9 News- Health Benefits and Healthy Uses of Pumpkin

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I can’t think of many things that get Americans more excited in the fall and winter than pumpkin. From pumpkin lattes, pumpkin breads, pumpkin ravioli, and even pumpkin cereals, pumpkin is everywhere.  Pumpkin-flavored products accounted for more than $361 million in sales in the U.S. in 2014 (up 79% since 2011), according to MarketWatch, and 70 percent of those sales occurred between September and November.

But aside from being trendy, pumpkins also pack a huge health benefit.  Here are five ways pumpkin can influence your health and wellness:

1)    Helps keep eyesight sharp. Pumpkin is loaded with vitamin A, a nutrient that aids in vision.  In fact, 1 cup of cooked, mashed pumpkin packs a hefty 200% of your recommended daily value of vitamin A.

2)    Aids in weight loss. One cup of pumpkin has just 50 calories and 3 grams of fiber.  Diets high in fiber keep you feeling full longer, which means eating less overall (which means more weight loss!). 

3)    Helps with workout recovery. Potassium is an electrolyte often depleted during exercise.  Replacing this lost potassium keeps muscles functioning at their best.  One cup of cooked pumpkin has 564 mg of potassium (that’s 35 percent more than a banana!). 

4)    May prevent cancer. Pumpkins are high in the antioxidant beta-carotene, which according to the National Cancer Institute may play a role in cancer prevention. 

5)    Promotes heart health. Not just the “meat” of the pumpkin is healthy, but the seeds pack a big punch too!  The seeds of the pumpkin are rich in phytosterols, which is a chemical that has been shown to reduce LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels. 

Enjoy these give tasty (and healthy) ways to incorporate pumpkin into your daily diet:

Stuffed pumpkins

Not only is this a great way to impress your guests, but it is also a great way to portion control!  Just cut off the top, clean out the seeds and filling, place upside down on your baking sheet with a little water, and bake at 350F for 30 minutes.  Then stuff it with your favorite healthy dish.  One of my favorites is quinoa stuffed pumpkin.

Use pumpkin puree in place of fat

Yep, that’s right.  Use pumpkin puree in a 1:1 ratio to replace oils or butters in your baked goods.  This helps to lower both fat and calories.  I love using pumpkin in place of oil in breads, cookies, and muffins.

Use as a French fry substitute

Even dietitians like French fries, and making your own baked pumpkin fries is a guilt-free way to enjoy them.  Just remove the pumpkin’s skin and cut the squash into fry-like strips.  Place them on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and coat them with the spice of your choice (I like cinnamon or chili powder).  Bake at 350F for 30 minutes or until lightly browned. 

Roast the seeds for a healthy snack.

Place the seeds in a bowl of water to get the “goop” off (goop sinks, seeds float).  Dry seeds and spread on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray.  Season with your choice of seasoning (try garlic, cumin, or chili powder).  Roast at 325F for 15-25 minutes or until crunchy.

Turn Greek yogurt into dessert.

Let’s face it, plain flavored Greek yogurt gets old.  This recipe spices up your yogurt without adding tons of added sugars or fats.  Mix ½ cup of pumpkin puree with 1 Tablespoon maple syrup and 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon.  In a parfait glass, alternate layering pumpkin mix with low-fat Greek yogurt.  Top with granola if desired.