The Trouble with Pumpkin

Healthy Pumpkin Recipes

This week alone I’ve seen pumpkin-flavored breakfast cereal, pumpkin pie, pumpkin ravioli, pumpkin beer, pumpkin bread, pumpkin coffee, pumpkin donuts, pumpkin cheesecake, pumpkin biscotti, pumpkin Danish kringle, and pumpkin croissants for sale. And then there’s everyone’s favorite: Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Latte.

I love pumpkin! This time of year, I want to put pumpkin into everything too and eat it 24-7. But here’s the problem with “pumpkin” products: Pumpkin – as in, the actual squash – might not even be in them. That Pumpkin Spice Latte? There is no pumpkin on the ingredients list. And the ingredients are not good. A Grande Pumpkin Spice Latte contains: 380 calories, 49 grams of sugar and high fructose corn syrup, Annatto E160B color, “caramel color” E150D, “natural and artificial flavors,” 240 mg of salt, potassium sorbate E202, milk, espresso, whipped cream, and – the spices you know and love with a dash of sulfites.

That’s almost as scary as little girls dressing as Snooki for Halloween, am I right ladies?

If you’re buying pre-packaged pumpkin products, be sure to read the nutrition labels and check to see just how far down the list real pumpkin actually is. But, for my money, I want the real thing, with all of pumpkin’s wonderful health benefits intact.

Health Benefits of Pumpkin – and Pumpkin Pie Spice

Pumpkin is one of the healthiest vegetables on the planet. “Superfood” may be an overused term, but in this case, it absolutely applies. Just one cup of cooked, mashed pumpkin contains more than 200 percent of your daily recommended intake of vitamin A, and they’re packed with cancer-fighting, eyesight-helping carotenoids, contain lots of fiber, and are very low in calories.

Pumpkin seeds are no slouch either – well worth the work of washing off the orange goo and roasting them in the oven after carving. They’re rich in zinc, tryptophan, and phytosterols, which lower cholesterol, boost your immune system, and even improve your mood.

Even pumpkin pie spice – the blend of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves and allspice – is very good for you. Cinnamon lowers cholesterol, ginger aids digestion, and all together, these spices present a compact and delicious way to consume antioxidants.

Unfortunately, creating that delicious pumpkin pie flavor also requires a lot of sugar – but there are ways to get the Autumn flavor you love without sacrificing your health, teeth, and waistline.

5 Healthy Pumpkin Recipes

1. Health-Boosting Pumpkin Spice Latte recipe: Care2.com posted this recipe that I just love – and it uses real pumpkin puree! She does recommend substituting coffee for roasted dandelion root, but the recipe will work either way.

2. Easy Pumpkin Oatmeal: Using your favorite oatmeal, include a tablespoon of pumpkin puree with pumpkin pie spice and agave syrup to the mix – and don’t forget to top it with walnuts! The good fats and fiber make this a real breakfast of champions.

3. Vegan Pumpkin Pie Pudding: GirlMakesFood blogger Alissa posted this recipe last year that uses maple syrup and almond milk with pumpkin, spice, and arrowroot (or corn starch) to create a healthy and vegan pumpkin dessert.

4. Coconut Roasted Pumpkin Seeds: Take 4 cups pumpkin seeds, 1/2 cup coconut oil, 2 Tb coconut sugar, 1 tsp cinnamon, 1 tsp ginger, and 1/4th tsp salt, and mix them together, coating the seeds. Spread the seeds on a single layer on a lightly greased cookie sheet and bake at 350F for 7 minutes. Stir and sprinkle with more coconut sugar, then bake for another 7 minutes – repeating 2 more times (for 1/2 hour total baking time). ***Try this recipe with curry powder instead of cinnamon and ginger also!

5. Pumpkin Quinoa Risotto: Sure, you could blend the pumpkin puree in with the slow-cooked quinoa for this risotto, but I love bringing some Italian flair to the recipe by using fresh wedges of cooked pumpkin instead, like this recipe does from the Times of Malta. Garnish with crispy brown butter-fried sage leaves if you’re so inclined.

