Over the past few years, you may have noticed that pumpkin spice products have taken over menus and shelves. Pumpkin Oreos, pumpkin yogurt, pumpkin beer, pumpkin ice cream, pumpkin nutrition bars, pumpkin hummus…the list goes on and on (and gets stranger every year)! This pumpkin obsession all started in 2003 when Starbucks introduced their Pumpkin Spice Latte (PSL). The trend has brought pumpkin to the forefront of fall-based foods, which, from a health perspective, has turned into mixed results from a nutritional standpoint.
One serving of pumpkin puree contains 50 calories, 7 grams carbohydrates and 3 grams of fiber. On the other hand, pumpkin pie filling provides an additional 100 calories from SUGAR.
Dietitian Tip: Unless your recipe calls for pumpkin pie filling, look for 100% pure pumpkin…the only ingredient should be pumpkin!
Similar to carrots, the bright orange color means pumpkin is packed with beta-carotene, an antioxidant that is converted into vitamin A in the body. Vitamin A plays a critical role in eye and skin health as well as the immune system. The good news is, just a half-cup of pumpkin puree fulfills your vitamin A needs for the day. Pumpkin is also loaded with other vitamins and minerals such as vitamin C, vitamin E, iron, magnesium, copper, calcium, potassium, phosphorus, B complex vitamins and fiber. Cup to cup, there’s actually more fiber in pumpkin than kale!
If you plan on carving a pumpkin anytime soon, make sure not to throw out the seeds. In addition to being a good protein source (7 grams/oz), pumpkin seeds are an excellent source of satiety-inducing dietary fiber, anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats, heart-healthy magnesium and potassium, immunity-boosting zinc and tryptophan (an amino acid) which can help you get some restful sleep after drinking all those lattes.
Since pumpkin is a nutrient-packed, fiber-rich fruit, all these pumpkin spice products must be healthy, right? Pumpkin-spice buyer be warned: Seeing the word “pumpkin” on a menu or package does not necessarily mean the product is nutritious. For example, “pumpkin granola” might sound healthy, but there could be more fat and sugar in half a cup of pumpkin granola than a candy bar. Additionally, many pumpkin spice products are highly processed. Though actual pumpkin spice is a mixture of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg and ginger, those ingredients are often replaced with artificial flavors, colors and sweeteners. You’re much better off adding your own pumpkin flavor (via pumpkin puree or pumpkin spice) to minimally processed foods like oatmeal, low-fat plain Greek yogurt, soup or other healthy options (see recipe ideas below!).
If your go-to order as of September 1st is a tall (12oz) pumpkin spice latte, you’re consuming 300 calories and 39 grams of sugar in one little cup of joe! According to the American Heart Association, the recommended amount of added sugar one should consume per day is 9 tsp (36 grams) for men and 6 tsp (24 grams) for women. So, a tall PSL would put you near or over your sugar limit for the entire day! Though this may be heartbreaking, don’t be discouraged, you can still order a pumpkin spice latte…
Dietitian tip: Ask for tall pumpkin spice latte with only 1 or 2 pumps of syrup and hold the whip.
Another alternative is to make your own PSL with this recipe; fewer calories and sugar plus you’ll save a few dollars too! Healthy Recipes & Store-Bought Options
If you take the time to do your research and make your own pumpkin and pumpkin-spiced foods, you can stay healthy and enjoy this fun fall trend. To help keep you on track, here are a few of my favorite recipes and products.
Healthier Store-Bought Options
- 100% pure pumpkin (canned)
- Pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
- Go Raw Sprouted Pumpkin Seeds
- RXBAR Pumpkin Spice
- Pumpkin Pie Larabar
- Kodiak Cakes Pumpkin Flax Pancake & Waffle Mix
- Pumpkin Spice Perfect Bar
- Purely Elizabeth Pumpkin Fig Ancient Grain Granola
- Barbara’s Pumpkin Puffins Cereal
- Post Road Pumpkin Ale
- Panera’s Autumn Squash Soup
DIY Pumpkin Spice Recipe
- 2 Tbsp ground cinnamon
- 1 ½ tsp ground nutmeg
- 1 ½ tsp ground ginger
- ¾ tsp cloves