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Pumpkins get a lot of attention this time of year, but they are rather underappreciated as a food.
Keep them in mind this holiday season because they are quite versatile. While we all enjoy a nice slice of pumpkin pie (with some low-calorie whipped topping, of course) there are lots of other uses for this nutrition-packed squash, so it can be a healthy addition to your diet all winter long.
The brightly colored orange pumpkin is high in beta-carotene, which is converted in our bodies to vitamin A, which in turn helps maintain a healthy immune system and keep vision sharp. One cup of pumpkin has more than 150 percent of an adult’s daily needs for vitamin A.
Pumpkin also is packed with potassium, rivaling the banana as a source. Pumpkin seeds have their own health benefits, too; they contain phytosterols and magnesium, which can help keep your heart healthy and your blood pressure in check. Both the seeds and the flesh of pumpkin provide fiber, which helps keep your bad cholesterol (LDL) levels low. Another benefit of pumpkin is that it is naturally low in calories and carbohydrates, with about 30 calories and eight grams of carbohydrates per cup (this is, of course, before you add all that sugar and eat it as pie).
How to Cook Pumpkin
**More Pumpkin Recipes
One obstacle, perhaps, to regularly consuming pumpkin is the cooking method. So, what’s the best way to cook a pumpkin (or its cousins acorn and butternut squash)?
One of the easiest ways is roasting. To roast a pumpkin:
1. Cut off the top stem, and then cut in half.
2. Scoop out the seeds (and set aside to roast separately later) and place each half of the pumpkins face down about 1/2 inch of water in a baking pan.
3. Place in the oven at 350 F and bake for 45 minutes to an hour, or until you can pierce the skin easily with a fork.
4. Cool, flip over the halves, and scoop out the pumpkin.
5. Serve with a little olive oil and salt and pepper, or use in your favorite pumpkin recipe.
But that’s not the only way to get all of those health benefits. The toasted seeds are delicious, and nutritious. Pumpkin can also be used to make soup, casseroles, savory breads, fries, dessert breads, bars and cookies. The possibilities are endless.