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Pumpkin Nutrition

Sandy              By: Sandy Spitler (Dietetic Intern)

Pumpkin is everywhere as the fall season comes full circle, from carving them at Halloween to the endless variety of pumpkin flavored coffee drinks, it can incorporated into almost anything you can think of. While pumpkin compliments breads, ravioli, beer, and pie, this fall squash also packs a bounty of health benefits. Below provides evidence to why it is perfectly acceptable to obsess over pumpkin not only this fall but all year long: 

  • Pumpkin seeds help elevate moods and improve sleep  – especially needed during the fall and winter months as the weather cools down and daylight fades away. Pumpkin seeds are rich in the essential amino acid tryptophan needed in the production of serotonin – a major hormone that affects mood and sleep. Regular consumption of pumpkin may even help prevent depression.
  •  Aids in weight loss – as good source of fiber, with 3 grams per 1 cup serving, and only 50 calories, pumpkin can help you feel fuller longer, preventing you from reaching for the candy corn or indulging in a candied apple.
  •  Protects your heart – nuts and seeds, including pumpkin seeds, are naturally abundant in phytoesterols, plant-based chemicals shown to reduce LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and blood pressure. After carving all your pumpkins, keep the seeds to roast in the oven to use as a snack or added crunch in salads.
  •  Keeps vision fine-tuned – 1 cup of mashed pumpkin provides more than 200% of the recommended daily intake for vitamin A, aiding to keep your eyesight sharp. 
  • May reduce risk of cancer – pumpkins are rich in carotenoids, displayed by their bright orange color, enhancing the antioxidant beta-carotene, possibly aiding to prevent cancer. These antioxidants also foster skin’s smoothness by helping to prevent wrinkles.
  •  Refuel after a tough workout – 1 cup of cooked pumpkin gives you 560 milligrams of potassium compared to a banana’s 420 milligrams. Potassium aids to restore your body’s electrolyte balance after a grueling workout allowing your muscles to perform at their best.

The endless supply of pumpkin goes hand in hand with its long list of health benefits, giving perfect reason for the obsession with this fall super-food. As the fall air cools down and winter nipping at our toes we begin searching for warm, filling, meals to fuel our bodies through. Warm up with this comforting, delicious, and nutrient dense pumpkin chili, easily modified to please any palate. Recipe below:

Slow Cooker Pumpkin & Bean Chili

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • ½ teaspoon olive oil
  • olive oil cooking spray
  • 1 small green bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 small red bell pepper chopped
  • 1 can (15oz.) black beans, drained & rinsed
  • 1 can white northern beans, drained & rinsed
  • 3 ½ cups low-sodium vegetable broth
  • 1 can solid-packed pumpkin
  • 1 cup frozen corn
  • 1 4.5 oz. can chopped green chile
  • 1 cup fresh tomato, diced OR 1 can diced tomatoes
  • 1 ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • 1 ½ teaspoon dried oregano
  • 2 teaspoons black pepper
  • 1 avocado, sliced and used for topping
  • ½ cup fresh cilantro, used for topping

 

Directions:

  1. 1. Heat medium sauté pan over high heat and add ½ teaspoon olive oil to pan
  2. 2. Add onions then garlic to heated oil in pan and cook for 3-4 minutes
  3. 3. Add cooked garlic and onions to crock pot followed with remaining ingredients (except for the avocado and cilantro saved for topping). Allow ingredients to cook on high for 4 hours or on low for 8 hours
  4. 4. Top with cilantro and avocado if desired.  

Tip: You may also replace 1 can of beans with ¾ lb. lean ground turkey by simply browning the turkey in sauté pan and then combine with remaining ingredients in crock pot.

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The Importance of Snacking

Many people confuse snacks with treats but they are very different!

  • Snacks should be eaten regularly to help you get in your daily nutrition
  • Treats are part of a healthy, well balanced diet but should be consumed less frequently than snacks- eaten in moderation

Ideally you should start each day with breakfast, then have a snack, eat lunch, have a snack, eat dinner, and have a snack.

Benefits of snacking

There are many nutrition and health related benefits associated with snacking. Snacking benefits adults as well as children.  Some great benefits of snacking include:

  • Eat more to weight less:Eating small, frequent meals will help you eat less throughout the day which helps promote a healthy weight
  • Eat every 2-3 hours: Eating every few hours helps keep blood sugar stable which helps you avoid extreme hunger and helps you stay in control so you can make healthy choices and avoid sugar cravings from getting too hungry
  • Increase energy: If you are eating every 2-3 hours you are also keeping your blood sugar levels stable.  Stable blood sugar means your energy level will stay steady. If you don’t eat your energy level falls and you get tired, snacking helps keep you energized
  • Increase nutrition: Snacking is a great opportunity to get more essential vitamins, minerals, and nutrition into your diet! Since you are eating more often you can include a greater variety of healthy foods into your diet
  • Improved concentration: Snacking between meals improves concentration, focus, and performance at work and at school.

What is a healthy snack?

A healthy snack should ideally consist of a carbohydrate, protein, and healthy fat. Don’t be afraid of eating fat! Fat is what helps us feel full and satisfied after eating so we are less likely to overeat. You do want to choose healthy fats such as those found in olive oil, fish, nuts, and low fat dairy products. Choose a snack that is about 100 to 200 calories (depending on your specific needs) and aim to eat it between bigger meals.

What are some examples of healthy snacks?

  • Low fat cottage cheese (protein and fat source) with cubed melon (carbohydrate source)
  • Peanut butter (protein and fat source) on whole wheat crackers (carbohydrate source) or a sliced apple (carbohydrate source)
  • Low fat Greek yogurt (protein and fat source) with high fiber cereal (carbohydrate source) sprinkled in
  • Mixed berries (carbohydrate source) with sliced almonds (protein and fat source)

The bottom line:

  • Snacking improves overall nutrition status, energy levels and concentration, and helps you eat less!
  • The ideal snack should be about 150 calories (depending on your individual needs) and composed of a carbohydrate, protein, and healthy fat!