Pumpkins: Patch up your health this fall

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By Jess Scott Wright, LDN

Pumpkin season is here! Despite the Halloween appeal that stems from a pumpkin, this Jack of all trades can be, scary, spicy, savory and sweet.

All tricks aside, the pumpkin is a nutrient-rich treat with seeds good enough to eat. When it comes to the pumpkin, there are two parts to the whole package: the fleshy pulp (aka the meat), and the seeds it contains, each providing an array of nutritional benefits. The pumpkin is one of the few fruits for which it is customary to consume the seeds, and the only fruit I can think of from which the seeds are best served toasted. Pumpkin seeds are rich in zinc, magnesium, potassium, and phosphorus, which offer immune boosting effects, encourage skin and bone health, and help to balance mood and sleep cycles.

Also a good source of tryptophan, the amino acid associated with Thanksgiving day sleepiness, pumpkin seeds may even help relieve anxiety. Many vegans incorporate pumpkin seeds in their diet as a source of plant-based protein. As they are also a great source of fiber (especially with the shell), pumpkin seeds make a great snack choice for diabetics or anyone struggling with irregular blood sugar.

When you carve a pumpkin, you scoop the seeds out anyway, right? Why not get a healthy snack out of Jack to compensate for the mess? Cooking pumpkin seeds is easy; all you need to do is:

1. Preheat oven to 350°F and grease a cookie sheet with olive oil or coconut oil.

2. Rinse your seeds. Sometimes pumpkin strings stick to the seeds. I have found that the seeds float so putting them in a bowl with water makes it easier to pick out pumpkin strands. Don’t let the seeds soak up too much moisture or they will be difficult to roast.

3.Strain and lay the seeds between folds of a towel to dry them. They don’t have to be completely dry and may still feel a little slimy or wet – that’s OK as long as they are not sopping wet.

4. Place seeds on your cookie sheet and in preheated oven for 40 minutes or so. Stir every 10 minutes to ensure they cook evenly on all sides. There will be a wonderful smell in the air when they are close to done. There is a fine line between perfect and burned seed so give your seeds a little more or less time depending on your roast preference.

5. Put roasted seeds in a mixing bowl (being careful not to burn yourself) and get creative with your seasonings. Personally, I like them straight out of the oven with olive oil and salt. They taste just like popcorn and are much healthier. Get creative – try something savory like parmesan cheese with some lemon zest, rosemary and garlic, curry, or even pumpkin spice for a sweeter twist. Pinterest is a great resource for recipe ideas.

Pumpkin meat has inspired many culinary creations from pie to ravioli. Like carrots and sweet potatoes, the bright orange color of a pumpkin is attributable to its high levels of carotenoids, namely beta-carotene, a powerful antioxidant, as well as vitamins A, C and E and fiber.

In addition to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, one cup of mashed pumpkin promotes healthy vision by providing you with 245 percent of the daily recommended intake for vitamin A. Additionally, pumpkin packs more fiber than many sugar-laden breakfast options like oatmeal or cereal. At about 7g per cup, pumpkin keeps you fuller longer and helps regulate your digestive system.

For a festive fall breakfast or dessert, try some pumpkin yogurt. Just mix pumpkin puree into some Greek yogurt. Add pumpkin pie spices and sweeten to taste with stevia or xylitol. For added richness, add a little cream cheese. Looking for some crunch? Who needs granola when you have freshly roasted pumpkin seeds?

Whether your pumpkin plans include carving or cooking, many U-pick pumpkin patches are open across Whatcom County to visit this month.

Feel free to email Jess Wright, RDN with any nutrition questions/comments at nutritionwiser@gmail.com or show your pumpkin creations on Twitter @nutritionwiser.

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