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  • Writer's pictureFibonacciMD

From Pumpkin to Pumpkin Spice

By Mary B Grosvenor, MS, RD and Lori A Smolin, PhD

pumpkin spice

The first signs of fall – crisp morning air, turning leaves, shortening days, apple picking, and pumpkin spice lattes. Twenty years ago, Starbucks introduced the pumpkin spice latte, and the craze was born; over 600 million have been sold. The pumpkin spice trend has spread to cookies, cereals, coffee creamers, and a host of other products.


Pumpkin spice is a mixture of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, and sometimes allspice that has been used since the 1890s to flavor baked goods. A premixed pumpkin pie spice was introduced in the 1930s to flavor pumpkin pie. Pumpkin itself, on the other hand, is a nutrient-rich vegetable.


Pumpkin, like zucchini, cucumbers, and watermelon, is a member of the squash family. Pumpkin originated in the Americas and is believed to be one of the oldest cultivated crops, with archeological evidence dating back to 3500 BC. [1] It was an important food source for Native Americans who ate roasted strips of pumpkin. Early colonists baked pumpkins filled with milk, honey, and spices – perhaps the original pumpkin pie. While it is believed that Columbus took pumpkin seeds back to Europe, they require a long hot growing season, so they were difficult to grow in Europe and never became popular. Today the US is the largest pumpkin grower in the world.

The Nutritional Benefits of Pumpkin


pumpkin spice

Pumpkins are harvested in September and October. Americans carve them into jack-o-lanterns on Halloween and bake them into pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving. But this nutrient-dense gourd is also served as a vegetable and used to make soups and chilis. Pureed pumpkin is baked into muffins, cookies, cakes, and breads. And we munch on the seeds as a snack. Pumpkin is low in calories and high in a variety of nutrients and phytochemicals. A half cup of cooked pumpkin provides about 25 Calories; the same amount of cooked potatoes has almost 70 Calories. Pumpkin is high in beta-carotene, which can be converted into vitamin A and acts as an antioxidant. Antioxidants neutralize free radicals, which damage DNA and in the long term can contribute to cancer, heart disease, and dementia. Pumpkin is also high in lutein, a phytochemical that protects the eyes. Pumpkin flesh has no fat, cholesterol, or sodium and is a good source of fiber and potassium, while pumpkin seeds provide protein, minerals, fiber, and healthy fats. So, pumpkin and its seeds are good for our eyes, our hearts, our digestive tracts, and our overall health.


Although your pumpkin spice latte may not have any pumpkin in it, the pumpkin spice itself may also have some health pluses. The cinnamon may help control blood sugar levels and ginger has been shown to ease nausea. [2,3] Nutmeg is an antioxidant that has been studied for pain relief and is used in traditional medicine to promote sleep. Cloves, as well as cinnamon and ginger, contain the phytochemical eugenolin, which has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. [4]


So cut yourself a slice of pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving. It may be among the healthiest of holiday desserts – lower in calories, sugar, and fat than apple pie and rich in nutrients and phytochemicals from both the pumpkin itself and the pumpkin pie spices. Pumpkin spice lattes are also a seasonal delight. Be aware however, that a Starbucks Grande pumpkin spice latte has about 32 grams of added sugar, which is more than half the amount recommended for an entire day. Enjoy a few while they are available, but also consider ways to add some actual pumpkin to your diet.


Sources


[1] Division of Plant Sciences Pumpkin: A Brief History // Missouri Environment and Garden News Article // Integrated Pest Management, University of Missouri. October 13, 2013. Accessed October 8, 2023. https://ipm.missouri.edu/meg/2013/10/Pumpkin-A-Brief-History/.


[2] Cinnamon. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Accessed October 8, 2023. https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/cinnamon.


[3] Five spices with healthy benefits. Johns Hopkins Medicine. November 4, 2021. Accessed October 8, 2023. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/5-spices-with-healthy-benefits.


[4] Smeriglio A, Nisar M, Khadim M, Rafiq M, Chen J, et al. Pharmacological Properties and Health Benefits of Eugenol: A Comprehensive Review. Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity

https://doi.org/10.1155/2021/2497354

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