked goods (e.g: sub for butter)
·        Add 1 cup of pumpkin to 1 jar of tomato sauce to reduce the sodium and boost fiber and micronutrient content.
·        Use in soups, sauces, and stews to add a creaminess without adding actual cream or fat

Here are some of my favorite recipes using pumpkin:
  • Pumpkin Butter:
    • Combine 1 15-oz can of pumpkin w/ 2/3 c brown sugar, ¼ cup honey, 1 tbsp lemon juice, ¼ tsp cinnamon & 1/8 tsp ground cloves in a heavy saucepan. Boil then reduce to low and cook for 20-25 minutes. Makes 2 cups (32, 1 tbsp servings). 30 calories/tbsp.
    • NOTE: Trader Joe’s also has a delicious pumpkin butter that is now in stock!
    • I recommend mixing 1 tbsp of pumpkin butter with ½ cup cottage cheese; add some vanilla & cinnamon for a delicious & healthy dessert!
  • Pumpkin Hummus:
    • Mix 1- 15.5 oz can chickpeas, ¾ cup canned pumpkin, 3 tbsp lemon juice, 1 tbsp water, 1 clove garlic (chopped), ½ tsp salt, ¼ tsp black pepper, and 2 tbsp parsley in a food processor.  Add water as needed to get the consistency you like. Serve with whole wheat pita, whole grain crackers, or veggies. Makes 16 servings- 2 tbsp= 20 calories.
  • Pumpkin Smoothie:
    • Blend ½ cup pumpkin, ½ banana, 6 oz container of nonfat light vanilla yogurt, 1 tsp honey, ½ cup ice, pack of truvia or other sweetener, and a dash of cinnamon and vanilla extract. Top with whipped topping if desired. Makes 1 large serving= 200 calories, 1 g fat,  7 g protein, 20% DV Calcium, 358% DV Vitamin A, 20% DV Vitamin D
  • Healthy Pumpkin Pie
    • Opt for homemade pumpkin pie where you control what goes in. Use fat-free sweetened condensed milk, lower the sugar by ¼, use egg whites instead of whole eggs, and go crust-less or make a lower fat graham cracker crust (most of the fat in pies comes from the crust!).

Okay, now you have all the tools and recipes to use pumpkin. If you are really inspired, here is one last recipe for cooking a real pumpkin:
1.                  Select a “pie pumpkin” – they are smaller (<6” diameter) than jack-o-lantern pumpkins
2.                  Cut the pumpkin in half
3.                  Scrape out the seeds (but save to roast later!)
4.                  Remove the stem and place the halves in a microwaveable bowl. Fill with a few inches of water, cover with lid.
5.                  Microwave for around 15 minutes until the pumpkin is soft.
6.                  Then you can scoop out the pumpkin and puree to use in recipes (use this puree instead of canned pumpkin in the above recipes/tips.).
7.                  Enjoy!

Image from: Cyber Cauldron website
Recipes adapted from: Libby's Very Best Baking Recipe website
Information from: USDA food and nutrient database, World's Healthiest Food website