As fall closes in, Americans everywhere reacquaint themselves with a tasty obsession. We’re referring to the humble pumpkin, of course, which can be consumed in all manner of ways – as an ingredient in everything from cupcakes to drinks. But have you ever stopped to ask yourself what kind of effect the orange fruit has on your body? Well, you should really find out before you scarf down that next slice of pumpkin pie this Thanksgiving.
As Halloween approaches, you probably won’t go a day without seeing a pumpkin outside someone’s house. They’re all over the place! And to keep up with the incredible demand for pumpkins when October rolls around, an awful lot of the fruit is grown across the U.S.
More than 1.5 billion pounds worth of pumpkin is produced a year across America, according to Good Housekeeping. Think about what you could do with that much pumpkin! Where even would you start? And the states that grow the most happen to be California, Ohio, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Indiana.
Before you pick your jaw up from the floor, though, here’s another staggering statistic. You’re familiar with Starbucks’ pumpkin spice latte, right? Well, the delicious beverage rakes in more than $100 million for the coffee chain every year. Yep, you read that correctly. People can’t get enough of it in the fall.
But why are pumpkins so popular during this time of year? Is there a reason? Well, the fruit’s association with Halloween can be traced back to 1866. That year marked the first time that they were brought out for the occasion. As for the carvings, their origins can be tied to an old Irish story about fending off a spirit named “Stingy Jack.”
The settlers who arrived in America didn’t immediately take to pumpkins, though. In fact, they originally turned their noses up at the big orange fruit, which was only a local food item at the time. Surprising, right? A historian named Cindy Ott explained more when speaking to Time in 2017.
Ott, who is the author of Pumpkin: The Curious History of an American Icon, said, “[Pumpkin] was a food of last resort. When there was no wheat for bread [or] yeast for beers, they’d turn to the pumpkin. The colonists looked back at Europe to get a sense of foods they should eat.”
So what changed? Well, even though the colonists weren’t too fond of pumpkins, they started to stock up on them in case their food supplies ran out. Then, as the years went on, the Industrial Revolution caused some Americans to look back on their past with a little more enthusiasm.
Those folks started to yearn for the simpler times of their ancestors, and pumpkins symbolized that era perfectly. This also proves that nostalgia isn’t just a recent phenomenon! So, the fruit made an unlikely comeback in the United States, with magazines such as Harper’s Weekly singing its praises.
But it could be argued that the pumpkin revival really occurred back in 1844. That’s the year that Thanksgiving became an official day of celebration in America. Families across the country then saved places on their dinner tables for dishes of pumpkin dessert. And as they say, the rest is history.
Have you ever wondered, though, what impact pumpkin has on your body? Is it a healthy option, or should we only be eating it in moderation? Well, food expert Nicola Shubrook went into a bit more detail on that front in an article for the BBC Good Food website.
Shubrook wrote, “Pumpkin is a great source of potassium and beta-carotene, which is a carotenoid that converts to vitamin A. It also contains some minerals including calcium and magnesium as well as vitamins E, C and some B vitamins. [And] 80 grams of pumpkin counts as one portion of your five-a-day.”
That’s a lot of nutritional benefits right there! But if we take a closer look at the pumpkin’s contents, there’s even more to uncover. The United States Department of Agriculture, otherwise known as the USDA, studied a single cup of the fruit in its raw state before sharing what it found.
According to the USDA, that small helping of pumpkin contained three grams of sugar, one gram each of both protein and fiber and eight grams of carbohydrates. A serving of that size also comes in at roughly 30 calories – making it a pretty good option if you’re trying to keep the pounds off. So, is pumpkin working wonders for our bodies, or should we be swapping out Thanksgiving dessert for something healthier?
Well, apparently, pumpkins are very good for your liver. That’s partly down to their high levels of antioxidants such as beta-carotene and vitamin C. And the vital organ houses minerals and other vitamins inside your body – ones that the fruit is absolutely chock-full of.
Pumpkin can even keep your blood pressure down. The fruit’s levels of vitamin C play a role in that, although its potassium and fiber content are pretty helpful, too. Then there’s the fact that pumpkin contains very little sodium – very useful if you’re trying to keep hypertension at bay. Sodium is salt, you see, and anyone with high blood pressure knows they should be monitoring their salt intake.
But pumpkins can help us in other ways – one of which may surprise you. For example, Shubrook has noted that the fall favorite could have a positive impact on a person’s skin health. How’s that possible? Well, as the nutritionist explained to BBC Good Food, “Vitamin C isn’t naturally made by the body, and so it’s important we get it from the diet every day.”
