Published on November 21, 2017

There's more to pumpkin than pie

By Bonnie Brost, licensed and registered dietitian at Essentia Health.

The humble pumpkin appears each fall as jack-o-lanterns on our Halloween doorsteps and in beloved pie at our Thanksgiving feasts. But there's much more to this highly nutritious fruit.
Native Americans taught the pilgrims how to grow and roast this orange-colored fruit. Colonists sliced off pumpkin tops, removed the seeds and filled the insides with milk, spices and honey. Baked in hot ashes, this treat is the origin of our pumpkin pie.

Pumpkin usually shows up to satisfy our sweet tooth. We find it in pie, muffins, breads or bars. With its great nutrition profile, pumpkin deserves a higher honor then just "the end" of our holiday meal.

The bright orange color of the pumpkin is a dead giveaway that it is loaded with an important antioxidant, beta-carotene. Research shows beta-carotene -- the plant carotenoid that is converted to vitamin A in the body -- is key for healthy vision, proper cell growth and a strong immune system. Research also suggests it may help protect against cancer, fight inflammation and improve skin appearance.

One cup of cooked pumpkin provides 245 percent of the recommended dietary allowance of vitamin A.  It's also a great source of fiber and potassium.

Pumpkin is 90 percent water and low in calories. One cup of cooked or canned pumpkin has 80 calories and only 15 grams of carbohydrate with five grams of fiber and 550 milligrams of potassium. That's one-third of the calories found in sweet potatoes.

When buying canned pumpkin, check to see if it's just pumpkin or "pumpkin pie mix."  The pie mix contains added sugar, plain pumpkin doesn't. If the can was produced in another country, it may be what we know as winter squash because some countries use pumpkin as the name for winter squash.

Boost your beta-carotene with pumpkin or winter squash. Expand your options beyond the high-sugar options. Try pumpkin soup, a turkey-pumpkin chili or pumpkin pancakes.

Pumpkin Soup
This recipe, adapted from, uses some great fall spices for an anti-inflammatory dish.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1½ cups chopped onion
2 teaspoons minced garlic
2 teaspoons minced, peeled fresh ginger
1½ teaspoons curry powder
½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon ground coriander
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt
4 cups unsalted vegetable or chicken stock
2 bay leaves
2 15-ounce cans of pumpkin
½ cup soy creamer or evaporated fat-free milk
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
Toasted pumpkin seeds (for garnish)

Heat olive oil in large stock pot. Add onions, garlic, ginger and spices. Saute 2-3 minutes. Add soup stock, bay leaves and pumpkin. Stir to combine. If soup is too thick, add water. Heat to a simmer.  Cover and simmer 10-15 minutes.

Remove bay leaves and use an immersion blender to puree the soup. If you choose not to blend, there will be only a few chunks of onion. Stir in soy creamer or evaporated milk. Add black pepper. Garnish with roasted pumpkin seeds. 

Nutrition facts: Servings, 6; serving size, 1 cup; calories, 115; total fat, 4 grams; saturated fat, 0 grams; cholesterol, 0 milligrams; sodium, 160 milligrams; potassium, 630 milligrams; carbohydrate, 17 grams; fiber, 2 grams; protein, 5 grams.

High Protein Pumpkin Pancakes

Try some low-calorie high-protein pancakes. White whole-wheat flour provides whole grains along with beta carotene in the pumpkin. This recipe was adapted from

½ cup canned or cooked pumpkin
½ cup low-fat Greek vanilla yogurt
¼ teaspoon baking powder
1 large egg yolk
¼ cup white whole-wheat flour
4 large egg whites
1/8 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ginger

Whisk together pumpkin, yogurt, baking soda, egg yolk and flour.  In another bowl, whisk egg whites with salt. Fold in egg whites to pumpkin mixture.

Heat a non-stick griddle or pan. Spoon ¼ to 1/3 cup of batter on hot griddle. Flip when tops are covered with bubbles and edges are slightly brown.  It takes about 3 minutes per side.

Nutrition facts:  Servings, 4; serving size, 2 pancakes; calories, 85; total fat, 1 gram; saturated fat, 0 milligrams; cholesterol, 50 milligrams; sodium, 145milligrams; potassium, 165 milligrams; carbohydrates, 9 grams; fiber, 1 grams; protein, 8 grams.

Pumpkin Turkey Chili
This is a great recipe to use with Thanksgiving leftovers. This chili is hearty and full of good nutrients. Recipe adapted from

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound ground turkey or chopped cooked turkey meat
½ cup chopped onion
28-ounce can diced or crushed no-salt added tomatoes
2 cups peeled, cubed fresh pumpkin (or winter squash)
15-ounce can low-sodium kidney beans (140 milligrams or less a serving)
15-ounce can low-sodium black beans (140 milligrams or less a serving)
4-ounce can mild green chilies
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground allspice
2 teaspoons dry mustard
Dash of hot sauce

Heat oil in large soup pot over medium heat. Brown turkey and onion. Add remaining ingredients. Cover and simmer on low for 2 hours. For a slow cooker, brown turkey and then add remaining ingredients. Cook on low for 4-5 hours or high for 3-4 hours. 

Nutrition facts: Servings, 8; serving size, 1 cup; calories, 250; total fat, 6 grams; saturated fat, 1 gram; cholesterol, 40 milligrams; sodium, 250 milligrams; potassium, 725 milligrams; carbohydrates, 28 grams; fiber, 7 grams; protein, 20 grams. 

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