The Season of Pumpkin Spice5 months ago | Nutrition
By Joy Stephenson-Laws, JD, Founder
Fall is in the air, and so is the unmistakable aroma of pumpkin spice EVERYTHING. Nowadays it seems that pumpkin spice and pumpkin-flavored products are as synonymous with autumn as sweaters and fireplaces.
The pumpkin spice trend seems to never end. It may be the only thing that feuding pop-stars Katy Perry and Taylor Swift tend to agree on. Perry once tweeted, "ERMAGERD we're ONE day away from pumpkin spice latte's!," with Swift closely behind her tweeting, “Drinking a pumpkin spice latte. Just realized 70% of my tweets are food or cat related.”
Eater Online compiled a humorous list of the silliest pumpkin-flavored products to hit the shelves in recent years. From the always classic Starbucks’ pumpkin spice lattes to cake mixes and ice creams, even beer and pumpkin spice Cheerios have been thrust upon our society.
There is no denying that the smell of pumpkin spice can evoke a sense of coziness or good feeling. But what exactly is pumpkin spice and what is all the fuss about?
The Truth About Pumpkin Spice & Pumpkin Flavoring
Pumpkin spice is actually a mix of some of your favorite spices. Generally a blend of ground cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves and sometimes allspice, pumpkin spice has traditionally been used to make your pumpkin pies more flavorful.
This cornucopia of spices do have health benefits. For example, ginger helps with digestion and cloves are said to inhibit tumor growth. But that doesn’t mean that all the products that contain pumpkin spice are healthy for you.
Suzy Weems, Ph.D., professor at Baylor University's College of Health and Human Sciences says, “Pumpkin-laced candy is still candy, and things like pumpkin donuts still have sugar.” Weems goes on to say that most of these products only use a small amount of pumpkin for its flavor, which means it’s nearly impossible to reap any health benefits from the pumpkin itself.
Scary pumpkin snacks like Kellogg’s Frosted Pumpkin Pie Pop-Tarts are just one of the many season inspired treats that can play tricks on your tummy. A single pastry has 200 calories, 5g fat, 1.5 g saturated fat, 170 mg sodium, 36g carbs and 14g sugar. Best to shelve this one.
Another to grace the shelves this Fall is Jif Whipped Peanut Butter & Pumpkin Pie Spice Flavored Spread. Nothing about this sounds natural. A 2 tbsp serving contains 140 calories, 12g fat, 2.5g saturated fat, 95 mg sodium and 6g carbs.
Pumpkin doesn’t even seem to be one of the main ingredients in most of the pumpkin-flavored products on the supermarket shelves.
If you’re looking for a healthier spread that also packs a punch in the pumpkin department, try slathering your bread or bagel with a 50/50 mashup of canned pumpkin and some all natural peanut butter. While canned pumpkin isn’t exactly a health food, it is much better for you than pumpkin flavored products. You can even sprinkle a little cinnamon on your snack if you’re feeling frisky.
The Health Benefits of Real Pumpkin
Whole pumpkin has a wide range of health benefits. Just like carrots, pumpkins have a superpower called carotenoids. Carotenoids are a class of naturally occurring red, orange and yellow plant pigments, called phytochemicals.
While there are over 600 carotenoid phytochemicals found in nature, six of them regularly find their way onto our plates: beta-carotene, alpha-carotene, lycopene, beta-cryptyzanthin, lutein and zeaxanthin. Pumpkin contains a combination of these carotenoids, all of which are antioxidants.
Carotenoids may assist with lowered incidence of cardiovascular disease, eye diseases and cancer. Lutein and zeaxanthin are the only two carotenoids found in the retina, and may protect against cataracts and age-related macular degeneration (blindness), for which there is no cure.
Pumpkin is also an excellent source of beta-carotene. Beta-carotene may reduce the risk of developing certain types of cancer, protect against asthma and heart disease and delay aging and body degeneration.
Healthy Tips for Pumpkin Consumption
Next time you see a pumpkin, you might want to avoid carving it. Instead, cook it. If you have ever baked a squash before, cooking a pumpkin follows similar guidelines. Here is a link to an easy step-by-step guide on how to prepare and bake a pumpkin.
According to the USDA National Nutrient Database, one cup of cooked, boiled or drained pumpkin without salt contains:
- 1.76 g of protein
- 2.7 g of fiber
- 49 calories
- 0.17 g of fat
- 0 g of cholesterol
- 12.01 g of carbohydrate
Preparing a whole pumpkin from scratch will afford you the most health benefits. While it won’t taste quite as sugary as your pumpkin spice latte, I assure you that your body will thank you for going this route. And it’s a lot of fun too.
One cup of pumpkin also provides:
- More than 200 percent of the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of vitamin A
- 19 percent of the RDA of vitamin C
- 10 percent or more of the RDA of vitamin E, riboflavin, potassium, copper and manganese
- 5 percent of thiamin, B6, folate, pantothenic acid, niacin, iron, magnesium and phosphorus
If you do decide to cut some corners and shop for canned pumpkin, make sure you are not buying canned pumpkin pie mix. They usually sit side by side at the grocery store, so read the label closely. Canned pumpkin should only have one ingredient, pumpkin! (Read here for more information about pumpkin)
Enjoy your healthy life!
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