Living with Nuts

Health benefits of nuts

You might think the title of this post was inspired by the impending holidays, when many of us consider ourselves to be surrounded by nuts, but no – I’m talking about living LONGER with nuts! New research out of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard Medical School found that regular nut-noshers had a 20 percent reduction in mortality from *any* cause.

That means eating nuts can be linked to reduced risk for heart disease and cancer, among many other diseases. NPR’s report extrapolated another perspective from the findings: “Men and women who were regularly munching on peanuts or tree nuts like almonds, pecans and walnuts in their 30s and 40s when the study began were significantly more likely to reach their 70s, compared with folks who didn’t eat nuts.”

The researchers – none of whom read my blog, obviously – don’t know exactly why nuts are so beneficial. They suspect that it has something to do with how nuts affect the metabolism, helping to control blood sugar and food cravings, essentially helping to reduce weight – but they’re also interested in further study of how magnesium, fiber and protein (all found in nuts) work in the body. With all of the good fats and nutrients found in nuts, supporting everything from brain function (reducing stress and improving memory) to metabolism (supporting weight loss and steady energy flow), it’s pretty easy to figure out why nuts help people live longer, healthier lives!

Since the holidays are coming up fast, here’s a DIY gift idea: Make a batch of spiced nuts, put them in mason jars with ribbons and holiday-appropriate labels, and give a homemade gift that is healthy and delicious! For more Holiday DIY gift inspiration, check out my Pinterest board: Holiday-Healthy Gourmet Food Gifts.

Healthy Food Gifts

Want to learn more about what nuts can do for you? Check out what I have to say on pistachios, flax seeds & almonds, and walnuts.

Pumpkin Power!

healthy vegan pumpkin soupPumpkin season is so packed with super-food goodness, I don’t know why we don’t eat pumpkins year-round. Did you know that just one cup of pumpkin contains half your daily recommended dose of fiber? It’s got antioxidants that prevent everything from wrinkles to cancer, contains more potassium than a banana, and is a great source of vitamin A and iron.

Pumpkin seeds are also incredibly good for you as a source of unsaturated fats and oils, zinc, and the amino acid tryptophan, which helps your body produce the feel-good chemical serotonin. In short, pumpkins make you look better AND feel better – but don’t help yourself to seconds on pie yet.

Whole V. Canned Pumpkin?

The argument against canned pumpkin is that the pumpkin goes through an intense heating process to pasteurize it for safe storage. Any cooking will, of course, destroy some of the nutrients, but considering that raw pumpkin just doesn’t taste the same (and I challenge anyone to make it into a pie-like substance), I’m going to say that it’s okay to cook this one. The canned version is usually sold with no preservatives or additives – so just be sure to look for “100% Pumpkin” on the label and check the ingredients list.

Canned pumpkin is also more concentrated, which means that one cup of canned pumpkin will actually have a higher density of nutrients than 1 cup of fresh cooked pumpkin.

Quick and Easy Vegan Pumpkin Soup

I love making a hearty Fall soup out of pumpkin using chopped onion, vegetable broth, ginger, nutmeg, salt and pepper – and, of course, a garnish of pumpkin seeds and crispy-fried sage leaves!

  1. Saute the onions in the pot first until they caramelize, then add the ginger and nutmeg, stirring until fragrant.
  2. Add 1 can of pumpkin (or the cooked meat of 1 small cooking pumpkin) and mash it together with the onion mixture.
  3. Pour in enough broth to get the creamy consistency you like best. Add salt an pepper to taste and cook for a few more minutes to let the flavors combine.
  4. While the soup is cooking, heat olive oil in a skillet and fry a handful of sage leaves until crispy, sprinkled with a little salt.
  5. Serve the soup garnished with the crispy sage leaves and pumpkin seeds.

