Let’s Rethink Pumpkin…

As you may have noticed, fall is here. For some of us, it’s just beginning, but for others, it’s been here for awhile (hello, upstate New York). Either way, once you started seeing shades of brown, orange, maroon, and any other fall-ish colors, you might have thought: Pumpkin Spice Latte! Pumpkin muffins! Pumpkin scones! Pumpkin…and the list goes on. It seems that once fall rolls in, you can’t seem to go anywhere without seeing some sort of baked/browned/brewed pumpkin delight. This is all well and good. I love pumpkin myself. Actually, I make gluten-free, dairy free pumpkin chocolate chip muffins every fall.

However, all this pumpkin talk has led me to ask: Why do we love pumpkin so much? I guarantee that if I ate actual pumpkin pulp from a real pumpkin, I would not be nearly as thrilled about it as I am eating my pumpkin chocolate chip muffins. So that leads me to this thought: Is it that we love the taste of pumpkin, or do we just love sugar disguised in a pretty fall package and given a fruity name (yes, pumpkins are technically fruit)? Think about it. Everything pumpkin that we eat is typically full of sugar. I’m sure that if someone created spinach spice lattes that were sugary, caffeinated, and served in a warm, evergreen-colored mug, we’d love it, too. OK, maybe spinach is taking it too far, but you get the point.

I’m not condemning pumpkins. In fact, I’m sticking up for them. Pumpkins are full of vitamin A and fiber. They also contain some vitamin C, calcium, and iron. So, I’m all for eating pumpkins, whether they come in fresh or canned form. What I’m objecting to is adding so much sugar to a pumpkin creation that we actually decrease its nutritional value because we’ve disturbed nature’s perfect balance of carbohydrates, calories, fiber, vitamins, and minerals.

So, what do we do about it? Give up our pumpkin treats entirely? No. I’ll be completely honest. My pumpkin chocolate chip muffins are not guiltless; they’re sugary and delicious. But, I’ve thought a lot about how I can make them better–more nutritious, that is. And that’s the point I’m getting at: Think about how to make your favorite pumpkin–or any other–treat more nutritious. We don’t have to just throw up our hands and surrender to the Sugar Power. Things can still taste good AND be better for us. Yes, it is possible. Decreasing sugar content while adding real food ingredients can increase the nutritional profile of anything, not just pumpkin creations.

Let me give you an example of increasing the nutrition value of my favorite fall treat: Instead of using refined white sugar in my muffins, I can can use raw sugar (much less processed) and add half of the amount recommended in the recipe. I can also substitute pureed fruit (apples, bananas) for 100% of the recommended sugar in the recipe. I also can use organic unsweetened soy/almond milk and dark chocolate chips to eliminate dairy sugars, while substituting flax seeds for the egg(s) to increase Omega-3 content.Β These solutions decrease the total amount of sugar I’m consuming while also increasing my consumption of vitamins, minerals, and essential fatty acids.

Now, you might be thinking: That’s all good for you, Lauren. But I don’t eat muffins, and I need my daily pumpkin spice latte! OK. I understand. Like I said, pumpkin treats are delicious. We don’t need to give them up completely. But, decreasing your consumption of store-bought pumpkin delights may be in order. Maybe you order your PSL (yes, Pumpkin Spice Latte…) with only 1 pump of pumpkin syrup instead of the 3-4 they usually add. You still get the pumpkin flavor without so much sugar and chemical syrup. Or, maybe you could order it 2 times a week and then make a more nutritious version at home the other days. How do you make a more nutritious version? You guessed it: decrease the sugar while adding real food ingredients (pumpkin puree, cinnamon, etc.). I’ve included a recipe that I think is a great substitution for the more sugary original version. It’s from Brittany Mullins’ blog, called Eating Bird Food. Access it here. You don’t have to use the almond milk suggested; you can use dairy. And, depending on your feelings about Stevia, you could certainly just use Β a teaspoon of agave syrup instead. Overall, this recipe is lower in calories and sugar than the typical PSLs, but it still delivers your caffeine and delicious pumpkin flavor.

So, now that I’ve given you some principles to remember when trying to increase the nutritional profile of your PSL or your pumpkin muffins or whatever other pumpkin deliciousness you desire, try it out! See what works for you. Remember, the point is that you have control over what you put in your body. And, making something more nutritious doesn’t have to equal nasty flavor. Actually, quite the opposite. Clean, nutritious foods can taste great. And, you may find that they taste better than the fake, syrupy originals. I’ve had several of my patients tell me that after switching to real, clean ingredients in their food, they can’t stand the taste of prepared foods with chemical additives, HFCS, sugary syrups, etc. REAL food is what our bodies are meant to ingest, and your body–including your taste buds!–will make that clear to you. Just give it a chance πŸ™‚

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