Some call it fall and others call it autumn, but one thing we can all agree on is: It’s pumpkin season. From pumpkin-flavored coffee and smoothies to pumpkin-inspired cookies and granola bars, pretty much every food brand has capitalized on the pumpkin obsession.
But you don’t have to purchase these products – many of which are sky-high in sugar and calories – to enjoy the trend. After all, pumpkin itself is incredibly healthy. For one, it’s full of vitamin C – 2 cups packs more than 100 percent of your daily recommended value of the immune-supporting compound, says registered dietitian Jim White, founder of Jim White Fitness and Nutrition Studios in Virginia. What’s more, pumpkin is rich in vitamin A, potassium and the powerful antioxidant beta-carotene, White adds. Plus, all orange stuff aside, pumpkin seeds contain a great mix of protein, fat and fiber, which work together to help you stay fuller longer.
So, to help you get the most out of the quintessential fall flavor – and actually make your diet healthier in the process – we asked some of the country’s most creative nutritionists for their ideas. Here, registered dietitians Wesley Delbridge, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics; Mandy Enright, creator of the nutrition blog Nutrition Nuptials; Albert Matheny, co-owner of SoHo Strength Lab in New York City; Kelly Pritchett, assistant professor of clinical nutrition at Central Washington University; Tori Schmitt, founder of YES! Nutrition services in Ohio; and Jessica Swift, a chef based in the District of Columbia, weigh in:
1. Replace some of the cheese in any macaroni and cheese recipe with pumpkin puree to cut down on fat while adding flavor.
2. Substitute cooked pumpkin squash for potatoes as a lower-calorie side dish.
3. Mix pumpkin seeds and your favorite nuts for a healthy, filling snack.
4. Replace breadcrumbs with pumpkin seeds on your go-to salad for a healthy dose of fat and fiber, plus zinc and magnesium.
5. To make a pumpkin pie smoothie, blend 1 cup of almond milk, half of a banana, a quarter cup of pumpkin, one scoop of vanilla protein powder and 1 teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice (just a blend of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and allspice).
6. Switch up your usual pasta sauce by mixing cooked and diced pumpkin into marinara sauce.
7. Add a dollop of canned pumpkin, a dash of cinnamon and a drizzle of maple syrup to your regular oatmeal recipe for a sweet breakfast or healthy dessert.
8. When baking, sub out some oil for pumpkin puree. Use a 1-to-1 ratio; such that if you take out 1 tablespoon of oil, add 1 tablespoon of pumpkin puree.
9. Crush pumpkin seeds to use as a protein-packed crust for meat or fish.
10. Swirl pumpkin puree into hummus for a fall-inspired dip.
11. For super-moist baked goods, use pumpkin puree instead of butter at a 4-to-3 ratio.
12. Add a scoop of pumpkin puree to pancake batter for a moist, fall-flavored breakfast.
13. Top your cereal with sunflower seeds for extra protein and crunch.
14. Roast pumpkin with coconut oil and pumpkin pie spice for an easy, low-cal snack.
15. Switch up your regular weeknight pasta dish by adding pumpkin, roasted pecans, lemon zest and parsley to whole-wheat noodles.
16. Mix pumpkin puree and cottage cheese to make a creamy, protein-packed snack.
17. Season pumpkin seeds with your favorite spices and bake for 15 to 20 minutes at 350 degrees.
18. Combine pumpkin puree, pumpkin pie spice, peanut butter and vanilla protein powder into healthy energy bites.
19. Make pumpkin waffles by adding a quarter-cup of pumpkin puree and a teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice to the batter.
20. Build a yogurt parfait by layering pumpkin and high-protein skyr yogurt, then sprinkling pumpkin pie spice and fruit on top.