Pumpkin’s flavor and nutrients make it worth adding to everyday fall and winter meals, and you can skip the sugar.

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On Nutrition

Pumpkins deserve a lot more respect than they get from jack-o’-lanterns and pumpkin spice lattes. Sure, they’re a centerpiece of most Thanksgiving dessert tables, but pumpkin’s flavor and nutrition assets make it a worthy part of everyday fall and winter meals — even without added sugar.

Along with other winter squash, pumpkins are members of the same family as cucumbers and melons. Their flesh is water-rich, which makes them lower in calories than many other starchy carbohydrate foods, including sweet potatoes. One cup of pumpkin has 49 calories, compared with 180 for sweet potatoes. They are a good source of fiber, potassium and vitamin C.

Pumpkin’s vibrant color is about more than just good looks. This round squash is an excellent source of the antioxidant beta carotene, which our bodies convert to vitamin A. That’s good for your eyes, your skin and the rest of you, since antioxidants help protect your cells against damage from free radicals, possibly reducing your risk of developing heart disease and some forms of cancer.

Other eye- and skin-healthy antioxidants in pumpkins are the phytonutrients lutein and zeaxanthin, which research suggests may reduce the risk of cataracts and slow the development of age-related macular degeneration.

Whether you are choosing seeds for next year’s vegetable garden or perusing the pumpkins in your grocery store with the intent to eat them rather than carve them up for your front porch, choose varieties described as “sweet” or “pie” pumpkins. They’ll have better flavor and a more pleasing texture. They also tend to be smaller in size, making it more manageable to roast and purée them.

From there, why not try:

• Cutting roasted pumpkin into cubes and adding them to a salad or soup.

• Adding a cup of puréed pumpkin to your favorite hummus recipe.

• Stirring puréed pumpkin and pumpkin-pie spices into oatmeal or Greek yogurt, or blending them into your morning smoothie.

• Lightening your sweet-potato casserole by swapping pumpkin for part of the sweet potatoes.

 

Here’s how to roast the pumpkin flesh

As with other winter squash, you can roast a pumpkin whole, but cutting it in half — from top to bottom — or into wedges lets you scoop out the seeds to roast separately, if you want.

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

2. Turn the pumpkin on its side and use a sharp knife to slice the top, including the stem, off the pumpkin. Cut the pumpkin in half, from the top to the bottom. Use a spoon to scoop out the seeds and stringy insides.

3. Cut each pumpkin half into wedges, then place them skin-side down on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Roast for about 45 minutes, until tender when pierced with a fork.

4. Remove the pumpkin from the oven, and cool until it’s just cool enough to handle, about 10 minutes. Remove and discard the skin.

5. Store the roasted pumpkin in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

To make your own pumpkin purée

Transfer the roasted pumpkin flesh to a food processor or blender and purée until smooth. Not up for that much work? That’s no problem if you own a can opener. If you opt for canned pumpkin, be sure to buy the plain version (the only ingredient should be pumpkin) and not pumpkin-pie mix, which has added sugars.