Tis the season for pumpkin spice everything… lattes, muffins, cereals, etc. I’m all about the pumpkin spice craze and fully jump on board with all of the fall delights. The smell of cinnamon and nutmeg make my nose happy and my stomach growl. It’s good to know that, with all the hype, there are some definite health benefits to pumpkin. Unfortunately, there are also some things we need to watch out for.
Pumpkin is part of the squash family. It is typically roasted and turned into pumpkin puree for use in baked entrees and smoothies. The seeds can also be roasted and eaten plain (and are quite delicious if you ask my kids). Pumpkin puree is loaded with the antioxidant, beta-carotene; this is what gives pumpkin its deep orange hue. Beta-carotene can then then be converted into Vitamin A, also called Retinol, in the body. Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin that helps support immune function and protect the skin and eyes from damage; it essential to help maintain healthy vision. There is no recommended dietary intake of beta-carotene but it is recommended that individuals consume a wide variety of fruits and vegetables in order to receive the various benefits of vitamins and minerals. In addition to pumpkin, beta-carotene can be found in other red and orange fruits and vegetables such as grapefruit, sweet potatoes, carrots, cantaloupe, and peppers. Likewise, green leafy vegetables such as spinach and kale also contain large amounts of beta-carotene useful in a healthy diet.
For those ultra-pumpkin lovers out there, be careful. Though beta-carotene is not considered to be toxic in high doses, it can turn your skin a frightful yellowish orange color. This condition is called "carotenosis." It is not harmful and can be reversed by lowering your intake of beta-carotene.
Additional benefits of pumpkin puree include its high fiber content. One cup of pumpkin puree has approximately 3 grams of fiber. I typically say a good source of fiber is one that contains 3 or more grams; pumpkin definitely qualifies as a good source of fiber if you have enough of it.
Unfortunately, many of the pumpkin products on the market actually lack pumpkin as an ingredient. They most often contain the spices associated with pumpkin such as cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves; unfortunately, the actual pumpkin is replaced with sugar. To ensure that you are getting all the good pumpkin benefits, you need to check the label. Make sure pumpkin is listed as one of the first few ingredients. Ingredients are listed according to weight and you want to ensure that you are ingesting enough beta-carotene and fiber to reap the benefits of the pumpkin product.
I recommend skipping the pumpkin spice latte and making one of your own, complete with pumpkin puree and less sugar. You can also make pumpkin pancakes, pumpkin muffins and pumpkin baby food to help get yourself and family seeing well into the future.