Looking for a colossal dose of carotenoids?
Call on the great pumpkin.
After the obligatory wedge of pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving dinner, this New World native always seems to get the boot. But before you push that can of pumpkin puree to the back of the pantry for another year, consider its health benefits.
For starters, 1/2 cup of canned pumpkin puree has 42 calories and 3.4 grams of fiber. Pumpkin is also a good source of potassium, iron, riboflavin, folic acid and vitamin C. But what has really grabbed nutrition headlines in recent years are two carotenoids known as alpha carotene and beta carotene, both powerful phytonutrients.
Like the deep orange, yellow or red fat-soluble compounds found in an array of fruits and vegetables, the winter gourd’s bright orange flesh is nature’s shorthand for carotenoids. The body turns the carotenoids into vitamin A, which helps boost the immune system and reduces the risk of some cancers, cardiovascular disease, inflammatory conditions and macular degeneration.
The 2005 Dietary Guidelines included a reference list of foods high in vitamin A, and pumpkin ranked fourth out of 21 common foods. Still, studies show most American adults don’t get enough vitamin A in their diets.
Pumpkin can be cooked like any winter squash, then added to soups and stews. But to create another layer of flavor, add the puree to a traditional dessert. The Kansas City Star’s Pumpkin Gingerbread Bars are moist and cakey, flavored with the traditional molasses and powdered ginger.
Gingerbread is a good holiday choice because it is naturally low in fat and cholesterol. This recipe also is designed to keep the portion sizes in check.
Carotenoids never tasted so good.
Shopping tip: Canned pumpkin is available year-round. A secret: Most professional chefs prefer the convenience and flavor of canned pumpkin over making their own puree. Just make sure you choose a can of pumpkin puree, not pumpkin pie filling that already contains spices.
Pumpkin Gingerbread Bars
1/2 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup solid pack pumpkin
2 tablespoons molasses
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 tablespoon confectioners’ sugar
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray a 9-inch square pan with nonstick vegetable spray.
Beat eggs with electric mixer at high speed 2 minutes. Add brown sugar 1 tablespoon at a time, beating well after each addition.
Add pumpkin, molasses and vanilla. Beat at medium speed 2 minutes.
Combine flour, baking powder, cinnamon and ginger; stir to blend. Add to pumpkin mixture; stir well.
Pour into prepared pan. Bake 20 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean.
Let cool 10 minutes in pan; invert onto platter. Sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar.
Yield: 12 servings
Approximate nutrition per serving: 81 calories, 1 gram total fat (trace saturated, 10 percent fat calories), 2 grams protein, 17 grams carbohydrate, 31 milligrams cholesterol, 55 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber.