Nutritional Values

Serving Size: 1/2 cup, mashed, cooked

Calories: 24

Fat: 0 g

Saturated Fat: 0 g

Cholesterol: 0 mg

Carbohydrate: 6 g

Protein: 1 g

Dietary Fiber: 1 g

Sodium: 1 mg

Vitamin A: 6,115 IU

Niacin: 1 mg

Vitamin C: 6 mg

Calcium: 18 mg

Potassium: 282 mg

Carotenoids: 6,012 mcg

No matter how health-conscious your eating habits, everyone needs a little dessert sometimes. Pumpkin is perfect when you want a healthy treat. That way, you can have all of the enjoyment without any of the guilt.

The pumpkin is an American original. Pumpkins, belonging to the squash family, have an understated taste that lends itself well to a variety of dishes. Besides, pumpkins make a great fat substitute in baking.

Health Benefits

The distinctive bright orange color of pumpkin clearly indicates that it's an excellent source of that all-important antioxidant beta-carotene. Research shows that people who eat a diet rich in beta-carotene are less likely to develop certain cancers than those who fail to include beta-carotene-rich foods in their diet. Pumpkin also has another carotenoid, beta-cryptoxanthin, which may decrease the risk of lung cancer in smokers.

Selection and Storage

Look for deep-orange pumpkins, free of cracks or soft spots. Though large pumpkins make the best jack-o'-lanterns, they tend to be tough and stringy, so they aren't the best for cooking -- try smaller ones, especially the ones called "sugar pumpkins."

A whole pumpkin keeps well for up to a month, if stored in a cool, dry spot. Once cut, wrap the pumpkin and place it in the refrigerator; it should keep for about a week.

To prepare, wash off dirt, cut away the tough skin with a knife or a vegetable peeler, remove the seeds, then slice, dice, or cut the pulp into chunks. You might want to save the seeds; when toasted, they make a great snack. If you prefer something quicker and more simple, you can always opt for canned pumpkin. It's about as nutritious as fresh. For pies and purees, many say it tastes as good, if not better.

Preparation and Serving Tips

Pumpkin pie is, without a doubt, Americans' favorite food use for pumpkin. But traditional preparation, with heavy cream and whole eggs, transforms a low-calorie food into one that's loaded with calories. Instead, substitute evaporated skim milk for the cream and use only one egg yolk for every two eggs the recipe calls for. You'll cut the fat to about 30 percent of calories, and we predict no one will know the difference. Leave out the crust, making a custard instead, and you'll drop the calories even more.

Pumpkin can be used to make nutritious, delicious, and moist cookies or bars. Likewise, you can substitute it for some of the fat in quick breads. How about pumpkin pancakes?

Pumpkin prepared via these nutrititous, low-fat recipes makes for a delicious yet healthy way to treat your taste buds while still helping you with weight loss.

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