Ah, pumpkin. That enduring orange symbol of autumn. So festive, so decorative — and so rarely eaten despite all the nutrients packed inside. Most of us view pumpkins simply as those big orange gourds you carve before Halloween. And, unless pumpkin turned up in a pie at Thanksgiving, few of us have ever eaten it.
These days however, with the rise of foodie culture and more importantly, a growing interest in discovering and rediscovering foods that can buoy health, the long-overlooked pumpkin is ready to take its rightful place on plates everywhere.
Here’s why this humble gourd deserves a spot on your plate, plus a few practical pumpkin management tips to get you started:
Packed with Nutrition
Pumpkins are more than just a pretty face — it’s what’s inside that counts. In addition to being plentiful and moderately priced, pumpkins pack an excellent nutritional punch:
- Vitamin A, lutein and zeaxanthin support eye health and help protect against vision problems like cataracts and macular degeneration.
- Cancer-fighting beta-carotene is one of several antioxidants in pumpkin that are linked to reduced cancer risk.
- Belly-filling fiber — about 3 grams per cup of pumpkin — helps fill you up, slow digestion down, keep blood sugar on an even keel, and keep you fuller longer.
- Potassium helps balance electrolytes, and a cup’s worth of pumpkins have more of it (564 mgs) than a medium-sized banana (422 mgs).
- Immunity–supporting Vitamin C, plus thiamin, folate, magnesium, riboflavin, copper and manganese, is essential to sustaining wellness.
- And, don’t forget the seeds! Don’t toss out those wonderfully healthy little snacks that are a bonus in every gourd. They’re packed with nutrients and phytosterols which help protect your heart and immune system — and they taste great too! Simply scoop out, given them a rinse, pat dry, and then roast in the oven. The next step? Toss with your favorite spices and enjoy.
How to Pick a Good One
Off to the pumpkin patch? Then know how to spot a winner. The best eating pumpkin is the ‘sugar’ pumpkin or ‘pie pumpkin.’ Considerably smaller than their deeply lined, jack-o’-lantern cousins (which tend to cook up on the mushy and somewhat tasteless side), sugar pumpkins have smoother, lightly grooved skin (and don’t require a wheelbarrow to get them home). Good ones should be fairly weighty, with a rich orange color and no bruises. They should make a nice deep sound when you tap them and be topped with a stem that looks fresh, sturdy and firm, but not green. Pumpkins are thick-skinned and not heavily sprayed with pesticides, so it’s not essential to buy organic. However, if you choose to eat the pumpkin skin or make pumpkin ‘chips,’ then organic or fresh from the farmers’ market is the way to go.
Pumpkin Prep 101
For some people, cutting up a pumpkin or, for that matter, any type of gourd can be a bit of a battle. The raw skin can be quite tough to cut, so the trick is finding a way in without slicing a finger in the process. To do it right, start with a sharp knife, some muscle, and a helpful how-to lesson like this how-to-cut-‘em-up tutorial. Prefer a more freestyle approach? Then start by slicing a small section off the bottom of the pumpkin to create a flat surface. Place the cut side down and, starting at the top, cut straight down, into 2-4 inch-wide wedges, then scoop out the seeds and stringy bits. If you’re roasting, you can leave skin on and it will peel easily once cooked. Or if you’re boiling or mashing your pumpkin, you can quickly remove the skin with a veggie peeler.
Eating Pumpkin — It’s One Versatile Veggie
OK, so you may be thinking, now what? How to make use of all that ready-to-go pumpkin? Fortunately, there are an incredible number of ways to enjoy it, none of which involve a pie crust or a side of ice cream. Here are a few delicious ways to integrate pumpkin — be it fresh or canned (be sure to choose BPA-free cans!) — into your daily rotation:
- Pumpkin Pie’ Smoothie (Be Well by Dr. Frank Lipman)
- Healthy Pumpkin Pancakes (Paleo Grubs)
- Slow-Cooker Pumpkin Chili (The Real Food Dieticians)
- Simple Pumpkin Soup (Minimalist Baker)
- Chicken Pumpkin Thai Curry (Stupid Easy Paleo)
- Pumpkin Hummus (Vegan Yack Attack)
- Pumpkin Almond Butter (The Organic Dietician)
- Pumpkin Bread and Muffins (Wellness Mama)
In the mood for more super-nutritious gourds? Then take a look at “6 Reasons to Eat More Spaghetti Squash.”