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’Tis the season for all things pumpkin

Dietitian Cathryn Arndt is eager to help local residents get answers to questions about nutrition and food health. Got questions that you haven’t seen answered in “Healthy You”? She wants  to address those! You can contact Cathryn via her Facebook page or by emailing [email protected] with “Question for Cathryn” on the subject line.

It has begun! It’s the season for cinnamon sticks, vanilla and all things pumpkin! Just take a look at some of the menus of local restaurants and coffee shacks.
While pumpkin is an expected participant in both fall and winter festivities, few of us know how exceptional it is. Its nutrients are well-suited for the cold and flu season and for dealing with some of those blood-sugar-raising sweets so commonplace around the holidays. Since both flesh and seeds are edible, it’s fairly versatile in application too!
Rumor also has it that the leaves are also nutritious (although I can’t admit to having used them before).
This may go without saying, but a pumpkin in a type of squash. It ripens fully in September and can be stored for months in a cool, dry place. Not all pumpkins are good for eating, however. Some (typically the large ones sold in big bins in front of stores) have thin, very stringy layers of flesh and are best left for decoration and carving.
The smaller ones, commonly labeled as “pie pumpkins,” are the best for eating. Once cooked, their flesh is thick and fairly creamy, although it is normal for it to have some fibrous strings.)
Regardless of the type of pumpkin (decorative or those destined for pies), its seeds can be scraped out, rinsed, roasted or dried. Believe it or not, their off-white, tough outer hulls are totally edible and need not be removed before eating.
This outer hull actually adds more fiber to the already excellent nutritional value. It also crisps up nicely when oven roasted, which, if you’re a big fan of everything-crispy like me, you will likely enjoy!
You can look for store-bought seed varieties labeled as either pumpkin seeds or Pepitas. (Pepitas normally refers to seeds with their hulls removed. They appear green-ish in color, like a pistachio).
A one-fourth cup serving of pumpkin seeds contains approximately 180 kilocalories, nine grams of protein, 14 grams of fat, four grams of carbs and three  grams of fiber. You can sprinkle it on salads, add to granola, cereal, trail mix or baked goods!
Pumpkin puree, the most well-known pumpkin product, is made from its flesh and can be cooked up fresh or purchased canned. The nutritional value of both is steller. One cup of boiled-raw pumpkin (so salt) boasts approximately 50 calories, two grams of protein, four grams of fat, 12 grams of carbs and three grams of fiber (note that canned pumpkin has about seven grams of fiber). It also has a fair amount of potassium, which can help with blood pressure regulation.
The colors of a food tell you important things about its nutrition. The orange color of pumpkin flesh shouts that it’s brimming with a nutrient called beta carotene. In the human body, beta carotene is converted into the better-known vitamin A. One cup of pumpkin has 14,100 IU equivalents of it. That’s a lot!
Taking a supplement with such a high dosage wouldn’t be so good. Don’t worry, though: Because it comes in the form of beta carotene, you can’t overdose from eating pumpkin. Your body will excrete what it doesn’t convert to vitamin A and use.
This vitamin A, along with the vitamin C in pumpkin, is perfect for supporting your immune system, which tends to get taxed with seasonal sweets and the flu bugs running around.
Add pumpkin puree to pie (of course!), yogurt, smoothies, muffins and breads, pancakes, or even homemade granola for a seasonal taste! Note that when buying canned pumpkin, make sure you know if you are grabbing plain pumpkin puree or pumpkin pie filling! The latter has seasonings and sometimes sweetener added. You may be very surprised if you thought you purchased one but accidentally grabbed the other.
Pumpkin contains yet another nutrient that may prove helpful for diabetics. The compound called D-chiro-inositol from pumpkin has been studied and shown to help lower blood sugar. It does this by helping to regenerate the pancreatic cells responsible for insulin production. Since insulin is responsible for lowering blood sugar, this is helpful for diabetics (although everyone can benefit from it too)!
While you probably shouldn’t expect miracles from eating a boatload of pumpkin pie, you can feel good about including pumpkin regularly into your diet. People watching their carbohydrate intake may feel wary of pumpkin since it does indeed have 12 grams of carbs total in one cup. It’s important to realize, however, that other compounds (like the fiber and the D-chiro-inositol ) may help offset blood sugar spikes  that otherwise might be expected.
So don’t be afraid of adding pumpkin to your life!
’Tis the season!

– Cathryn Arndt is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist.  She lives in Lebanon, Oregon with her husband and daughters.  Visit her Facebook page or You Tube Channel by searching under “Dietitian Cathryn.”  Find her blog at thepantrylab.com.