It’s a shame most of us think about pumpkins primarily in the fall because they are among the healthiest foods on the planet (and no, pumpkin spice lattes don’t count). Since canned pumpkin is available year-round, there’s no excuse not to eat it more often!
High-fiber, very low calorie (one cup of raw pumpkin has only 30 calories), and packed with vitamins, potassium, and fiber, pumpkin is also one of the best sources of beta carotene, a powerful antioxidant that the body converts into vitamin A. Consuming foods with high amounts of beta carotene can:
- Reduce the risk of developing certain types of cancer, including prostate and colon cancers.
- Protect against asthma.
- Support eye health and decrease the risk of age-related macular degeneration (the fiber, potassium, and vitamin C content all support heart health).
- Help control diabetes by lowering blood sugar levels.
If you want to cook with fresh pumpkin, look for sugar pumpkins (also called pie or sweet pumpkins), which are small and round. Roast them the same way you would a butternut or acorn squash: Drizzle pumpkin wedges with extra-virgin olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and roast for about 25 minutes at 400°F. Or go the easier route with canned pumpkin, which you can stir into soups, chilis, and stews, add to pancake or quick bread batter, or layer on yogurt and top with nuts or granola, plus a pinch of cinnamon and nutmeg.
Pumpkin seeds (pepitas) are extremely nutritious, too. They’re packed with protein, fiber, and many minerals, including iron, copper, magnesium, manganese, phosphorous, zinc, potassium, folate, niacin, and selenium. They also contain healthy poly- and monounsaturated fats. Save the seeds from your roasting pumpkins. Rinse and thoroughly dry them. Spread seeds out on a parchment-lined baking sheet, drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil, sprinkle with salt and roast at 350°F for about 15 minutes, stirring halfway through.
Other Great Sources of Beta Carotene:
Red bell peppers