Pumpkins hold pride of place in our fall celebrations but there’s another reason to hold them in high esteem — they’re full of immune system boosters — just the help we need as cold and flu season begins.
That bright orange color means they are high in beta-carotene, which our bodies convert to vitamin A. One cup of cooked pumpkin contains 245% of the recommended daily intake (RDI) of vitamin A, which builds immunity, helps improve vision and fights cancer-causing free radicals.
"Pumpkin is a powerhouse of nutrition and is often used in weight management due to its high fiber content and low calorie count — only 50 calories per cup!" says Katie Rankell, a registered dietitian and program director of the UCI Health Weight Management Program. "The fiber also makes pumpkin a heart-healthy choice.”
It's also high in vitamin C (19% of RDI), an antioxidant that fights off free radicals and strengthens your body's natural defenses against disease. It has demonstrated protective effects against heart disease and may help to lower blood pressure and increase iron absorption.
Discover the versatility of pumpkin in both sweet and savory dishes with these recipes crafted by Jessica VanRoo, executive chef of the Susan Samueli Integrative Health Institute, part of UCI Health.
Pumpkin Spice Mocktail
Serves 2 (Total cost: $1.14/$0.57 per serving)
Calories: 21 per serving
It’s pumpkin spice season but unlike those traditional lattes, these mocktails are low-cal and are sure to add some fun for kids, teens and even adults who don’t drink alcohol.
This festive drink uses pumpkin puree and freshly grated ginger as the base. Besides its unique flavor and fragrance, ginger has long been used to reduce nausea, aid digestion and fight off cold and flu viruses. It gets its medicinal powers from a bioactive compound called gingerol, which also has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects.
The blend of pumpkin pie spices adds another layer of immunity boosters. Besides powdered ginger, pumpkin pie spice also contains cinnamon, which reduces inflammation and may help steady blood sugar levels. Cloves, the third ingredient in the spice blend, are packed with phytochemicals, including eugenol, that have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antimicrobial and pain-relieving properties, according to a recent study. Finally, nutmeg has been shown to reduce risk factors for heart disease, enhance blood sugar control and may even boost your mood.
Your holiday party is sure to be a hit when you add these effervescent mocktails to the menu.
- 2 tablespoons 100% pure canned pumpkin puree
- 4 tablespoons apple cider
- ¼ teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
- ½ teaspoon ginger, freshly grated
- 2 cans flavored sparkling water (lemon, lime or orange)
- 2 sticks cinnamon (optional)
- Ice as needed
- Whisk — or combine in a shaker — pumpkin puree, apple cider, spice and ginger.
- Mix well then strain evenly between two serving glasses.
- Top with ice and flavored water.
- Garnish with a cinnamon stick, if desired, and serve.
Pumpkin and Chicken Stew
Serves 5 (Total cost: $14.49/$2.90 per serving)
Calories: 335 per serving
Our bodies crave heartier foods as we head into the colder months and this recipe is brimming with seasonal vegetables and a few fruits. While this version uses pumpkin, you can substitute other winter squashes and even sweet potatoes for variety.
Did you know that squash is classified as a fruit, not a vegetable, because it starts as a flower and has seeds. Fortunately, all varieties bring the best of both worlds by being rich in nutrients, high in fiber and low in carbs. Squash is also packed with calcium to support bone health, magnesium, which is essential for more than 300 body processes, and potassium, which supports heart rhythm and health.
The skinless chicken thighs in this recipe get high marks for being a rich source of protein and flavor. They are replete with many nutrients, including selenium, a mineral needed for thyroid health and proper immune function, and the amino acid tryptophan, which is linked to higher levels of serotonin — the “feel good” hormone.
The holidays are associated with many high-calorie foods, but here is a low-cal, nutrient-dense, comforting holiday soup!” Rankell says.
Wow the guests at your next holiday gathering by serving it in a pumpkin!
