All Things Pumpkin!

For two months this past summer, I searched in vain! Canned pumpkin, a fall specialty traditionally available year-round (and a staple to complete my morning oatmeal), had completely disappeared! I visited store after store, finding only empty space on shelves once hosting this versatile food–a highly nutritious addition to diets for Baby Boomers and seniors!

Pumpkins are a highly nutritious and versatile food!
Pumpkins are a highly nutritious and versatile food!

Then around the middle of September, and just in time for the outermost reaches of the holiday season, the beautiful orange globes returned!

As it turns out, the 2015 pumpkin harvest was decreased by about half due to heavy rains in Illinois, home to 90% of pumpkins in the U.S. But the crop for the 2016 baking and holiday season is projected to be high. I, for one, can’t be happier!

Packed Full of Nutrition!
Typically thought of in terms of mom’s crowd-pleasing Thanksgiving dessert, pumpkins are actually a form of squash, is a member of the Cucurbitaceae family–low in calories, sodium and fat. They’re naturally gluten-free and high in dietary fiber. (A 1/2-cup serving of canned pumpkin puree contains only 50 calories, with 3 grams of fiber.) And they are a rich source of Vitamin A and potassium.

But perhaps the most exciting news about pumpkins comes from their phytochemical content. Phytochemicals are naturally-occurring plant chemicals that have protective or disease preventive properties. In the case of pumpkin puree, that means beta-carotene (which gives the fruit its gorgeous orange color), an antioxidant that may reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes and some cancers. And the seeds (roasted no longer than 15 – 20 minutes) contain protein, and are a good source of zinc, manganese and other antioxidants.

Don’t Be Afraid to Experiment
Pumpkin puree is extremely versatile. Here are 10 ideas…beyond the pie!
1) Vegetable dip: Mix equal amounts pumpkin puree with creamy peanut butter, and a small amount cream cheese. Add your favorite savory spices.
2) Macaroni and cheese: Add 1/2 cup pumpkin to your favorite homemade mac and cheese recipe.
3) Chili: Add 2/3 cup pumpkin to homemade chili for a thick, rich and nutritious entree.
4) Cookies: Substitute 3/4 cup pumpkin puree for 1/2 cup butter.
5) Hummus: Add 1/2 cup pumpkin to your favorite hummus dip.
6) Spaghetti sauce: Combine 1 cup pumpkin puree with 3 cups spaghetti sauce; add nutrients, dilute the sodium.
7) Salads: Top your green leafies with roasted pumpkin seeds.
8) Smoothie: Add 1/2 cup pumpkin to your favorite smoothie recipe.
9) Pancakes: Add 1/2 cup pumpkin plus 1 tsp pumpkin pie spice to pancakes.
10) Oatmeal: My favorite breakfast recipe–Prepare oatmeal according to directions, adding 1 Tb vanilla protein powder and a dash pumpkin pie spice. After cooking, top with 1/2 cup pumpkin.

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