Healthy Pumpkin Power

Choose a pie-pumpkin with a narrow green stem (right) rather than one with a thicker stem (left).
Choose a pie-pumpkin with a narrow green stem (right) rather than one with a thicker stem (left).

Nutrient-packed pumpkins are powerful sources of antioxidants, but preparing them can be daunting.  Try these easier, enticing ways to prepare and eat pumpkins, as well as their nutrient-loaded seeds. Enhance your health by eating more of this awesome squash.

The key nutrient that boosts pumpkin to its super-nutritious status is the synergistic combination of carotenoids. Pumpkin contains one of the richest supplies of bioavailable carotenoid. In fact, only 1/2 cup of canned pumpkin has almost 4 times the daily required vitamin A, which the body makes from carotenoids. According to the National Cancer Institute, pumpkin’s antioxidant beta-carotene may play an important role in cancer prevention. This same free-radical-squelching power of carotenoids in pumpkin may also help to prevent wrinkles. One 1/2 cup of canned pumpkin also provides 4 grams of fiber and plenty of disease-fighting nutrients, including potassium, vitamins K, C, & E, iron, magnesium, copper, manganese, and pantothenic acid.

Roasted Pumpkin SeedsWe haven’t even talked about the nutritious seeds, loaded with manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, copper, zinc and iron. The vitamin E in these seeds comes in several different forms, enhancing its absorption by the body. The plant sterols in pumpkin seeds have also been linked to fighting certain cancers and the reduction of LDL, or bad cholesterol. Pumpkin seeds may even boost our mood with their rich tryptophan content, as tryptophan is important in the production of serotonin, known to enhance mood.

Pumpkin Seed ExtractionStart with smaller pie-pumpkins that are sweeter and less stringy than the Jack-o’-lantern-type pumpkins, which are bred for size. Look for smooth skin and a narrow green stem; the greener the stem, the fresher the pumpkin. Admittedly, canned pumpkin is easier to use than roasting a pumpkin, mainly because the pumpkins are so hard to cut. Rather than risking injury, just put the whole pumpkin in the oven for 20 minutes at 350 degrees to soften it. It should then be easy to cut (unless you ended up with a small carving pumpkin) but still firm and uncooked. Cut the stem out and cut the pumpkin in half. Using a large fork and gravity, comb the seeds off of the stringy threads onto a cookie sheet sprayed with olive oil cooking spray. Don’t wash the seeds; if some of the stringy pumpkin comes off still attached to the seed, no worries. Just let it drop onto the pan with the seed. The pumpkin residue on the seed is helpful in the roasting process, and the stringy goo will come off easily after baking. Once the seeds are removed, take a large spoon and scrape out the rest of the stringy, messy stuff from the pumpkin shell.

Raosted Pumpkin Farro PilafPlace the cleaned-out pumpkin halves back in the oven to finish roasting if mashed pumpkin is your goal. If you need cubed pieces of pumpkin, place the pumpkin halves on a cutting board, cut-side down, and peel the skin off using a y-shaped vegetable peeler. Slice into cubes, mix with oil and spices (optional) and roast near the heat element at 400 degrees until tender and browned on the edges. Throw your raw pumpkin seeds (sprinkled with a little oil and salt) in the oven as well, and cook until crispy and golden brown.

Sweet-Potato-Stewy-chili-1024x729Adding cubed pumpkin to stews and pilafs makes them even better, like this Roasted Pumpkin Farro Pilaf made with cranberries and Swiss chard. Pureed pumpkin in chili and soups adds thickness to the texture while adding delicious umami flavor, and lots of nutrition. Try this Sweet Potato Pumpkin Chili and Roasted Cauliflower Pumpkin Soup for a wonderful, hearty meal. Roasted pumpkin also makes a wonderful addition to salad. Try Martha Stewart’s recipe for Maple Roasted Pumpkin Salad.
Roasted Cauliflower Pumpkin Soup 2Stir ¼ cup of pumpkin puree into your morning oatmeal before cooking; season with cinnamon and raw honey to taste. Try this Pumpkin Apple Pie Oatmeal. Place the filling of your favorite pumpkin pie recipe in individual ramekins. Bake until the pumpkin doesn’t jiggle and then top with crystallized ginger and chopped pecans instead of whipped cream. Don’t miss these fabulous and healthy Pumpkin Pie Muffins that will surprise you with a pumpkin pie center.
Pumpkin Pie Muffin 2Take October’s Healthy Challenge and eat lots of nutritious pumpkins and their seeds to treat your taste buds and your body. Canned pumpkin is great too, but try to roast your own pie-pumpkin and its seeds. Let me know how you like these recipes. Everyone loves good pumpkin recipes in the fall; just make sure they’re healthy. Do you have a favorite pumpkin recipe that you want to share, or would you like me to make one of your pumpkin recipes healthier?  Share in the comment section below. I’ll be adding more pumpkin recipes, so keep watching.