By Holly R. Layer – Contributing Writer
I would be remiss if I didn’t address everyone’s favorite fruit (yes, because it develops from the flower of the plant): the pumpkin.
The giant orange globes have decorated doorsteps for weeks now, local pumpkin patches have been crowded with young families and we’re all flocking to Starbucks for a PSL at the hint of a chill in air.
What is it about the pumpkin that we like so much?
First, a little background: According to history.com, the tradition of pumpkin-carving came from Ireland, where the story of “Stingy Jack,” his deals with the devil and the burning turnip he carried, which eventually led to the Jack-o’-lantern, a staple of Halloween here in America.
Last year, 47 percent of U.S. households carved their own pumpkin.
Little-known fact: 90 percent of the pumpkins grown in the U.S. come from a 90-mile radius of Peoria, Ill., and most of those are turned into pumpkin puree or pie mix.
There are many kinds of pumpkins, some bred for carving and some for eating. If you plan to buy a pumpkin for cooking, look for varieties including cheese, Cinderella, Jarrahdale, Lumina, peanut, and pie pumpkins.
Second, we probably associate fond memories of mom’s pumpkin pie or pumpkin bread, along with the delightful smell of cinnamon and nutmeg, wafting every which way this time of year. Pumpkins represent the best of our childhood memories of fall: raking leaves, hayrides and sweet treats.
Finally, there really is a lot to like nutritionally about the pumpkin. Not only are pumpkins high in vitamin A, they are also high in carotenoids, which our bodies turn into vitamin A. Carotenoids are what give the yellow-orange color to fruits and vegetables, like carrots, and aid in vision and eyesight.
Pumpkins are also high in fiber, which helps us feel full on fewer calories and could lead to weight loss, and their seeds have been shown to help lower our LDL (bad) cholesterol.
Consider eating pumpkin after a workout. They’re higher in potassium than bananas.
Here are some of my favorite pumpkin goodies. Time to break out the loaf pan.
Smoothie: ½ C pumpkin, 1 tsp pumpkin pie spice, 1 scoop vanilla protein powder, 1 C liquid oatmeal; mix ¼ C pumpkin and 1 tsp pumpkin pie spice into prepared oatmeal, top with granola
Dip: Replace roasted red peppers with pumpkin in your favorite hummus recipe
Chili: Add diced or canned pumpkin to any recipe
“Made Over” Pumpkin Bread recipe
1 can (16 oz) pumpkin or 3 C shredded zucchini (2 to 3 zucchini)
1/3 C butter
1¾ C whole-wheat flour
1 1/3 C all-purpose flour
2 C sugar or stevia
1/3 cup applesauce or buttermilk
2 tsp baking soda
1½ tsp salt
½ tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp cloves
1/3 C raisins, soaked and drained
1/3 C walnuts, toasted and chopped
Heat oven to 350 and grease two loaf pans.
Mix butter and sugar. Add eggs, pumpkin and applesauce or buttermilk. Blend in flour, baking soda, salt, baking powder, cinnamon and cloves. Add nuts/raisins if using. Pour into pans. Sprinkle tops with sugar. Bake 1 hour or until wooden toothpick inserted comes out clean.
Holly R. Layer is a registered dietitian and a freelance writer. She works as a clinical dietitian at DeGraff Memorial Hospital in North Tonawanda and also provides nutritional counseling at Weigel Health Center at SUNY Buffalo State, as well as teaching fitness classes at the Southtowns YMCA. She lives in the village with her husband, Andrew, an East Aurora native. She blogs at thehealthypineapple.com and her work appears monthly in the online version of Refresh.