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Eye Sight : Not Just for Jack-o'-Lanterns

Pumpkins are a sure sign of autumn, but they're good for more than carving on Halloween. They're a great source of vitamin A, which is essential for healthy vision, as well as the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin, which are thought to help prevent cataracts and slow the development of macular degeneration. Pumpkins are rich in fiber, which slows digestion and helps keep you feeling fuller longer. They also contain a whopping dose of vitamin C.

Pumpkins grown specifically for carving tend to have stringy, watery flesh, so they're best left for Halloween decorations. But cooking pumpkins, including sugar, cheese, and pie pumpkins, add delicious flavor and nutrition to foods.

Pumpkins are in season from September to December. When choosing a pumpkin at your local market, look for firm, brightly colored gourds that are free from cuts or nicks.

Preparing pumpkin couldn't be easier -- simply cut it in half or into quarters, remove the seeds, and scrape out the stringy parts. Cut into large pieces and steam in a saucepot by heating one inch of water to boiling over high heat. Add pumpkin pieces and heat to boiling. Reduce heat to medium-high and cook until tender, about 25 to 30 minutes. Then drain, cool, and peel.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends these easy pumpkin recipes:
  • Blend fat-free milk, pumpkin, frozen vanilla yogurt, and a sprinkle of pumpkin pie spice or cinnamon to create a pumpkin smoothie.
  • Add freshly cooked pumpkin or canned pumpkin to your favorite pancake recipe to amp up your pancakes' nutritional content.
  • Substitute 1/4 cup canned or fresh pumpkin in place of egg in muffin recipes.
  • Combine mashed, cooked pumpkin with fat-free low-sodium chicken broth, evaporated fat-free milk, onion, and nutmeg for a warming pumpkin soup.
Even easier? Keep it simple and mash cooked pumpkin with butter, a little brown sugar, and cinnamon. Whatever your preference may be, make delicious and nutritious pumpkin a regular part of your diet this fall.

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