Tulane Lakeside Hospital - September 26, 2016

Thanks to their newfound superfood status, pumpkins will be spending less time on the front porch and more time on dinner menus this fall. Plus, they're amazingly versatile – pureed, mashed or cubed, baked, chilled or sautéed, pumpkin's mildly sweet taste can get even sweeter or be savory, depending on how you spice it.

  • At restaurants, look for pumpkin soups, breads and muffins; pumpkin-flavored pasta dishes (think gnocchi or ravioli); and decadent pumpkin-based desserts, from cheesecake to gelato.
  • At home, keep a few cans of pumpkin puree on hand, and stir a big spoonful into almost anything: soups, stews, yogurt, curries, pancakes even meatball mixtures.

In fact, there may be nothing you can't pump up with pumpkin – including coffee: The pumpkin spice latte at Starbucks boosted the chain's sales 11 percent when it debuted! Need an extra prod to try pumpkin in something besides pie? Here are half a dozen reasons to go for the gourd:

  1. It gives your immune system a flu-season boost. A 1/2-cup serving of pumpkin delivers a boatload of immune-boosting vitamins and nutrients, including alpha carotene and beta carotene, vitamin C, iron, and enough vitamin A to last you three days!
  2. It fills you up for very few calories. Half a cup of Libby's canned 100 percent pumpkin puree packs five grams of stomach-satisfying fiber (20 percent of the recommended daily intake) for only 40 calories. In comparison, a slice of whole-wheat bread has two grams of fiber and 70 calories.
  3. It's got the goods to protect your vision. Pumpkin delivers a duo of sight-saving carotenoid antioxidants (lutein and beta cryptoxanthin) that reduce the risk of age-related cataracts and sight-stealing macular degeneration.
  4. It keeps your body humming. Pumpkin is a great source of potassium, which keeps your cells, nerves, and muscles running smoothly. Healthy potassium levels also help keep blood pressure in check and can lower the odds of stroke and heart disease.
  5. It could cut your cancer risk. A diet high in carotenoids can lower the risk of breast cancer. And beta cryptoxanthin, a carotenoid that's particularly plentiful in pumpkin, may help protect against lung cancer. Aim to get your beta carotene from foods like pumpkin, since supplements don't offer the same cancer protection.
  6. It gives your bones a little extra love. You'll also pick up a little extra bone-building calcium with each serving. Plus, beta cryptoxanthin defends against joint-destroying rheumatoid arthritis.

P.S. Wondering about canned versus fresh pumpkin? Canned is a little less sweet but, surprisingly, it's a little more nutritious. It has more fiber, beta carotene, potassium, iron and folate than fresh. It also wins huge points for convenience! And all that filling fiber pays off in more ways than appetite control: Eating a high-fiber diet can make your body function and feel as much as 3.5 years younger.