Pumpkin purveyors have reason for grins as wide as those of jack-o’-lanterns. Pumpkin products proliferate this time of year — and not just for traditional pies, breads and Halloween décor, but for whimsical goodies that may not live up to the pumpkin’s healthy reputation.
Appealing to palates are pumpkin donuts, pumpkin ice cream, pumpkin latte – even chocolate pumpkin candy.
“If you believe the sales pitch, the pumpkin is the happiest, healthiest food,” said Suzy Weems, Ph.D., registered dietitian and professor of nutrition sciences in Baylor University’s College of Health and Human Sciences.
But a balancing act is important, Weems said. Weems is a consulting dietician for hospitals and extended-care facilities across Texas, as well as a former chair of the American Dietetic Association's legislative and public policy committee and a past president of the Texas Dietetic Association.
Fiber? Check. Nice thing for dieters who want a full feeling.
Zeaxanthin? Check. Hard to pronounce, but a boon for Boomers seeking a weapon against age-related macular degeneration and impaired eyesight.
Low in cholesterol and high in Vitamin A? Yes, for healthy skin and eyes — and an aid in fighting cancer.
Heart-healthy phytosterols? They’re in pumpkin seeds.
Magnesium, manganese, copper, phosphorus, protein, zinc and iron? “On the USDA/FDA rating schedule, pumpkins are a good source of all those,” Weems said. Add them up, and you’ve got a cocktail for energy, growth and a top-notch immune system.
Pumpkin snacks: “Pumpkin-laced candy is still candy,” Weems said. “Pumpkin seeds are good for making you feel full, but the fat doesn’t disappear when you roast and eat them.”
Pumpkin desserts: “Be sure to notice how much pumpkin is really is in it, that it’s not just the flavoring.”
Pumpkin in coffee or for breakfast: “A pumpkin latte is not going to mean any fewer calories if it’s made with a full-fat milk or syrup,” Weems said. “And pumpkin donuts still have sugar.”
Pumpkin as a magic bullet. “Take a look at the total calories: If you have diabetes, you look at the sugar and total carbohydrates. And if you have cardiovascular disease, look at the fat.”
Still, “pumpkin is delightful,” Weems said.