Shubrook continued, “[Vitamin C] plays a part in collagen formation, helps to prevent bruising and helps with wound healing. Vitamin E is an excellent antioxidant and acts together with vitamin C, helping to protect against sun damage and prevent dryness of the skin. Vitamin A is also involved in skin protection from the sun’s UVB rays.”
Don’t get any clever ideas, though. Shubrook made sure to point out that a serving of pumpkin wasn’t a substitute for sunscreen, so please keep those bottles handy. And Women’s Health actually flagged up yet another health benefit of the pumpkin during a discussion of the delicious orange fruit.
The magazine claimed that pumpkins can apparently stop you from putting on excess weight. It’s all down to their good levels of fiber, which plays a key role in satisfying hunger. And if you don’t feel peckish, you’re less likely to keep on snacking until your next meal. Sounds good, right? Then there’s pumpkin’s relatively low calorie content – more excellent news for dieters.
And if that wasn’t enough, pumpkin could even help you fight off coughs and colds. The fruit’s vitamin A and C can both give a much-needed boost to your immune system, and this could make a real difference when flu season comes around. Zinc – which pumpkin also contains – is pretty valuable to this process as well.
So, what’s the best way to eat pumpkin to take advantage of all this good stuff? Are there any particular recipes you should look at? Well, BBC Good Food recommended a few options, including combining pumpkin with lentils to make a soup and adding the fruit to a tasty dinner of chicken and chickpeas. If you’re feeling particularly fancy, you can even make pumpkin hummus.
When preparing your pumpkins, though, don’t throw away the seeds. They’re pretty good for you, too. And don’t just take our word for it. The USDA has analyzed the contents of pumpkin seeds that have been roasted, and the governmental department came up with some pretty stellar findings.
In the end, it was discovered that one ounce of roasted pumpkin seeds contained two grams of fiber, four grams of carbohydrates and eight grams of protein. They also boast 14 grams of fat and come in at just over 160 calories. There’s even a bit of copper in there too. Bet you didn’t see that coming!
So who stands to benefit the most from pumpkin seeds? Well, according to Women’s Health, fitness fanatics should have a long hard think about adding them to their diets. The magazine claimed, “Pumpkin seeds provide zinc and protein – two nutrients important for [workout] recovery.”
What about pumpkin pie, though? And the mouthwatering pumpkin spice latte from Starbucks? Are they healthy options as well? We’re sorry to break it to you, but they’re not. That may come as something of a shock, considering all of the benefits that we’ve discussed so far. But it is indeed the truth.
Let’s focus on the pumpkin pie first. Now, the fruit doesn’t actually lose any of its goodness once it reaches the pastry. Instead, the problems come from the additional ingredients – the butter, sugar and cream. So, while pumpkin itself may be healthy, the pie itself is definitely not.
According to EatingWell, a slice of pumpkin pie contains a whole 22 grams of added sugar – with 26 grams of the sweet stuff in there in total. Yikes. You’ll find roughly 174 milligrams of sodium in there, too. And overall, the tasty treat accounts for 300 calories of your recommended daily allowance.
That’s a lot to take in, isn’t it? But before you decide to hold off baking pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving, keep this in mind: alternatives such as apple pie aren’t much better for you. In fact, they have may have a higher calorie count per serving as well as more fat. So, what should you actually be doing ahead of the holiday season?
Well, first thing first – don’t panic! Your dinner plans shouldn’t have to change that much if you get a little creative. There is a way around the pumpkin pie problem, and it’s actually pretty simple. All you need to do is substitute a few of the ingredients that you’re used to.
A nut-based crust is better than the standard pastry, for instance, while the cream can be dropped for something a bit healthier, too. And there you have it. Instead of a normal pumpkin pie, you’ve now got yourself a vegan alternative that’s just as delicious. Your family probably won’t even complain when you bring it to the dinner table.
And don’t go thinking that the pumpkin spice latte is any better just because it’s a drink. Starbucks claims, you see, that a 16-ounce helping of the seasonal favorite has 400 calories just by itself. There’s also around 14 grams of fat – or a massive 18 percent of your recommended daily intake.
So, even though the pumpkin spice latte boasts 14 grams of protein – not bad if you’re trying to bulk up – it’s accompanied by a whopping 240 milligrams of sodium. That puts the pumpkin pie to shame! And it just gets worse, as the saturated fat measure is a whole eight grams. This may not sound too bad at first, but it’s actually 40 percent of your daily recommended saturated fat intake.
