Smashing Pumpkins... and Spice
Before you go bashing the trend we all love and hate, check out why it's not only good, but good FOR you!
It’s already in the stores. Every store. Every. Where. Pumpkin, Pumpkin Spice, even Autumn Spice, the one that tries to deceive you that it’s not pumpkin, but it is. There’s tea, popcorn, soap, air freshener, cleaning agents, even scented trash bags. I mean, you can’t get away from the stuff!
It does taste good, and it does smell good, but some dread seeing it come into the stores as much as they dread seeing the first Christmas Trees and Candy Canes. Others start aching for it in June, looking for that ‘one box’ they hid back in December, when it was all on sale. The latter might be the sneakier of the bunch, finding something they love that is both popular and yummy.
Pumpkin and Spice actually have health benefits. Yep, I said it. But it’s true! Before we go down that road, know that there are two versions of product I speak of here. One is ‘pumpkin spice’ which contains no pumpkin at all, but in fact, is used to spice pumpkin. The other, of course, is Pumpkin AND Spice, and there are many variations.
Like anything, you want to make sure it’s really what you think it is. Not pumpkin ‘flavored,’ not cinnamon ‘flavored,’ but pumpkin, or cinnamon, or, you get the drift. “Flavored’ is often a big deception. Take Licorice for example. Did you know there is no licorice in licorice candy in America? Same with Marshmallows. And that ‘raspberry’ flavored drink you love? It sure isn’t raspberries, and from where it comes is for another article. If it’s not real, sure it might taste good, but there won’t be the health benefits of the real thing.
Pumpkin Spice, used to um, well, spice pumpkin; it's usually made of ground cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, and oftentimes allspice. A tablespoon has 20 calories, and has 6 percent of the daily RDA of Iron. It also has a nice amount of Magnesium and Calcium. It has one percent of Potassium, but zero percent sodium, no cholesterol, and .7 g of fat. Great source of Iron, but don’t forget to make sure you’re getting enough Vitamin C if you’re supplementing iron, or happen to be low in iron, as Vitamin C is necessary to absorb iron. But what other benefits are in this decadent combo?
Cinnamon is really high in antioxidants, has anti-inflammatory properties, can improve sensitivity to the hormone insulin, and lowers blood sugar levels, and is an excellent balancer of the metabolism. There are many types available, with the ‘true’ cinnamon being Ceylon Cinnamon.
Nutmeg is also a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, but also has antibacterial properties. It has been shown to be beneficial to heart health, can boost mood, and has also been shown to boost libido.
Ginger is definitely a power spice! Fresh ginger helps your body ward off germs, and its antibacterial properties help keep the mouth healthy. It is useful in calming nausea, soothing sore muscles, easing arthritis symptoms, easing period pain, lowering blood sugar, and—something that needs more research—has been shown to possibly curb cancer growth.
Cloves also have antibacterial, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory properties, but one important thing that makes them a good food companion, is that they aid in digestion, and can help reduce the incidence or severity of stomach ulcers. There has also been research conducted showing their usefulness in controlling certain cancers, and they have been used for many years as a liver protectant. They promote good bone health, and boost the immune system. They are also used to treat headaches.
So what happens when you add the pumpkin?
Magic happens! A cup of pumpkin is only 50 calories, and is an explosion of Vitamin A! It contains 245 percent of the Recommended Daily Intake (RDI), due to it being one of the best known sources of beta-carotene, the pre-cursor to Vitamin A. That cup also contains 20 percent of the Vitamin C RDI, 16 percent of the Potassium RDI, and is a significant source of fiber. Pumpkins can also protect immunity.
What a powerhouse!
How can you include pumpkin in your diet in more ways?
Cooking fresh pumpkin is obviously the way to go, but if you do that, you don’t want to use the jack-o-lantern type. Look for the smaller, and sweeter, smaller pie varieties. You can store these pumpkins for up to two months if they are uncut, and have a few inches of stem left. You can make your own puree for use in other recipes and forms. Canned will work, but fresh is always better. Many enzymes and nutrients are lost in the commercial canning process.
- One of the best hacks, but not as well known, is that pumpkin puree can be used in place of oil or butter in any baking recipe.
- Like yogurt? Pumpkin-Chocolate Yogurt is a delicious treat by combining Greek yogurt, pureed (or canned) pumpkin, honey, cinnamon, and cocoa powder. Cacao or ditched cocoa are preferred.
- Snack on roasted pumpkin seeds, which you can lightly season with pumpkin spice.
- Make pumpkin butter and use it on toast, muffins, or anything!
- Pumpkin Lasagna—there are desert versions, but also entrée versions using pumpkin puree and ricotta cheese as the filling
- Pumpkin Spice Latte
And there are hundreds—possibly thousands—of other fun recipes using pumpkin.
So go ahead! Enjoy Pumpkin Spice ALL YEAR for good health!