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Pumpkin, Spice and Everything Nice

At this time of year, we have a wide range of treats featuring pumpkin spice.

The other day, I was picking up some dog treats and I came upon “pumpkin spice dog treats.” All I could think was, “Really?”

At this time of year, we have a wide range of treats featuring pumpkin spice. A while back, I was asked by to answer some questions about pumpkin, so I am reprinting my answers here.

1.     What nutrients are in pumpkin?

Pumpkins are packed with nutrients, especially beta-carotene and fiber. Our bodies use beta carotene to produce vitamin A. In fact, ½ cup of pumpkin provides 200% of the current recommendation for vitamin A, along with lutein and zeaxanthin, which are pigments that promote eye health. Pumpkins are is rich in potassium, which helps our muscles contract and nerves fire. Pumpkin is low in calories. One-half cup of mashed pumpkin (without salt) has 24 calories, 0 grams (g) fat, 1 g protein, 6 g carbohydrate, 1 g fiber and 1 milligram sodium.

 2.     What are some good ways to prepare or eat pumpkin?

Pumpkin can be used in a wide variety of creative ways beyond the typical pumpkin pie and pumpkin bread. Try pumpkin soup or pumpkin hummus. Add some pumpkin puree to pasta sauce or chili. Sweeten pumpkin with some honey and create a pumpkin parfait by layering yogurt with honey-sweetened pumpkin. You also can use pumpkin to substitute for part of the fat in baked goods such as brownies.

3.     Does it make a difference if you start fresh and cook the pumpkin yourself or use canned or processed pumpkin?

Both canned and fresh pumpkin are very nutritious. Canned pumpkin offers one-step convenience; simply open the can and use. “Sugar pumpkins” are smaller, rounder pumpkins that can be used for cooking purposes, and they differ in their texture from the pumpkins used to make jack-o’-lanterns.

Fresh pumpkin can be baked/cooked and used in the same way you would use canned pumpkin. Freshly cooked pumpkin often will have a lighter color and a texture more like sweet potatoes. Canned pumpkin usually has a stronger pumpkin flavor and results in a pie with a firmer, smoother texture. Pumpkin is pulverized before commercial canning to give it a uniformly smooth texture; however, we do not have an approved (safe) method for canning mashed pumpkin at home. Pumpkin chunks can be canned. See for information about preserving pumpkin.

4.     Pumpkin spice is a popular (and delicious) fall flavor. What spices are usually in it?

Pumpkin spice is a blend of cinnamon, nutmeg, ground ginger, ground allspice and cloves. You can make your own blend at home or purchase ready-to-use pumpkin pie spice. Many recipes to make your own pumpkin spice blend are available online.

5.     Do these spices have nutrients?

Spices provide flavor with negligible amounts of calories. For example, 1 teaspoon of cinnamon has 6 calories, 2 grams carbohydrate and 1 gram fiber. Some spices are rich in antioxidants, which may have some health benefits. For example, some researchers have studied the effects of cinnamon on blood sugar and cholesterol levels, with promising results. Cinnamon and nutmeg enhance the natural sweetness in foods, or at least distract your taste buds from wanting a caloric sweetener. Some people find that adding a little cinnamon to their coffee may push back a craving for a sweet treat.

6.     Pumpkin spice latte – we’ve heard it’s good for you and we’ve heard it’s bad for you. What is your take on it?

A warm pumpkin spice latte certainly tastes great, but we need to remain aware of the amount of calories, fat and sugar we are consuming as we sip our tasty autumn beverages. For example, according to Starbucks Inc., a 16-ounce serving of pumpkin spice latte has 380 calories, 14 grams of fat (including 8 grams of saturated fat) and 52 grams of carbohydrate (including 50 grams of various sugars). Opt for fat-free milk in your latte to reduce calories, or order the smallest size or share your latte. You also might go on an extended hike to enjoy the fall leaves after enjoying a regular pumpkin spice latte. Theoretically, just 100 extra calories per day can add 10 pounds to your frame in a year.

7.     I love all things pumpkin, especially pumpkin pie, pumpkin bars, etc. Do I need to be concerned about sugar in these foods?

We all should track our consumption of highly sweetened foods such as pies, bars and cookies. According to the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, we should cut our intake of added sugars to no more than 12 teaspoons of sugars per day (on a 2,000-calorie diet). On average, Americans consume 22 teaspoons of sugar a day. The American Heart Association has stricter guidelines for added sugars. According to its latest recommendations, women should consume no more than 6 teaspoons of added sugar daily (about 100 calories) and men should have no more than 9 teaspoons of added sugar daily (about 150 calories).

What’s a person with a sweet tooth and a hankering for pumpkin to do? Cut the pumpkin bars, muffins and slices of pie into smaller pieces. Try novel ways to enjoy pumpkin, such as parfaits or pumpkin dip. Enjoy the pumpkin-flavored dips with fresh apples and naturally sweet fruits.

8. Anything else we should know about pumpkin or pumpkin spice?

If you have extra cooked or canned pumpkin, you can freeze it in recipe-sized amounts. Try freezing extra pumpkin in an ice cube tray and add a cube or two to chili, cooked oatmeal or smoothies to get the benefit of pumpkin.

Pumpkin seeds are nutritious, too. Try roasting pumpkin seeds by tossing them in a small amount of salad oil and adding your spice of choice, such as cumin, chili powder, cinnamon or your favorite spice. Store in a sealed container in a cool place. Visit and search for “pumpkin” for more information.

By Julie Garden-Robinson, Food and Nutrition Specialist

Filed under: fca newsletter, pumpkin

Sponsored in part by the Sanford Health Foundation.

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