Why Your Pumpkin Spice Addiction Might Be Healthy
The fall season brings the cozy comforts of pumpkin flavors and spices in our lattes, cookies and pies, and these foods provide hidden health benefits.
Pumpkin spice, an autumnal blend of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and cloves, can be a healthy dose of antioxidants and antimicrobial agents, while pumpkins provide more than decoration and tradition—they are packed with important vitamins and minerals that boost our system.
Is pumpkin spice healthy for us?
Emily Hu: Pumpkin spice is a mixture of different spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and cloves, which all have health benefits. Cinnamon and nutmeg have the highest concentration of salicylic acid, which is an important compound for anti-inflammation. Andrea Soung: The pumpkin spice blend itself can merit some health benefits, but it would depend on how it's used. Adding tons of sugar with your pumpkin pie spice, as with any food, probably would not be the healthiest. However, each ingredient in pumpkin spice has been used for therapeutic purposes for decades. Cinnamon is potentially effective in decreasing blood sugar and cholesterol, while increasing HDL ("good cholesterol") in people with Type 2 diabetes. Ginger can contribute to a healthier gut and is possibly effective in alleviating nausea and vomiting, menstrual cramps and osteoarthritis pain.
Is there a mental health boost with pumpkin spice foods?
AS: That's an interesting psychological perspective. There definitely is something comforting about pumpkin spice in the fall. The recurring pumpkin-spice-everything tradition we have in the U.S. may get a little old at times, but the theme running through shops and homes transitioning to the fall season and anticipating the holidays rekindles past experiences and builds community. After all, even smell is connected to memories—and for most people, pumpkin spice brings warm and fond memories. EH: I recommend pumpkin spice around the holidays if people find it comforting and relaxing. However, it is important to be aware of the high content of added sugar in some pumpkin spice foods and drinks.
Are there benefits to eating pumpkin?
AS: Yes! Pumpkins are loaded with vitamin A. Their orangey, yellow flesh indicates a large amount of carotenoids, some of which our bodies convert to vitamin A. Surprisingly, pumpkin seeds are also rich in carotenoids!
EH: Pumpkin is a good source of vitamin A, which is essential for vision health, immunity and cell division. It contains antioxidants to protect healthy cells against free radicals, which may cause diseases.
AS: Pumpkins also are a good source of potassium, and like many plant-based foods, they are rich in varying levels of antioxidants—vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals.
Eating healthy foods in general, such as pumpkin, can help prevent heart disease and promote brain health, as well as uplift overall energy and mood.
EH: Pumpkin is rich in antioxidants and potassium. An adequate amount will provide the body with good nutrients, including vitamin A, and thus, protect the body against conditions such as heart disease.
A healthy heart means a lower risk of blood clots, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, which promotes better brain health.
How can we incorporate pumpkin and pumpkin spice into our diet this fall/winter?
EH: Pumpkin is good for making pumpkin pie, bread, roasted/baked pumpkin or soup. Pumpkin spice can be incorporated into recipes such as pumpkin spice muffin, latte, smoothie, pancake or overnight oatmeal. Try pumpkin puree as an alternative to mashed potato. If you have a sweet tooth, try pumpkin cheesecake or pumpkin spice milk tea. AS: You can blend pumpkins into soups, roast them as sweet or savory dishes, toss them in salads and pair them with yogurt. Try sprinkling pumpkin spice in your cereals and oatmeal, or add it into hearty meat dishes, rubs and curries to provide the warmth of the holiday season.
Photo by Frédéric Dupont