Pumpkin Perfect

'Tis the season for all things pumpkin.  You can easily find pumpkin pie, bread, donuts, muffins, lattes, and even pumpkin ice cream. The mouth watering aroma of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and cloves are absolutely pumpkin perfect.

Pumpkin is a nutritional powerhouse, an incredibly nutrient-dense vegetable: it contains lots of healthy vitamins and minerals with relatively few calories. (A Twinkie is very low in nutrient density.)  At only 50 calories per cup, pumpkin comes loaded with beta-carotene and fiber, and is a good source of vitamin C, vitamin A, potassium, copper, manganese, and riboflavin.

The deep rich orange color of fruits and veggies is a clear sign that it's a rich source of beta-carotene. Pumpkin, winter squash, sweet potatoes, yellow, orange, and red peppers, carrots, cantaloupe, apricots, mangoes, and oranges are a few of the beta-carotene favorites. The deep greens of kale, turnip, beet greens, spinach and Swiss chard are also good sources of beta-carotene.

Beta-carotene acts as a pro-vitamin:  it is converted by the body into vitamin A as it's needed. Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin that helps form and maintain healthy teeth, bones, soft tissue, mucous membranes, skin and hair.  It's also important in maintaining strong immune and reproductive systems, and helps to promote good vision, especially at night. Since vitamin A can be toxic in large doses, eating foods rich in  beta-carotene is a great way to safely get plenty of A.  Other foods high in vitamin A include eggs, liver and fortified milk and cereals.

Beta-carotene is also a wonderful anti-oxidant, working to shut down the effects of free radicals and in doing so, likely reducing the risk of heart disease and some cancers.

Be careful when using vitamin supplements.  Avoid taking more than the RDA of 2300 IU for women and 3000 IU for men, as toxicity can result in extremely high doses.  It's a good idea to look for rich food sources of vitamin A and beta-carotene as the best and safest way to get your vitamin A.

Stay tuned for tomorrow's blog, when we take on pumpkin foods masquerading as healthy!