Pumpkins deserve a lot more respect than they get from Halloween jack-o’-lanterns and pumpkin spice lattes. Sure, they’re a centerpiece of most Thanksgiving dessert tables, but pumpkin’s flavor and nutrition assets make it a worthy part of everyday fall and winter meals — even without added sugar.

Along with other winter squash, pumpkins are members of the same family as cucumbers and melons. Their flesh is water-rich, which makes them lower in calories than many other starchy carbohydrate foods, including sweet potatoes. One cup of pumpkin has 49 calories, compared with 180 for sweet potatoes. They are a good source of fiber, potassium and vitamin C.

Pumpkin’s vibrant color gives it more than just good looks, it makes this round squash an excellent source of the antioxidant beta carotene, which our bodies convert to vitamin A. That’s good for your eyes, your skin, and the rest of you, since antioxidants help protect your cells against damage from free radicals, possibly reducing your risk of developing heart disease and some forms of cancer. Other eye- and skin-healthy antioxidants in pumpkins are the phytonutrients lutein and zeaxanthin, which research suggests may reduce the risk of cataracts and slow the development of age-related macular degeneration.

Choosing the right pumpkin

Whether you are choosing seeds for next year’s vegetable garden or perusing the pumpkins in your grocery store with the intent to eat them rather than carve them up for your front porch, choose varieties described as “sweet” or “pie” pumpkins. They’ll have better flavor and a more pleasing texture. They also tend to be smaller in size, making it more manageable to roast and puree them. From there, why not try:

  • Cutting roasted pumpkin into cubes and adding them to a salad or soup.
  • Adding a cup of pureed pumpkin to your favorite hummus recipe.
  • Stirring pureed pumpkin and pumpkin pie spices into oatmeal or Greek yogurt, or blending into your morning smoothie.
  • Swapping pumpkin for part of the sweet potatoes in your sweet potato casserole to lighten it.
Cooking your pumpkin

As with other winter squash, you can roast a pumpkin whole, but cutting it in half—from top to bottom—or into wedges lets you scoop out the seeds to roast separately as a snack. Here’s what to do:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  2. Turn the pumpkin on its side, and use a sharp knife to slice the top, including the stem, off the pumpkin. Cut the pumpkin in half, from the top to the bottom. Use a spoon to scoop out the seeds and stringy insides.
  3. Cut each pumpkin half into wedges, then place them skin-side down on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Roast for about 45 minutes, until fork-tender.
  4. Remove the pumpkin from the oven, and cool until it’s just cool enough to handle, about 10 minutes. Remove and discard the skin.
  5. (Optional) Transfer the pumpkin flesh to a food processor or blender and purée until smooth.
  6. Store the roasted pumpkin in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

Not everyone is up for making their own pumpkin puree, which is no problem if you own a can opener. If you opt for canned pumpkin, be sure to buy plain pumpkin (the only ingredient should be pumpkin) and not pumpkin pie mix, which has added sugars.

Carrie Dennett, MPH, RDN, is a Pacific Northwest-based registered dietitian nutritionist, freelance writer, intuitive eating counselor, author, and speaker. Her superpowers include busting nutrition myths and empowering women to feel better in their bodies and make food choices that support pleasure, nutrition and health. This post is for informational purposes only and does not constitute individualized nutrition or medical advice.

Seeking 1-on-1 nutrition counseling? Carrie offers a 6-month Food & Body program (intuitive eating, body image, mindfulness, self-compassion) and a 4-month IBS management program (low-FODMAP diet coaching with an emphasis on increasing food freedom). Visit the links to learn more and book a free intro call to see if the program is a good fit, and if we’re a good fit!

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