Jack-o-lantern’s got game

Cathleen Kronemer, NSCA-CPT, Certified Health Coach, is a longtime fitness instructor at the Jewish Community Center. She is also a member of the St. Louis Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.

By Cathleen Kronemer, NSCA-CPT, Certified Health Coach

I’ll admit it: I have had my pumpkins for over 2 weeks already!  Our front window is proudly displaying gel window clings of pumpkins and bats, also. Yes, I love Halloween. There truly is so much more to the season than fun-sized candy bars, and I’m embracing all of it! 

If you have ever wondered what those pumpkins are up to the other 11 months of the year, trust me…their insides are plenty busy. Canned pumpkin is one of the healthiest foods available today. It is delicious, versatile, and packed with nutrients. Stirring pumpkin puree into soup, stew or chili will not alter the taste significantly, but it sure ups the ante in terms of health benefits. I sometimes use pumpkin puree in place of a portion of the oil in my muffin recipes. Adding the puree to a bowl of oatmeal provides a warm, robust flavor. Last week, I stirred some canned pumpkin into hummus for a delicious topping to a green salad. 

A single cup of canned pumpkin contains more than 200 percent of the recommended daily intake of vitamin A; according to the National Institutes of Health, this can help to boost vision, especially in dim lighting. Pumpkins are also rich in beta-carotene, which the body converts into a form of vitamin A for additional eye health.

This hearty fall treat is also an excellent source of fiber, providing 3 grams in a 1-cup serving.  Fiber possesses the ability to keep you feeling fuller longer, and accomplishes this at a very low caloric cost!  

Not to be outdone by the orange mash, pumpkin seeds are naturally rich in a class of plant-based chemicals known as phytosterols.  Research studies have indicated that these substances may help to reduce LDL or “bad” cholesterol.  The seeds are also rich in tryptophan, an amino acid that plays a key role in producing serotonin, the body’s natural mood enhancer.

If you are seeking a delicious source of potassium, and aren’t necessarily a banana fan, once again the pumpkin is the season’s winner! 1 cup of cooked pumpkin contains a whopping amount of potassium,  564 milligrams to a banana’s 422. 

A little extra potassium can help to replenish the body’s balance of electrolytes after a heavy workout, and keeps muscles functioning at peak performance.

Now we know why the Jack-O-Lantern is smiling…