Pumpkin products are proliferating for autumn — and not just for standard pies, breads and Halloween décor, but also for whimsical goodies that may not live up to the pumpkin’s healthy reputation. Pumpkin spice cake donuts, pumpkin ice cream, pumpkin latte – some chocolate candy manufacturers are even offering pumpkin filling. And mark it on your calendar: Oct. 21 is National Pumpkin Cheesecake Day.

“All at a sudden, if you believe the sales pitch, the pumpkin is the happiest, healthiest food,” says Suzy Weems, Ph.D., registered dietitian and professor of nutrition sciences in Baylor University’s College of Health and Human Sciences. But as is often the case with food, a balancing act is important, Weems says.

Pumpkin pluses:

  • Fiber? Check. Nice thing for dieters who want a full feeling.
  • Zeaxanthin? Check. Hard to pronounce, but a boon for Boomers. What 50-something doesn’t want a weapon against age-related macular degeneration and impaired eyesight?
  • Low in cholesterol and high in Vitamin A? Yes, the better for healthy skin and eyes — and an aid in fighting cancer.
  • Heart-healthy phytosterols? They’re in pumpkin seeds.
  • Magnesium, manganese, copper, phosphorus, protein, zinc and iron? “On the USDA/FDA rating schedule, pumpkins are a good source of all those,” Weems says. Add them up, and you’ve got a cocktail for energy, growth and a top-notch immune system.

On the other hand, Weems cautions, be aware of pumpkin pitfalls.

  • Pumpkin snacks:  “Are you really going to benefit from pumpkin-laced candy? It’s still candy,” Weems says. “Pumpkin seeds are good for making you feel full, but the fat doesn’t disappear when you roast and eat them.
  • Pumpkin desserts: “With pumpkin pie, it’s important to notice how much pumpkin there really is in it — and that it’s not just the flavoring,” she says.
  • Pumpkin in coffee or for breakfast: “A pumpkin latte is not going to mean any fewer calories if it’s made with a full-fat milk or syrup,” Weems says. “And doughnuts still have sugar.”
  • Pumpkin as a magic bullet. “Take a look at the total calories: If you have diabetes, you look at the sugar and total carbohydrates. And if you have cardiovascular disease, look at the fat.”

All that aside, “pumpkin is delightful,” Weems says. “Just be sure to read the container or the wrapper to know the details.”

Weems has professional experience in wellness, weight management, diabetes care, eating disorders, cardiovascular health and sports nutrition. She is a consulting dietician for hospitals and extended-care facilities across Texas, as well as a former chair of the American Dietetic Association’s legislative and public policy committee and a past president of the Texas Dietetic Association.

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