Guest blogger JJ Virgin: This time of year, everything seems to transform quickly. The summer sound of kids' uninhibited laughter as they run through sprinklers gives way to the sound of school bells; leaves turn from lush green to beautiful shades of orange, red and yellow; entire aisles in grocery stores have been taken over by sugar-laden Halloween candy ... and pumpkins are everywhere!
As soon as the sun sets on Labor Day, the country's obsession with all things pumpkin begins. They're stacked in front of grocery stores, displayed on almost every doorstep, nearly every specialty coffee drink or dessert is pumpkin-flavored and children begin to ask about picking up a few pumpkins to carve.
Though most infamous for its use in belt-bursting pies and breads, pumpkin is actually an incredibly healthful gourd. Pumpkin meat is high in carotenoids, which work to neutralize free radicals -- those pesky molecules that can attack cell membranes and leave them susceptible to damage. Specifically, pumpkin is high in the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin, which hunt down free radicals that are present in the lens of the eye, preventing macular degeneration and the formation of cataracts. Pumpkins also contain a host of other nutrients, such as zinc, fiber and iron.
Here are two fun, healthful pumpkin recipes for your family to enjoy!
Roasted Pumpkin Seeds
Pumpkin seeds are not only yummy, they're very high in protein (one ounce of seeds provides about seven grams of protein). They also contain iron, magnesium, copper, phosphorus, manganese and zinc, and their oil is high in phytosterols, a plant-based fatty acid that is so similar to cholesterol that it can replace it in our bodies, thereby reducing blood-cholesterol levels.
Method: Rinse seeds under cool water, picking out the pulp. Place the pumpkin seeds in a single layer on a baking sheet that's been coated with nonstick cooking spray. Sprinkle the seeds with either salt or cinnamon, and bake at 325 degrees for 25 minutes.â€¨
Method: Split a pumpkin-pie pumpkin vertically, and scoop out all the seeds and pulp. Pour half an inch of warm water into an oven-safe pan and invert the pumpkin halves in the water. Put the pan into a preheated 400-degree oven. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes. Using a spoon, scrape the fleshy inside of the pumpkin away from the rind. Sprinkle a bit of cinnamon over each portion.
Celebrity nutrition and fitness expert JJ Virgin is the author of "Six Weeks to Sleeveless and Sexy" and the costar of TLC's "Freaky Eaters" reality series. Visit her at www.jjvirgin.com to grab her free audio, "7 Steps to Break Your 'Freaky' Food Habits Fast & Forever!"