Autumn has arrived, and alongside cooler temperatures and colorful leaves is the return of pumpkin. From the more obvious pumpkin bread, soup and coffee to the more intriguing pumpkin spice candles, dog bandanas and earrings, pumpkin seems to be synonymous with fall. It symbolizes the changing of the seasons and brings us the warm feelings of family, home and the holidays. Both pumpkin and pumpkin spice have health-promoting properties and can add seasonal flavor to some of our favorite dishes.
Pumpkins, along with their other orange relatives, such as carrots and sweet potatoes, are rich in beta carotene. This antioxidant is converted to vitamin A by our bodies, which plays a widespread role in our health, including its importance for vision and immune function. Pumpkin also contains vitamin C, vitamin E, iron and folate, all of which also support immune function. Pumpkin also delivers fiber, which has been shown to play a role in heart health, gut health and weight reduction or management.
Pumpkin spice, on the other hand, is typically a blend of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves and allspice. Research suggests that these spices contain compounds that may promote health, such as those that reduce inflammation or help with blood sugar control in prediabetic populations. These spices are also rich in antioxidants.
Here are a few tips and recipes to help you begin creating healthy, fall-inspired dishes:
- Pumpkin: Roasted pumpkin can replace other winter squash in your favorite recipes. Try this breakfast hash with pumpkin instead of butternut squash.
- Pumpkin Puree: Add this to your next smoothie, bread or pancake. Try this recipe for a whole wheat pumpkin bread (if you want to skip the butter, you can use olive oil!). If you’re feeling ambitious, you can make your own pumpkin puree by roasting pumpkin and blending it in a blender or food processor (bonus: roast the pumpkin seeds for a healthy snack). However, if time is a factor, you can buy canned pumpkin puree from your grocery store. Make sure the ONLY ingredient is pumpkin, and you haven’t picked up a can of pumpkin pie puree by accident.
- Pumpkin Spice: This blend of spices is likely available at your local grocery store, or you can make your own by mixing together the individual spices (check out this recipe). If you purchase, check the ingredients list to ensure there aren’t any additives or added sugar.
Despite the health benefits of pumpkin and pumpkin spice, keep in mind that many pumpkin flavored products deliver unwanted ingredients, such as artificial flavors, preservatives and large amounts of added sugar. For example, the first ingredient in the Starbucks Pumpkin Cream Cheese Muffin (remember, ingredients are listed in descending order) is sugar. Pair that with a Grande Pumpkin Spice Latte, and you’ve consumed 84 grams of sugar (almost 7 tablespoons) – well over the recommended daily maximum. Instead, ask for only 1 pump of pumpkin and bring a slice of your homemade pumpkin bread to enjoy with it.