The Power of Pumpkins!

Once autumn arrives, Ontario transforms into the pumpkin province!

Whether you’re making a pumpkin pie for thanksgiving, running to a cafe to get your first pumpkin spice latte, pumpkin picking with your friends and kids, or carving one for Halloween, tis the season for everyone’s favourite fall treat.

But did you know pumpkin is crammed with essential nutrients? It’s not just delicious; it’s a super nourishing food for you and your loved ones.

Where Does Pumpkin Get its Power?

Pumpkin Power
There are over 30 different varieties of pumpkin. They’re all part of the gourd family and range from small to jumbo sized. Each one has a different flavour, colour and preferred use. If you’re carving a pumpkin for Halloween: the bigger the better! But, if you’re planning on eating or cooking pumpkin, the smaller varieties yield sweeter and more tender flesh. Pumpkin isn’t just for pies and sweets; it’s delicious in savoury soups, salads and roasted with other vegetables as a warming side dish. I recommend you eat it in as many ways as you can, because it’s packed with so many health-boosting properties.

Pumpkin is:

  • high in powerful antioxidants like beta-carotene, Vitamin C and Vitamin E, which support the immune system, skin health, and reduce free radical damage in the body to prevent cancer and slow aging
  • full of potassium, which is proven to lower blood pressure
  • fantastic source of fibre, which feeds the good bugs in your gut, boosts overall immunity, keeps digestion running smoothly and protects your colon
  • packed with so many essential vitamins and minerals including: vitamin B6, folate, iron, pantothenic acid, phsophorus, manganese and magnesium to support everyday health

Don’t just save it for the yearly pie!

What About the Seeds?

Pumpkin seeds – or pepitas – are an incredible, nutrient-dense, crunchy addition to salads or soups. I also like to blend them into a creamy seed butter, munch on them solo, or mix them in with other seeds + nuts for a great portable snack. They’re packed with a long list of nutrients including phytosterols, antioxidants, protein, omega-3 heart healthy fats, immune-boosting zinc, magnesium and so much more. Total powerhouses! They’re even being studied as a natural way to prevent and curb Type 2 diabetes.

If you’re going to reserve the seeds you scoop out of your Halloween jack-o-lantern, be warned: they will still be encased in their shells. It can be fiddly and difficult to pop the pepitas out. It’s much easier to buy or grow a pumpkin variety that has shell-less seeds like Lady Godiva, Austria Oil Seed, Gleisdorfer Naked Seeded or Kakai Hulless or to purchase pre-shelled seeds at your local grocery store. If you opt for store-bought pepitas, I suggest you buy them raw and roast them yourself. This way, you can control the quality of fat and the amount of sodium used. I toss mine in olive oil, organic spices like turmeric, paprika, onion powder, oregano, salt and pepper before roasting them at 325 degrees until they’re golden brown and crunchy. Store them in an airtight container in the pantry for 2-3 months. If you prefer to eat the seeds raw, store them in the freezer to maintain freshness.

Gourd Crazy!

Gourd Crazy

Every year, I buy several sugar pie pumpkins, slice them in half, remove the seeds, roast the flesh at 375 degrees until its tender and blend it to make my own puree. You can store the cooked puree in the fridge or freezer to have access to fresh pumpkin all year round. If you’d prefer to purchase pureed pumpkin, I always recommend you eschew the canned stuff for a tetra-pak. Also, make sure you read the ingredients and choose the good stuff: 100% pure pumpkin with no additives or extra ingredients.

There are so many recipes for pumpkin soups, salads, dressings, breads, cakes, muffins and pies on the internet. Experiment and find a new, healthy way to eat it! My favourite way to enjoy a pumpkin treat is to skip the crust altogether and bake a quick homemade pie filing in single-serving ceramic dishes. You can mix the puree with coconut or almond milk, maple syrup and all your favourite spices, fill the ramekins, then bake them at 350 degrees in a bain-marie until they’re set.

This year, I encourage you to lighten up your Thanksgiving pie by trying these vegan mini pies. They’ve got all the flavour of the traditional version, without all the cream and processed sugar. AND you get your very own pie…who doesn’t love that? I also love these mini pies with a delicious oat and hazelnut crust. They’re healthy enough to make all year round, so you never have to feel guilty about indulging in something special.

As usual, I encourage you to get in the kitchen with real, whole-food ingredients and get creative. You never know what you’ll discover when you try something new.

Happy Pumpkin Season to you and yours!

Lauren Marotta is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist (RHN), lifestyle + wellness expert, cook, and writer obsessed with keeping it real. To learn more about Lauren, follow her on Instagram + Twitter @laurenmarotta, visit her website www.laurenmarotta.com, or get in touch with her by saying hi@laurenmarotta.com.