Pumpkins aren't just for carving

You've probably noticed pumpkin products are popping up everywhere. One thing is for sure, I'm loving the trend! Act fast -- pumpkin is only in season from September through November, so stock your pantry now.

Why Pumpkin?

Its orange color represents more than just a Halloween theme; it also indicates pumpkins are high in beta-carotene, which is correlated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and some cancers. Besides tasting great, pumpkin is rich in vitamin A, vitamin C, antioxidants, minerals and fiber. What does this mean? This superfood keeps your eyesight sharp, boosts your immune system, keeps you feeling full and contains more energy-boosting potassium than a banana!

Be warned: Not all pumpkin products are created equal. Pumpkin breads, pies and spiced drinks may look healthy and taste great, but they are filled with sugar and saturated fat. Don't worry, there are plenty of ways to get your pumpkin fix without wreaking havoc on your waistline.

Instead of pumpkin pie, try pumpkin butter.

One slice of pumpkin pie is about 300 calories and filled with sugar and fat. Get your fix for just 20 calories per tablespoon with American Spoon Pumpkin Butter. You won't be able to get enough of this product's creamy, butter-like consistency.

Want to give your breakfast a makeover? Swap out that high-calorie bagel and cream cheese for a spread of pumpkin butter and Friendship Dairies' 1 percent whipped cottage cheese on a high-fiber English muffin. The healthy dose of sweetness is like eating pumpkin pie for breakfast.

Instead of buying trail mix, make your own with pumpkin seeds.

Trail mix is the perfect, diet-approved snack. The problem: many store-bought mixes contain eight or more servings per package. Before you know it, you've eaten the whole bag in one sitting and consumed a day's worth of calories.

The solution: Make your own mix. For a seasonal spin, use pumpkin seeds instead of peanuts, and mix with dried fruit. Then scoop half-cup portions into separate bags to avoid over-snacking. Crunched for time? Enjoy Life Seed and Fruit Mix sells nut-free grab & go packs, complete with pumpkin seeds for plenty of crunch.

Instead of ordering pizza, try making your own with pumpkin puree sauce.

It's no secret that ordering pizza from our nation's top pizza chains is cheap and convenient, but nowhere near the healthy spectrum. But pizza night can be healthy too, with a little help from pumpkin puree. Most pizza sauces are filled with sugar and sodium to add flavor, but a pumpkin puree pizza sauce adds natural sweetness, plus you'll reap pumpkin's health-boosting benefits.

Instead of Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte, try pumpkin spice tea.

Tasty? Yes. Healthy? Not really. One grande Pumpkin Spice Latte from Starbucks has almost enough calories for an entire meal -- 380 calories, 8 grams of saturated fat and 49 grams of sugar -- and that's if you order with low-fat milk. Not exactly diet-friendly. Try organic pumpkin spice tea to get the taste of autumn without the guilt. Sweeten with Nektar Naturals Honey Crystals or pumpkin butter to keep warm on a cool day. 

Heather Bauer, RD CDN
Heather Bauer, RD CDN


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