'Pumpkin' Foods: The Good News and Bad News
With the arrival of October comes the proliferation of pumpkin foods: breads, pies, lattes, candies - even soups - that incorporate everyone's favorite fall flavor.
But pumpkin foods aren't all created equal, says Suzy Weems, registered dietitian and professor of nutrition sciences at Baylor University.
"If you believe the sales pitch, the pumpkin is the happiest, healthiest food ever," Weems said.
With the colder winter months on the horizon and holiday weight gain right around the corner, now is a good time to sift through the marketing hype and see pumpkin foods for what they really are. There's good news and bad news:
The good news
Pumpkin - in its raw form - is loaded with health benefits: It's high in fiber, which can help you feel full after eating; it's rich in vitamin A and zeaxanthin, both compounds that help with healthy eyesight; and it's packed with a vegetable "cocktail" for energy, which includes magnesium, manganese, copper, protein, zinc and iron.
"On the USDA/FDA rating schedule, pumpkins are a good source of all those," Weems said.
Pumpkin seeds are also rich in heart-healthy phytosterols, and they are touted by holistic wellness practitioners to be anti-fungal and anti-parasitic.
The bad news
Speaking of pumpkin seeds, they're still a food you can go overboard on, Weems said.
"Pumpkin seeds are good for making you feel full, but the fat doesn't disappear when you roast and eat them."
And pumpkin candy is still candy, she explained, while desserts that include pumpkin may not actually include much of the real fruit - just flavoring.
Pumpkin coffee drinks can be dangerous, too, if they are made with full-fat milk or syrup, Weems explained.
The Starbucks signature pumpkin spice latte, for example, comes with 380 calories, 52 grams of carbohydrates and 50 grams of sugar in a 16-ounce drink.
The main thing to remember is total calories, Weems concluded.
"If you have diabetes, you look at the sugar and total carbohydrates; if you have cardiovascular disease, look at the fat. Always be sure to read the container or the wrapper."
Source: Baylor University