FEATURE | Posted Oct. 2, 2013

Pumpkins are more than decorations

They’re also a superfood

pumpkin soup © iStockphoto
Pumpkin adds flavor and nutrients to fall recipes.

Pumpkins are most often thought of as fall decorations to carve into cute or scary jack-o'-lanterns rather than as a delicious, nutritious and enjoyable food. Few people realize that pumpkins are edible — from the blossoms to the seeds.

Native to North and Central America, pumpkins are loaded with antioxidants like beta-carotene. Beta-carotene becomes vitamin A in our bodies and helps reduce risk of some cancers, protects against heart disease and supports vision health. Pumpkins are abundant in potassium and fiber, which also contribute to heart health. They are also very low in calories. One cup of pureed pumpkin has just 83 calories and 7 grams of fiber with no cholesterol, fat or sodium.

There are many varieties of pumpkin in many shapes and sizes. For cooking, choose pumpkins that are firm and feel heavy for their size.

Don’t know what to do with your pumpkins? Here are some suggestions from the dietitians of the UC Davis Chronic Disease Care, Management and Education Program:

  • Toast the seeds, remove the hulls and enjoy them as a tasty snack alone or sprinkle them over salads for a little crunch.
  • Cook pumpkin chunks with black bean soup.
  • Sauté pumpkin chunks, add kidney beans and season as desired for a tasty meatless meal.
  • Add pureed pumpkin to breads, muffins, soups and smoothies.
  • Replace some or all of the oil in muffin recipes with pureed pumpkin.
  • Stuff a small pumpkin with apples, toasted pumpkin seeds and dried cranberries and then bake. Drizzle with honey and serve up slices as a healthful dessert.

Here is a pumpkin recipe that will help warm up a cool fall day.

About the UC Davis Chronic Disease Care, Management and Education Program

The Chronic Disease Care, Management and Education Program at UC Davis provides information and counseling for dealing with the daily challenges of conditions like heart disease, vascular disease and diabetes. For information, visit the program's website.

Spicy pumpkin soup with green chili swirl

1/4 cup fat-free sour cream

1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves

1 can (4 ounces) diced green chilies

1 can (15 ounces) solid-pack pumpkin

1 can (14 ounces) low-sodium vegetable broth

1/2 cup water

1 tsp. ground cumin

1/2 tsp. chili powder

1/4 tsp. garlic powder

1/8 tsp. ground red pepper

Combine green chilies, ¼ cup sour cream and cilantro in food processor or blender and mix until smooth.

Combine pumpkin, broth, water, cumin, chili powder, garlic powder and red pepper in medium saucepan; stir in ¼ cup of the green chili mixture. Bring to a boil; reduce heat to medium. Simmer uncovered for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Pour into serving bowls. Top each serving with small dollops of the remaining green chili mixture and additional sour cream, if desired. Run the tip of a spoon through the dollops to swirl.

Note: Omit the food processor step by adding green chilies directly to soup. Finely chop cilantro and combine with sour cream. Dollop the top with the sour cream-cilantro mixture.