Written by Vanessa van der Linden, Certified Nutritional Specialist
Remembering to take care of your health can be a difficult task, especially when there are so many tasty fall treats to choose from. This pumpkin spice season, FTOC wants to help you make healthy choices with your pumpkin flavored treats.
What is Pumpkin?
Pumpkin is one of the many types of winter squash that you’ll commonly find in grocery stores and on menus during the fall. Winter squashes include pumpkin, spaghetti squash, acorn, Kabocha, and many others. Although they come in many shapes, sizes, and colors, they all have a hard outer rind, a thick stem, and are hollow inside other than the seeds.
It is common to find whole winter squashes in grocery stores available for purchase as well as canned pumpkin puree, cubed and refrigerated butternut squash, frozen and raw winter squashes, and other preparations.
Why You Should Eat Pumpkin (and other Winter Squashes)
Including this seasonal vegetable in your meals this fall is a great way to add variety, flavor, and nutrition to support your health.
Pumpkin, and other winter squashes, are rich in many vitamins and minerals, high in fiber, and are low glycemic. Pumpkin seeds are also an incredibly nutrient-dense food that you can take advantage of year-round.
High in Vitamins and Minerals
Like colorful vegetables in general, winter squashes can benefit your health due to its high amount of nutrients like vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
In particular, winter squashes are a wonderful source of beta-carotene, providing 100% of the daily value in just a half-cup serving. Beta-Carotene is an antioxidant that helps lower inflammation in the body. Beta-carotene also partially converts to vitamin A which supports skin health, immunity, and eye health. Chronic inflammation is ultimately what contributes to chronic conditions which is why eating an anti-inflammatory diet full of colorful plants and whole foods is so beneficial to overall health.
Winter squashes are also high in nutrients like vitamin K, copper, vitamin E, iron, magnesium, vitamin C, potassium, and vitamin B6. Pumpkin seeds are powerhouses for minerals like zinc, magnesium, copper, and potassium, as well as healthy fats.
These nutrients are involved in hundreds of processes all over the body including their roles in hormone health, digestion and intestinal health, reducing your risk for cancer, cardiovascular health, brain health, sleep and stress support, immune system, and more.
That’s a lot of benefits! In order to really reap these benefits, we recommend eating at least 2-3 cups of non-starchy vegetables like winter squashes, dark leafy greens, broccoli, mushrooms, etc., every day.
High in Fiber
Another benefit to eating pumpkin, and other winter squashes, is that they are a great source of fiber. A one-cup serving of cooked butternut squash provides 7 grams of fiber. For reference, most people need 25-35g of fiber per day, or about 8-12g per meal.
Fiber is not only vital for supporting digestion and intestinal health, it also helps reduce high cholesterol, high blood pressure, support balanced blood sugar, metabolism, hormone health, liver health and detoxification, and even supports your immune system and nervous system.
Replacing low fiber carbohydrates like white bread, pasta, white rice, and tortillas for winter squashes is a great way to increase your fiber and nutrient intake.
The glycemic content of a food refers to how much it impacts blood sugar after eating it. Generally, high fiber foods are lower glycemic due to the way it is digested.
Eating a low-glycemic diet is particularly important with people who have pre-diabetes and type 2 diabetes. However, eating a low glycemic diet is also helpful in general for boosting energy (no more afternoon crashes!), supporting hormone health, gut health, and your nervous system (mood).
In order to truly support balanced blood sugar and stable energy, we recommend pairing the pumpkin or winter squash with some protein, and avoiding any added sugars. This is a great guideline for building balanced meals in general: fiber-rich carb + protein + healthy fat.
Things to Avoid
Now that you know all the amazing benefits of winter squashes we want to give you some tips on how and how-not to eat this versatile food.
As you may know, pumpkin is most famous for pumpkin pie, pumpkin spiced lattes, and other treats. Unfortunately these foods are very high in added sugar or artificial sugars and other highly processed ingredients that will not support your health. They also typically have very little actual pumpkin and rely more on sugar and spices to boost flavor.
We recommend avoiding processed foods with pumpkin flavoring since you will not truly be able to get the health benefits of the squash in this way.
Ways to Eat Pumpkin (and other Winter Squashes)
Instead of getting your pumpkin fix from highly processed foods, we want to give you some simple ways to start cooking and eating winter squash today!
The first step is deciding if you want to buy and prepare the squash yourself or skip some steps and buy it peeled and cubed already. You may find already cut winter squashes in the refrigerated vegetables section or frozen vegetables section in your grocery store.
Recipes on How to Cut and Prepare Whole Winter Squashes at Home:
Simple Ways to use Winter Squashes:
· Instead of spaghetti or other pasta noodles, use spaghetti squash
· Instead of potatoes, tortillas, or rice, use roasted or steamed butternut squash
· Add cubed butternut squash to soups, chili, and stews
· Add pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling) to smoothies, yogurt, and oatmeal
Healthy Recipes to Try this Fall:
Take Home Message
Pumpkin and other winter squashes are rich in many vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, high in fiber, and are low glycemic carbohydrates that support stable blood sugar and energy. These colorful foods are a great way to add variety, flavor, and nutrients to your meal to support your overall health. Avoid sugary treats that contain pumpkin, but enjoy using pumpkin and other squashes in delicious recipes at home.
If you want to learn to cook healthy recipes similar to those mentioned above, sign up for one of our cooking classes! You can also book a nutrition consultation, if you’re interested in learning how to improve your health using nutrition. Patients are also welcome to make an appointment at our Tustin Wellness Center, where they will have access to our services which include nutrition classes, exercise sessions with our weight resistance trainer, and mental health services focused on the individual needs of every patient. Visit our appointments page to request an appointment with one of our providers.
Please call 1(800) 597-7977 ext. 507 for more information about these nutrition services.