Pumpkins pack quite a nutritional punch

When my tween daughter announced that she suddenly liked pumpkin pie, I declared a silent victory! That’s because at my house, like so many others, it’s a daily battle to get my kids to eat enough fruits and vegetables.

It’s pumpkin season, and that darling of the gourd family packs quite a nutritional punch. Make no mistake, the added fat and cholesterol in pumpkin pie can tip the scales. But U.S. Department of Agriculture data shows that pumpkin is loaded with lots of good stuff, including antioxidant carotenoids. Other USDA findings: One cup of raw pumpkin clocks in at just 30 calories. It’s rich in A, B and C vitamins and minerals including magnesium, potassium and iron. There’s even protein and fiber.

And the good news is, pumpkin isn’t just for pie.

One kid brings a pumpkin bagel to lunch every day, my daughter reports. Wait ’til he hears about what we saw in the grocer’s deli: pumpkin tortellini salad with walnuts, dried cranberries and other yummy tidbits.

Pumpkin fever has hit restaurant menus, which tout pumpkin-laced appetizers, main courses and desserts. There’s pumpkin cream cheese, pumpkin scones, pumpkin pancakes and pumpkin bread. There’s pumpkin dumplings, pumpkin soup, pumpkin vodka and pumpkin beer. (Substitute pumpkin with shrimp and this is beginning to sound a bit like “Forrest Gump.”)

Some attribute the pumpkin explosion to Starbucks Coffee Co., which unleashed its most popular seasonal drink, the pumpkin spice latte, 10 years ago. The “PSL,” as it’s known to fans, gets its trademark taste from a flavored sauce, the Seattle-based company reports. In September, Starbucks celebrated selling its 200 millionth PSL.

No surprise that everyone from quick-serve giants down to mom-and-pop cafes are following the money. Datassential, which monitors restaurant trends, reports that pumpkin-flavored drink offerings have increased 400 percent during the past five years. Pumpkin has become so popular it’s been dubbed “the new bacon” by New York magazine.

But here’s the bad news: Many of these pumpkin-flavored items are just that — flavored. Often, their irresistible qualities come from cinnamon, sugar, cloves and nutmeg, and there’s little or no actual pumpkin. If there is, sometimes it’s highly processed. Not to say that vine ripe is always best. The Mayo Clinic reports that canned pumpkin can be just as healthy as fresh. Just check the label to make sure there’s no added salt or other ingredients.

And when you indulge, do so in moderation. At Starbucks, a 16-ounce PSL is 380 calories, and the pumpkin cream cheese muffin, topped with crunchy candied pumpkin seeds, is 420 calories. … And who knows what’s lurking in Aunt Edna’s chocolate-covered bacon pumpkin cheesecake surprise.