Maggie Michalczyk
Image source: Maggie Michalczyk

With all the hype around pumpkin spice lattes this time of year, we often forget that pumpkin is in fact a nutritious vegetable. A sweet pumpkin treat sounds amazing in the fall, but pumpkin can go far beyond just sweet by adding a creamy, richness to a variety of dishes!

Keep reading to learn how to pump up your foods and get a boost of nutrition with this fun fall flavor.

1. Pumpkin is a powerhouse of nutrients

Often overlooked for its health benefits, pumpkin and pumpkin seeds are a powerhouse of nutrients, full of fiber, vitamins A and C, potassium, and iron. Coming in at less than 50 calories per cup, this winter squash is a great addition to your diet and can be worked into it in a variety of ways. From soups to smoothies, pumpkin lends a smooth, creamy texture to savory and sweet dishes alike.

We can also thank pumpkin’s rich beta carotene content for its bright orange hue. Beta carotene is a precursor to vitamin A in the body, which is known for supporting vision, especially at night. Vitamin A can be found in extremely high amounts in orange vegetables like pumpkin, making them great for extra peeper protection!

2. Pumpkin is a great source of fiber

Eating pumpkin is also a great way to add more fiber into your diet. One cup of canned pumpkin pureé has 7 grams of fiber. Stir it into oatmeal, a yogurt bowl, or swap it for pasta sauce. It’ll keep you fuller longer and keep your digestion running smoothly.

When choosing the right pumpkin to cook or bake with this season, the big one you’ve picked up from the patch has a different texture and flavor, making it not the best option for cooking — but definitely good for carving! Instead choose one of the smaller pumpkins called “sugar pumpkins” or “pie pumpkins.” These 2 to 4 pound pumpkins are ideal for roasting or creating pureé in recipes.

3. Pumpkin seeds are packed with magnesium

Once your jack-o-lantern has been carved, be sure not to throw away the pumpkin seeds! These little seeds are a source of key nutrients including magnesium, zinc, protein, and fiber. The high magnesium content of pumpkin seeds makes them a great snack after a run on a chilly fall day. The body needs magnesium for muscle relaxation and optimal blood flow.

Roast them in cinnamon, or go for a spicy combination like black pepper and turmeric. Black pepper helps increase your absorption of turmeric, and they’ll come out speckled black and orange! Pair that with the potassium you’re getting from the pumpkin pureé itself (over 500mg per cup — which is about 11 percent of your daily value) and you’ll be on track to getting the right amount of daily potassium to prevent deficiency, which can lead to muscle cramping.

4. Pumpkin seeds may help your mood

Does the changing of the seasons have you in a slump? Snacking on pumpkin seeds may help boost your mood! They contain the amino acid tryptophan — the same one found in turkey — which aids in serotonin production in the brain. Serotonin is a chemical known to boost your mood and produce an overall good feeling in the brain and body.

5. Pumpkin seeds carry plenty of protein, for its serving size

A serving of unshelled, roasted pumpkin seeds — approximately 2 tablespoons — also contains 5 grams of protein, making them a great option for vegetarians and vegans. Sprinkle on top of salads or yogurt for an added crunch. The green variety, called pepitas, are essentially the same as the white ones that come out of your pumpkin, but the green ones only come from certain varieties of pumpkins. You can find pepitas year-round in your grocery store’s bulk section. 

Harvest quinoa pumpkin bowl

This fall, reap the nutritional benefits that pumpkins have to offer with this harvest quinoa pumpkin bowl. With its healthy dose of protein, fiber, vitamin A, and magnesium, this is a recipe you can feel good about making for the perfect fall dinner — and lunch the next day.

Image source: Maggie Michalczyk

Start to finish: 1 hour 

Servings: 3 servings 

Ingredients

  • 2 cups sprouted quinoa
  • 2 cups lacinto kale
  • 2 small sugar or pie pumpkins
  • 3 tbsp. pepitas (green pumpkin seeds)
  • 1/4 cup asiago or parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus 2 tbsp. for brushing on pumpkin flesh
  • 2 tbsp. lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp. salt and pepper

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C).

2. Use a sharp knife to cut the stem off of the pumpkin. Then, cut the pumpkin in half from the top to bottom. Use a spoon to remove the seeds — be sure to save for roasting! — and the stringy pieces that hang from the sides.

3. Cut each half of the pumpkin into wedges, and brush with olive oil.

4. Place skin-side down on a parchment-lined cookie sheet.

5. Roast for about 35 to 40 minutes, until tender.

6. Let cool and remove skin. Then, cut into cubes.

For harvest mix:

1. Cook quinoa according to package directions. Fluff with fork and set aside.

2. Thoroughly rinse, de-stem, and tear kale into small pieces.

3. For the dressing, combine olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Whisk until combined.

4. Pour over kale and massage into leaves using your hands (this makes it softer to eat).

5. Combine cubed pumpkin with quinoa and kale. Sprinkle cheese and pepitas on top.

6. For a festive touch, clean out the second small sugar pumpkin and add the quinoa mixture.

Eat straight out of the pumpkin and enjoy!


Maggie Michalczyk is a registered dietitian and the voice behind @onceuponapumpkin. Her blog and Instagram are dedicated to all things pumpkin, all year long. Maggie received her BA in dietetics from Michigan Sate University, and completed her dietetic internship with Aramark in Chicago. With experience in nutrition communications, Maggie loves sharing nutrition messages to help others live healthier lives. When she's not in the kitchen making healthy desserts, Maggie’s out trying a new workout class or drinking kombucha.