healthy eating for healthy aging

Pumpkin: put it on your plate not in your coffee

Pumpkin: put it on your plate not in your coffee

Pumpkin used to be about Halloween Jack o’ lanterns and pie at Thanksgiving. Then no more pumpkin until next autumn. Now it’s everywhere all the time. As a coffee lover, I’m alternately amused and horrified by the pumpkin spice latté craze. Why ruin coffee with an incompatible flavor? Pumpkin spice chai might make sense. Coffee + pumpkin – no.

I do realize I’m fighting a losing battle. Pumpkin spice is everywhere:

  • cookies — there are pumpkin spice Oreos!
  • cakes/muffins/donuts
  • ice cream
  • popcorn
  • spreads
  • chocolates
  • cereal
  • bread
  • snack foods — pumpkin spice Twinkies!
  • and random weird choices like pumpkin spice Ramen noodles.

Do you sense a theme here. It’s all about sugar sweetened treats. As if we needed more incentive to eat sweets.

Pumpkin is a vegetable

Pumpkin is a vegetable, related to winter squash. Canned pumpkin is actually made from a special variety of squash — Dickenson –related to butternut squash. If you want to use real pumpkin for your pie, don’t cut up your Jack-o’-lantern! Those big carving pumpkins are not flavorful, plus the flesh is very stringy. Buy a pie pumpkin, cook it, remove the skin and puree the flesh in a food processor.

Pumpkin Nutrition

One-half cup of pureed pumpkin has:

  • 25 calories
  • 1.4 grams fiber
  • 280 mg potassium
  • 5600 mcg carotenes (vitamin A)
  • 1200 mcg lutein + zeaxanthin
  • various B vitamins and other minerals

The standout nutrients are carotenes (vitamin A) and lutein/zeaxanthin, which are important for eye health.

Using pumpkin

There are lots of ways to enjoy pumpkin that don’t involve mixing it with odd combinations of food and sugar. Here are my 3 favorites:

  1. Thai Pumpkin Curry. My all-time favorite pumpkin food. The pumpkin in this dish is typically kabocha squash (see photo above). The flesh has a rich flavor and dense, smooth texture, which holds together perfectly in coconut curry sauce. Make it a filling vegetarian dish by adding steamed tofu for protein.
  2. Pumpkin soup. There are dozens of ways to make pumpkin soup, but you always start with pureed pumpkin, whether from a can or your own homemade puree. I prefer to keep this soup simple so the pumpkin flavor shines through (simple recipe).
  3. Pumpkin pie. What is Thanksgiving without it? But that’s it until next year. I believe in keeping pumpkin pie as a special occasion food.

Vegetarian Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving dinner is a special event. The roasted turkey takes center stage on the table, but what if you are hosting vegetarians, or if the whole meal is vegetarian. Last year I wrote about making a stuffed pumpkin for a vegetarian Thanksgiving showpiece entrée. The recipe includes the steps for preparing a fresh pie pumpkin and making a filling.

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