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University of Illinois Extension

Pumpkin is a versatile superfood for fall and beyond

September 17, 2012

Marilyn Csernus, Nutrition and Wellness Educator for Boone, Ogle and DeKalb Counties shares a seasonal article written by fellow Educator, Leia Weston Kedem. Visit our website at http://web.extension.illinois.edu/bdo/ for information on an upcoming extension program, Pumpkins: More Than Just Jack-o-Lanterns.

Pumpkin is a versatile superfood for fall and beyond

With Halloween and Thanksgiving just around the corner, the fruits and veggies available in your supermarket's produce department will change.

"There's no need to lament the loss of summer's bounty," said Leia Weston Kedem, a University of Illinois nutrition and wellness educator. "There are many healthy and delicious options in stores during the fall. Pumpkin is one of my favorites."

Pumpkin is packed full of nutrition. One-half cup of canned pumpkin has just 40 calories and is a good source of several nutrients, including dietary fiber and potassium, she said.

Its hallmark orange color means it is an excellent source of vitamin A, essential for many bodily functions. Orange fruits and vegetables not only promote good eyesight, they have antioxidant properties too, she noted.

Vitamin A can help protect against certain types of cancer and cardiovascular disease and may even promote healthy skin, she added.

The educator said that pumpkin is a versatile ingredient that can be used in either sweet or savory dishes. "You can even use canned and fresh pumpkin—cooked and pureed— interchangeably in recipes," she said.

Studies have shown that the nutritional content of canned fruits and vegetables is similar to or better than fresh produce, she said.

"If you are going to use canned pumpkin, though, remember to look for 100 percent canned pumpkin. It's easy to mistakenly buy pumpkin pie filling, which has other ingredients added," she advised.

Besides puree, pumpkin seeds can be roasted in the oven for a tasty snack filled with protein, fiber, B vitamins, and minerals. When roasting seeds, add only as much oil as is necessary to keep them from sticking to the pan or use nonstick spray, she said.

Pumpkin seeds contain fat, and adding extra oil or butter can make them very high in calories.

"It's really important to watch portion sizes with nuts and seeds. Stick to a ¼ cup of shelled seeds and pair with a piece of fruit for a balanced snack," she advised.

For more information about pumpkin, including recipes, fun facts, and more, visit University of Illinois Extension's "Pumpkins & More" website at http://urbanext.illinois.edu/pumpkin .

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