Pumped About Pumpkins: Just Hype About Health, or the Real Deal?

  • Pumpkin 11
    (Photo by Christopher D. Williams)
  • suzy
    Baylor dietitian Suzy Weems, Ph.D. (Courtesy photo)
Oct. 7, 2014

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WACO, Texas (Oct. 7, 2014) — Pumpkin purveyors have reason for grins as wide as those of jack-o’-lanterns this time of year. 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,” said 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 said.

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 said. 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 said. “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 said.
  • 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 said. “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 said. “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.

ABOUT BAYLOR UNIVERSITY

Baylor University is a private Christian university and a nationally ranked research institution, characterized as having “high research activity” by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. The university provides a vibrant campus community for approximately 15,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating university in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 80 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 11 nationally recognized academic divisions. Baylor sponsors 19 varsity athletic teams and is a founding member of the Big 12 Conference.

ABOUT THE COLLEGE OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SCIENCES

The College combines Baylor’s department of communication sciences and disorders, the department of family and consumer sciences, the department of health, human performance and recreation, and the Louise Herrington School of Nursing. The College draws upon Baylor’s Christian mission and tradition in health care to prepare scholars and leaders who can promote a teach-based approach to patient care, establish interdisciplinary research, translate theory into practice and advance knowledge of health, human behavior and quality of life and form the infrastructure for future health-related graduate programs.

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