Q: Between Halloween and Thanksgiving, we can't get enough pumpkin everything. What are the health benefits of eating pumpkin, and how can I use it in my home cooking?
A: Autumn wouldn’t be complete without rows and rows of bright orange pumpkins, the very color of the fall season. Instinctively and correctly, yogis believe that seasonal foods are part of Mother Nature’s medicine cabinet -- and pumpkin actually contains vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that can help keep us healthy.
In culinary terms, cooked pumpkin is creamy, low-cal, low-fat, and low in sugar. I’m a huge pumpkin pie fan, but pumpkin isn’t just for pie -- it’s wonderful in savory preparations like soup; roasted for sides and salads; and even in risotto or mixed with other grains. Some people swear by cooking their own fresh pumpkin from scratch, but I find canned pumpkin to be a simple solution that has similar health benefits.
Nutritionally speaking, pumpkin is a winner -- 1/2 cup of canned pumpkin is just 50 calories, gives you almost 200 percent of your vitamin A needs, 26 percent of your vitamin C, and a nice fiber cash-in at 3 grams. Pumpkin is also rich in vital minerals like manganese, copper, and potassium.
From an Ayurvedic perspective, pumpkin is very balancing for all the doshas -- especially fiery Pitta, since pumpkin’s nature is cool and wet. Its high fiber load is also a boon for balancing Pitta’s intense hunger. Cooler months usually mean more hunger pangs for everyone, so high-fiber pumpkin that can help to steady your blood sugar gets a thumbs-up for every dosha. If you’re going to do fresh pumpkin, be sure that it’s ripe, since unripe pumpkin is hard on digestion and blocks all three doshas.
Jennifer Iserloh, aka the “Skinny Chef,” is a leader in promoting healthy, vibrant lifestyles though a diet of delicious and nutritious easy-to-prepare meals. A classically trained chef, certified yoga teacher, and a graduate of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, Iserloh is the best-selling author of 50 Shades of Kale and Healthy Cheats, among other books.