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Pumpkin Power

By Cheryl Forberg RD

A very big part of my job is listening to what people eat every day. For many of my clients, articulating their daily food intake is a real eye-opener because most of us don’t think too much about what we eat and especially not how much. For that reason, most of us eat much more than we think we do.

Another one of my behind-the-scenes jobs as Nutritionist for The Biggest Loser is to review each contestant’s food journals every day. This daily diary tells me exactly what they eat and when. In the first few weeks of the show’s new season, I’m looking to see that they understand their calorie budgets, portion sizes and how to time their meals and snacks throughout the day. Once they get the hang of that (it usually takes a couple of weeks) I start zeroing in on the types and proportions of these foods to each other, e.g. how much protein, how many healthy fats. I don’t worry that they’re eating too much white stuff (white sugar, white flour, white pasta, and white rice). Those foods aren’t even available to them in the kitchen at the Ranch. Instead, they’re learning to try a variety of whole grains and starting to enjoy the sweetness of fruit instead of gooey desserts.

After a couple of weeks I look for a nice hefty increase in their fruit and vegetable intake. With a goal of 4 cups per day (mostly veggies), this helps them feel full while increasing their daily fiber intake (something sorely missing for most Americans).

I also remind them that what’s on their plates should be colorful at every meal. If they’re just looking at earth tones, they’re something missing A multitude of colors on a plate is the key to healthy eating because fruits and vegetables are loaded with fiber, minerals and vitamins. And the bright pigments in the red, yellow, orange, and blue tints confer incredible health benefits.
Image of Winter Squash Sampler
Tomatoes, Winter Squash, Spinach and other leafy greens are excellent sources of fat-soluble vitamins, which means they are stored by the body. (Water-soluble vitamins on the other hand, such as Vitamin C and B are not stored by the body and need to be replenished throughout the day.)

The carotenoid veggies (identified by their typical orange-yellow color) are perhaps best known for their ability to be converted to vitamin A, a powerful antiaging ally. Essential for healthy vision, vitamin A plays many roles in maintaining youthful body tissue. It boosts immune system function, provides protection from sunburn, and inhibits the development of certain types of cancers. Vitamin A is also involved in the formation and maintenance of healthy skin and hair.

Though preformed vitamin A is available from sources such as meat, liver, and eggs, there are many reasons to limit our intake of animal products related to their high levels of saturated fats and cholesterol. In addition, excess intake of vitamin A from supplements can be harmful.
Image of Pumpkins
Another way to get your vitamin A is from the form found in plant foods. The orange pigments called carotenoids in a carrot, for example, convert to vitamin A in the body. Carrots, Winter Squashes, Pumpkin, Mangoes, Red Bell Pepper, and Sweet Potatoes all offer scrumptious ways to kick up your Vitamin A intake.

The markets are now loaded with fiery squashes and pumpkins so it’s a great time to enjoy them in their splendor. Though most edible pumpkin varieties wind up in pies on Thanksgiving, here is a delicious way to add to your pumpkin repertoire this fall.

Pumpkin Butter

If you're a pumpkin pie fan, you'll love this creamy spread. Try it on muffins, whole-grain toast, or stir a spoonful into your yogurt or hot cereal.

Yield: One quart or sixteen (1/4 cup) servings

Image of Pumpkin Butter
4 cups Fresh or Canned Pumpkin Puree
1½ cups Almond Milk (or Cashew Milk or Light Coconut Milk or 1% Milk)
¾ cup Agave Nectar
2 teaspoons Ground Ginger
1 teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
½ teaspoon Ground Cloves
½ teaspoon Ground Nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon Ground Cardamom
Pinch Salt
2 teaspoons Pure Vanilla Extract


Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

Combine pumpkin, milk, agave, salt and spices in a deep 3-quart saucepan; stir well.

Bring mixture just to a boil over medium high heat. Carefully transfer the mixture to a shallow 2-quart baking dish.
Image of pumpkin butter
Place baking dish in the preheated oven and bake, uncovered for 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Remove from oven, cool slightly and stir in vanilla. There will be about 6 cups.

Pour into clean, sterilized jars and seal. Cool and store in the refrigerator for up to one month.

Pumpkin Factoid: The bright color of pumpkin roars that it's loaded with a powerful antioxidant, beta-carotene. Beta-carotene is a plant carotenoid, which converts to vitamin A in the body.

Nutrient Analysis: per 1/4 cup serving
Calories 70
Prot 1 gram
Carb 17 grams
Total fat 0 gram
Sat fat 0 grams
Poly fat 0 grams
Mono fat 0 grams
Choles 0 mg
Fiber 1 gram
Sodium 4 mgs
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