- 1 tablespoon avocado oil
- 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs,
cut into bite-sized pieces
- 1 cup carrots, diced
- ½ cup celery, diced
- 1 medium onion, cut into wedges
- 1 tablespoon garlic, minced (about 3 cloves)
- 2 cups raw pumpkin or sweet potato or butternut squash,
cut into bite-sized pieces
- 12 ounces baby gold potatoes,
cut into bite-sized pieces
- 1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 3 cups chicken stock
- ½ cup apple cider or more stock
- ½ cup 100% pumpkin puree
- 2 bay leaves
- ½ teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
- ¼ cup Italian parsley, chopped
- Kosher salt
- Black pepper
- Whole pumpkin (for serving, optional)
- Heat oil in Dutch oven or pot over high heat.
- Add chicken when oil is hot, sauté until golden brown, remove and set aside.
- Add carrots, celery, onion and garlic to the pot, sauté until onions begin to brown.
- Return chicken to pot, add chopped pumpkin, canned tomatoes, tomato paste, stock, cider, pumpkin puree, bay leaves and pumpkin pie spice.
- Stir, bring to a boil, cover pot, reduce heat and simmer 30 minutes.
- Remove lid, simmer 15 minutes, then remove from heat.
- Extract bay leaves, garnish with parsley.
- To serve in a pumpkin, remove seeds and pulp, roast in 375-degree oven 25 to 30 minutes.
- Ladle stew into pumpkin, garnish with parsley and serve.
Spider Web Cookies
Makes 12 (Total cost: $5.55/$0.46 each)
Calories: 311 per serving
These eye-catching black-and-white cookies use more healthful ingredients than the typical sugar cookie and may also help boost your brain health.
Using almond flour adds protein and a nuttier flavor. It is also loaded with L-carnitine and riboflavin, which help brain cells grow, as well as the amino acid phenylalanine to support cognitive function.
The egg in this recipe is a strong source of protein, offering six grams of protein and nine essential amino acids. Eggs are also rich in choline, which helps the brain's nerve cells talk to each other, and vitamin D, which protects the body's neural networks and helps regulate genes that are important for brain functions.
The cocoa powder in the black icing helps the body produce anandamide, a neurotransmitter found in the brain that temporarily blocks feelings of pain and depression. Cocoa also contains flavanols, which help produce nitric oxide, relaxing blood vessels, improving blood flow and lowering blood pressure. Better blood flow protects the heart and improves brain cognition.
Think of these spooky spider web delights as a symbol of your neural network getting healthier by the minute.
- 2¼ cups blanched almond flour
- ½ cup tapioca flour or arrowroot
- ¾ teaspoon baking soda
- ¼ teaspoon sea salt, finely ground
- ½ cup butter or vegan butter
- ½ cup pure maple syrup
- 1 large egg
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 1½ cups powdered sugar
- ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon water, more as needed
- 1¼ cups powdered sugar
- ¼ cup dark cocoa powder
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 2½-3 tablespoons water, more as needed
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees, line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
- Whisk flour, baking soda and salt in a bowl, set aside.
- In another large bowl, whisk or beat the butter and maple syrup until well combined.
- Add room temperature egg and vanilla extract, mix until well combined.
- Add dry ingredients to butter mix, blend thoroughly until dough forms.
- Refrigerate 15 to 20 minutes.
- Split cold dough into 12 evenly sized balls.
- Flatten each ball to a thickness of about ½ to ¾ of an inch on baking sheets, leaving at least 1½” inches between each cookie.
- Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until they begin to brown.
- Remove from oven.
- Let cookies cool on baking sheets at least 10 minutes, then transfer to cooling rack.
- Mix ingredients for each color in separate bowls, adding more water or powdered sugar for desired consistency.
- Spread white frosting on half the cookie, black frosting on the other half.
- To make a spider web design, spread layer of black frosting on cookie. Using a small squeeze bottle, add swirl of white frosting in the center, then draw lines with a toothpick to spread the white frosting outward, creating a web design.
- Allow frosting to set, then serve.