Pumpkin…pumpkin spice…PUMPKIN SPICE LATTE! My guess is you’ve either seen or heard this exclamation at the beginning of autumn for the past ten years or more. All things pumpkin, especially pumpkin spice, invade our senses during Fall. Where did this obsession begin? Is it ever going to end? And, most importantly, is pumpkin healthy?
We’ve got the answers. While we may be getting close to Thanksgiving, this pumpkin craze doesn’t let up until after our November holiday.
A Quick History of Pumpkin in America
America’s first pumpkin recipes appeared in the early 1670s and have been associated with the autumn season since its discovery. Pumpkin is a seasonal vegetable so its association with Fall makes sense. That is also a contributing factor to its popularity. While there are other seasonal treats (apple cider, for instance), the actual squash is seasonal, which only increases the demand for it in the limited time you can get it.
Since 2003, the obsession with pumpkin spice in autumn has grown tremendously. Most of the credit for this can be given to Starbucks’ invention of the Pumpkin Spice Latte (PSL).
While pumpkin spice is nothing new (not even to 2003), the promotion of the spice, and pumpkin as a whole, took off during that time. I’m sure the advent of social media made an impact on this, as well. Who knows? Maybe people were just as obsessed with pumpkin spice before this, we just never heard about it.
With the PSL’s contribution to headstarting this $361-million industry, other brands and companies have wanted to get a piece of the action, producing anything from pumpkin spice candles to pumpkin spice kale chips.
There are dozens of pumpkin spice products that have been created to meet popular demand–from the delicious to the somewhat-strange. Some of these pumpkin spice products include:
- Scones (my favorite!)
- Granola bars
- Lip balm
- Scented oil
- Detail spray for the car (You read that right)
- Pet cologne (Didn’t know this even existed!)
- And much more…
Now that we’ve learned a little history about pumpkin and pumpkin spice, what should we know about the vegetable and the many delicious treats that are being marketed to us? Is pumpkin good for our overall health?
Brace yourselves, Pumpkin Spice lovers… The worst pumpkin spice treat you can consume is the Pumpkin Spice Latte. That’s right, the product that started it all is one of the least healthy things we can consume that is pumpkin flavored.
I hope you are still with me after that devastating blow. I’m right there with you. Why take away this autumn treat? Fortunately, since this is only a seasonal item, an occasional PSL during the season won’t hurt you too much. However, moderation is key here, with this pumpkin spice treat and some of the others we’ve listed below (from People.com):
- Subway’s pumpkin spice cookies
- Cheerios, Mini Wheat’s, Puffins and other brands’ pumpkin spice cereals
- Starbucks’ pumpkin spice goods: PSL and pumpkin scones
- Krispy Kreme and other brands’ pumpkin spice donuts
- Pumpkin spice latte peeps, chocolates, marshmallows, cheesecake and other sweets
- Dairy Queen’s pumpkin pie blizzard
- See People.com (linked above) for more
So why are these goodies so bad for your health? The main culprit is SUGAR. Pumpkin in itself is actually very good for you, and the spice isn’t bad either, with benefits like:
- Fiber – Pumpkin seeds contain a lot of dietary fiber that’s good for us. It helps us feel fuller after eating and protects our heart.
- Vitamin A – One cup of pumpkin contains twice the recommended amount of vitamin A we need. This is good for our eyes, skin, teeth and bones.
- Phytoestrogens – Pumpkin seed oil is full of this, which helps prevent hypertension.
- Tryptophan – Ever wonder why you’re sleepy after that Thanksgiving meal? If you’ve had pumpkin pie at the end of that night, that may be why. Pumpkin is rich in tryptophan, which helps our bodies produce serotonin to help us relax and improve our mood.
- Antioxidants – Pumpkin seeds in particular have cancer-protective properties, according to a few studies.
Unfortunately, most of the pumpkin recipes and treats we consume are loaded with sugar and saturated fat, which negates any health benefits we may have gotten from the squash and the spice.
What About Pumpkin Pie?