Keep Your Skin Gorgeous With Fall Flavors

cumin cinnamon spiced carrot fries

October is when everything seems to transform from the vibrant colors of summer to vivid yellows, oranges and reds – and not just the leaves on the trees, but the food too! Pumpkin, of course, is King, but butternut squash, carrots and sweet potatoes also hold considerable sway on the dinner table. What they all have in common is beta-carotene, which is not only a powerful antioxidant, but also breaks down in our bodies to become Vitamin A.

What does Vitamin A do? This very important vitamin helps keep eyes, skin and mucous membranes moist (read: beautiful skin), helps your eyes adjust to light changes, and neutralizes free radicals that cause tissue and cellular damage. While Vitamin A is extremely important, too much can be toxic. The good news is that when your body absorbs it from food (not pills), it only converts as much as it needs.

Considering how drying Fall and Winter can be on your skin, I say it’s okay to indulge in all the pumpkin, butternut squash, carrots and sweet potatoes you want – just as long as they aren’t always in desserts.

Recipe: Spiced Carrot Oven Fries

Carrot sticks just got a whole lot tastier. Chop your carrots into, well, sticks and toss them with a little olive oil, a pinch of salt, cinnamon and cumin (black and white sesame seeds optional). Spread them out on an aluminum-lined cookie sheet and bake at 425 degrees for about 20 minutes, until they’re lightly browned. If you love carrots, you’ll love this recipe; but even if cooked carrots aren’t your thing, I guarantee you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

I can’t believe it’s not Pumpkin Butter! Well, it is, just healthier

Pumpkins
At Intelligent Gourmet, we take flavors you love and make them better for you. What’s better in Fall than spreading sweet rich pumpkin butter over your whole-grain toast in the morning? Not much! Well, maybe raiding your kid’s Halloween haul, but we haven’t come up with a healthy version for that (yet).  Pumpkin is full of nutrients that improve your skin, your mood, and your health (including helping to prevent prostate cancer and kidney stones). When combined with ginger (anti-inflammatory), cinnamon (reduces bad cholesterol), and cardamom (anti-oxidant), this is a power packed treat. Your kids might even trade their candy for it.

Pumpkin Butter
lifestyle recipe by Intelligent Gourmet
Yield: 28 Servings
Serving Size: 2 Tbsp.

Ingredients:

• 3 1/2 cups of fresh pumpkin cut in small pieces
• 3/4 cup apple juice
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 1/2-1.5 teaspoons ground ginger (depending on your liking)
• 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
• 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamon
• 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
• 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
• 3/4 cup sucanat (or brown sugar)
• 1- 1/2 tsp fresh lemon juice
Note: You can adjust the sugar and seasonings to your own taste of course.

Preparation:
1. Boil or Bake raw pumpkin until soft, drain well and measure out the 3.5 cups, or use 1 (29 ounce) can pumpkin puree.

2. Combine all ingredients in a large saucepan except lemon juice, mix well.

3. Bring mixture to a boil, then cover loosely with lid ajar (slightly offset). Reduce heat to low-medium and simmer, in the same manner for an additional 40 minutes, stirring frequently. This mixture may bubble and splatter if not careful.

4. Remove from heat and let it sit for 15 minutes before removing lid.

5. Adjust sucanat or sugar to taste if necessary, then stir in lemon juice.

6. Cool completely, and put in an airtight container like a large mason jar. Store in refrigerator for up to 3 weeks.

* Sucanat is a less-processed alternative to sugar with small amounts of nutrients in it as well. Essentially, it’s dehydrated sugar cane juice, and is an abbreviation for “sugar-cane-natural.” It has a stronger molasses flavor than refined white sugar because it retains the nutrients found in sugar cane juice, like iron, calcium, B6, and potassium.

Nutrition
Per serving: 35 calories; 2.5 g fat ( 1 g sat , 4 g mono ); 5.4 g carbohydrates; 5.9 g sugars
Nutrition Profile: DF, GF, NF, SF, V