Will the Real Pumpkin Flavor Please Stand Up?

Now that the temperatures are dropping (in the Midwest, at least), and the days are getting shorter, many people are breaking out their long sleeves and hanging fall decorations as pumpkin spice everything returns to store shelves. You can find everything from pumpkin spice lip gloss and body lotions to pumpkin spice chocolate candies,yogurt, boxes of cereal, and yes, even POTATO CHIPS…and it doesn’t seem to be slowing down any time soon.

This blog isn’t about to knock the pumpkin spice trend – this post is actually going to be an Ode to Pumpkin and Pumpkin Pie Spice. It’s time to take a step back and discover the real food flavors of pumpkin (a squash) and pumpkin pie spice (a blend of cinnamon, ginger, allspice, cloves, and nutmeg) – flavors that often get overlooked when they’re doused in sugar and disguised in baked goods. We’re not saying we don’t enjoy a giant slab piece of pumpkin pie during the holidays, we just want you to enjoy more pumpkin without the blood sugar spike.

Enjoying a seasonal treat once in a while is fine- referring to the previous post on Enjoying More Whole Foodsyou want to choose foods that are as close to their original source or minimally processed most of the time, to avoid all the preservatives and additives (sweeteners, dyes) companies add to pre-packaged products.

Remember, pumpkin is a vegetable, so to enjoy pumpkin and reap all the nutritional benefits from this dark orange squash, choose fresh pumpkin (in squash form) or add pumpkin puree to your favorite sweet OR savory recipes. Many of the“pumpkin spice” products found in the store may not actually contain any pumpkin, and are often disguised with sugar to hide the fact that pumpkin is a vegetable that doesn’t actually taste like a pumpkin spice latte (sorry).

PUMPKIN SPICE

“Pumpkin spice” or “Pumpkin Pie Spice” doesn’t actually contain pumpkin – it’s really just a blend of warming spices usually found in pumpkin pie recipes. You can find pumpkin pie spice in the store, or make your own mix of cinnamon, allspice, cloves, ginger, mace and nutmeg.

PUMPKIN – THE SQUASH 

Pumpkins are actually a type of winter squash (vegetable), and they come in many varieties. All winter squash (including pumpkins, acorn squash, butternut squash, etc.) are great sources of fiber, potassium, Vitamin C, beta-carotene (turns to Vitamin A in our bodies) and carotenoids (may help reduce inflammation).

We don’t have to wait until Thanksgiving to eat pumpkins – a can of pumpkin puree is the easiest way to incorporate pumpkin into your diet. Pumpkin puree (not “canned pumpkin pie”, which has added sugar!) can be added to oatmeal, chili, baked goods, meatloaf, lasagna, pancakes, Greek yogurt…you name it.

A quarter (1/4) cup canned pumpkin puree is nutrient rich: at only ~20 calories, a serving contains over half your recommended intake of Vitamin A, loads of carotenoids, and is a great way to include extra vegetables and fiber into some of your favorite recipes.

Pumpkin seeds, in particular, are an excellent plant-based source of zinc, which helps with wound healing and immune system function.

A small handful (~1/4 cup = 170 calories, 40% Magnesium DV, 35% Phosphorous DV, 15% Zinc DV) of pumpkin seeds (pepitas) are a healthy snacking choice – you can add them to your morning oatmeal, smoothies, toss them on your salad or add them to trail mix. These little seeds are colorful, crunchy, and full of healthy fats that may help reduce inflammation.

Here’s a great idea for Pumpkin Spiced Energy BitesThese bites are a great snack for before a workout!

Recipe from Food and Nutrition Magazine, by LAUREN O’CONNOR, MS, RDN

Makes about 20 bite-sized energy balls/bites

Ingredients

  • 1 cup organic oats
  • 1/4 cup + 2 Tbsp unsweetened coconut flakes
  • 2-3 Tbsp pumpkin puree
  • 3 large dates, pitted
  • 1 Tbsp raisins
  • 1 Tbsp flaxseed meal (ground flaxseed)
  • 1 Tbsp cinnamon (or to taste)
  • 1/8 tsp cloves
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • optional: 1/4 cup of mini chocolate chips

Instructions:

1) Process oats, 1/4 cup of unsweetened coconut, pumpkin puree, dates, raisins, flaxseed meal, cinnamon, cloves and vanilla in food processor until well-blended and firm

2) Scoop into bite-sized pieces and dust with coconut flakes and cinnamon

3)  Place in container and refrigerate

Quick tip: Energy bites freeze great – make a large batch, place them in a ziploc bag in the freezer and grab them at your convenience before a workout. 

What are your favorite seasonal recipes?