Pumpkin is a versatile superfood for fall and beyond

By Phyllis Picklesimer
Media/Communications Specialist, University of Illinois College of ACES News and Public Affairs

URBANA, Ill. — With Halloween and Thanksgiving just around the corner, the fruits and veggies available in your supermarket’s produce department will change.

There’s no need to lament the loss of summer’s bounty,” said Leia Weston Kedem, a University of Illinois nutrition and wellness educator. “There are many healthy and delicious options in stores during the fall. Pumpkin is one of my favorites.”

Pumpkin is packed full of nutrition. One-half cup of canned pumpkin has just 40 calories and is a good source of several nutrients, including dietary fiber and potassium, she said.

Its hallmark orange color means it is an excellent source of vitamin A, essential for many bodily functions. Orange fruits and vegetables not only promote good eyesight, they have antioxidant properties, too, she noted.

Vitamin A can help protect against certain types of cancer and cardiovascular disease and may even promote healthy skin, she added.

The educator said pumpkin is a versatile ingredient that can be used in either sweet or savory dishes.

You can even use canned and fresh pumpkin — cooked and pureed — interchangeably in recipes,” she said.

Studies have shown the nutritional content of canned fruits and vegetables is similar to or better than fresh produce, she said.

If you are going to use canned pumpkin, though, remember to look for 100 percent canned pumpkin,” she added. “It’s easy to mistakenly buy pumpkin pie filling, which has other ingredients added.”

Besides puree, pumpkin seeds can be roasted in the oven for a tasty snack filled with protein, fiber, B vitamins and minerals. When roasting seeds, add only as much oil as is necessary to keep them from sticking to the pan or use nonstick spray, she said.

Pumpkin seeds contain fat, and adding extra oil or butter can make them very high in calories.

It’s really important to watch portion sizes with nuts and seeds,” she advised. “Stick to a quarter cup of shelled seeds and pair with a piece of fruit for a balanced snack.”

For more about pumpkin, including recipes, fun facts and more, visit University of Illinois Extension’s “Pumpkins & More” website at urbanext.illinois.edu/pumpkin.

From the Oct. 17-23, 2012, issue

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