While pumpkin pie is a Thanksgiving staple and a beloved autumn dessert (it’s one of my favorites, even ahead of the scones!), you’re still looking at 316 calories a slice. However, when compared to other desserts you might see on the dessert table at this year’s Thanksgiving feast or elsewhere, this is a much healthier option, particularly if care was taken in making the crust. While the pie itself probably isn’t that unhealthy for you, the butter and flour used in the crust adds up.
Is There a Healthy Way to Consume Pumpkin and Pumpkin Spice Flavoring?
Absolutely! There are still many pumpkin spice products on the market today that are actually beneficial to your health. Not to mention the countless pumpkin recipes you can make at home (where you control the ingredients used).
Pumpkin and Pumpkin Spice Treats that Are Good for Your Health
Thankfully, there are some pumpkin spice products that are healthy. Here are a few listed below:
- Kashi Crunchy Granola Bars (Pumpkin Spice Flax)
- Panera Bread’s Autumn Squash Soup with Pumpkin Seeds
- Thomas’ Pumpkin Spice Bagels
- Green Mountain Pumpkin Spice Coffee
- Special Order: Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte
- I wouldn’t say this one is necessarily good for your health but with a modified order, this isn’t the worst thing for you.
- Ask for nonfat milk, no whipped cream and only one pump of syrup instead of the standard 4 pumps for a Grande.
Healthy Pumpkin and Pumpkin Spice Recipes
While there are a few restaurants you can find healthy pumpkin recipes at (like Panera, for instance), the best pumpkin meals you’ll find will be recipes you follow and make on your own. Some quick tips for adding pumpkin to your meals:
- Include pumpkin chunks in a roasted vegetable mix
- Add pumpkin seeds to your salad or on top of a baked chicken
- Use whole wheat pasta noodles and make a pumpkin puree pasta sauce for the dish
- Make a pumpkin smoothie using ingredients like pumpkin puree, pumpkin spice and coconut milk
- Simply roast pumpkin seeds, put them in a bag or tupperware container and eat throughout the day as a healthy snack
- Make pumpkin bread or pumpkin muffins using these healthy recipes
- You can even find low-fat pumpkin pancake recipes
- Bake a pumpkin and add some cinnamon and a little bit of butter. This is a great main course or a side dish
- Use pumpkin seed oil when you cook
Use your imagination and get online to search for healthy pumpkin recipes you can try. If you find a good one, please leave it in the comment section below!
Other Healthy Pumpkin Recipes
- Whole Wheat Healthy Pumpkin Bread
So how does this relate to dental? As we’ve mentioned before, what affects your overall health often affects your oral health, and vice versa. However, with pumpkin in particular, and the many products we’ve talked about, there is something to be said about how these treats directly affect your dental health.
Pumpkin can actually be really great for your oral health, when not weighed down with additional sugar. A few health benefits include:
- Healing of the Mouth – The zinc found in pumpkin can heal wounds inside your mouth, from damaged tissues to bleeding gums.
- Increase Saliva – The Vitamin A we mentioned earlier also improves saliva flow, which is important for washing away bacteria from the mouth.
- Better Immune System – Vitamin C found in pumpkin can help you maintain a healthy immune system so you can fight infections.
- Strong Enamel – You’ll have stronger enamel thanks to pumpkin’s magnesium and calcium.
- Fiber – Also mentioned earlier, pumpkin has a lot of fiber. Not only is fiber good for your overall health, but it also stimulates saliva flow, which, as we’ve already mentioned, protects against tooth decay by washing away bacteria.
Will the Pumpkin Trend Continue?
How much longer will the pumpkin phenomenon go on? I think pumpkin will always be a big trend in Fall, and for good reason. What would Fall be like without pumpkins? I’m a big fan! However, recent data has shown a possible shift in this vegetable’s popularity. Instead of “pumpkin,” the obsession may soon turn to all things “salted caramel.”
And for this season? Thanksgiving is just around the corner. The craze typically starts to die down after the Thanksgiving holiday. Then the Christmas obsession begins…Peppermint Mocha, anyone?