So here’s hoping that customers weren’t planning for a big meal after finishing the drink. Mind you, the scariest figure is probably the sugar count. As per the Starbucks website, the pumpkin spice latte has 50 grams of the stuff swirling away in the cup. And if you want a bit of context as to how bad that is, brace yourself.
According to the American Heart Association, men and women shouldn’t surpass certain sugar limits each day. For the guys, the figure stands at 36 grams, while ladies have a 25-gram ceiling. But the pumpkin spice latte blows both of those numbers out of the water, meaning your PSL addiction could have some real ramifications for your health.
So, as hard as it may seem, it’s a good idea to just skip the tasty beverage altogether if you want to be careful. Or you just could opt for a much smaller serving, of course! Anyway, for the most part, pumpkin should do your body the world of good. And we’d strongly advise you to keep your jack-o’-lanterns once Halloween ends, too.
Why’s that? Well, the United States Department of Energy dropped a massive bombshell after analyzing figures from 2014. Apparently, an astonishing 1.3 billion pounds of pumpkins had been thrown away that year. That’s a staggering number in itself, and there’s a reason why it’s an issue.
You see, when pumpkins rot away, they give out methane in the air. And as the gas is said to play a part in climate change, you can imagine the impact that 1.3 billion pounds of waste has on the environment. It’s a scary thought. But if you don’t know what to do with yours, have no fear.
Alongside the healthy recipes that we mentioned earlier, you can create some delicious – albeit slightly bizarre – alternatives. For instance, the Bijoux & Bits website recommends trying pumpkin alfredo. Pasta can be served with anything, after all. And that’s definitely not the strangest option by any stretch of the imagination.
That title arguably belongs to the chipotle pumpkin veggie burger. Yes, you’re reading that correctly! But this mixture actually tastes much better than it sounds. And if that doesn’t float your boat, there are many more recipes out there to try. Not bad for a fruit that almost didn’t make the cut in colonial America.
Pumpkin isn’t just for fall, of course, and nor is another beloved American staple: the peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It’s a lunchtime essential across the land, although it’s a tasty treat at pretty much any time of day. But should the humble PB&J stay, or do you really need to give it up for the sake of your health?
Heading to the kitchen to make yourself a delicious snack? You can’t go wrong with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. The salty-sweet concoction – complete with a little crunch, if you like – is practically irresistible to most kids and, well, bigger kids. But before you next put a PB&J together, you should hear what food expert Natalie Rizzo has to say. According to her, you see, the beloved sandwich could have an unexpected impact on your body.
Regardless of the effect that the PB&J has on our health, though, one thing’s for sure: the sandwich has firmly cemented its place in the pantheon of quintessentially American meals. But this wasn’t always the case. The PB&J is a relatively recent invention, in fact, and it took a whole lot of ingenuity to birth the treat that so many love today.
Any potential nutritional value wasn’t a huge consideration at the time of the PB&J’s creation, of course. To begin with, there was the bread. And while this versatile foodstuff has actually been eaten for millennia, the start of the 20th century saw Otto Frederick Rohwedder come up with a game-changing idea.
Yes, it’s Rohwedder whom we have to thank for creating the bread slicing machine. And while his incredible contraption got rejected at first, it soon found its way into baking shops across the country. Before long, the inventor would proclaim his brainchild to be “the greatest step forward in baking since bread was wrapped.”
At around this time, peanut butter was starting to come to the fore, too. And you may be surprised to hear just how recently the now-ubiquitous spread hit the shelves. Peanut butter actually made its debut at the Chicago World Fair in 1893, although it didn’t become a success until after its appearance at the St. Louis World Fair 11 years later.
Rather astonishingly, though, the PB&J was created prior to that event in 1904. A woman named Julia Davis Chandler is credited with the sandwich’s creation, and she put the idea forward in The Boston Cooking-School Magazine of Culinary Science and Domestic Economics in 1901.
Then after the Great Depression hit, struggling households added peanut butter to their shopping lists. It was filling, after all, and a good source of protein. But even at this time, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches still didn’t catch on with Americans at large. So, how did the PB&J finally break out as a kitchen staple?
Well, the National Peanut Board website bestows that particular honor to World War Two. During the conflict, you see, American soldiers had rations that included both peanut butter and jelly. The troops also had access to bread slices onto which they spread both the PB and J – thus creating the tasty sandwich.
So, the peanut butter and jelly sandwich became the go-to snack for U.S. soldiers. And, unsurprisingly, their love for the combination didn’t taper off upon their return to America. As sales of both peanut butter and jelly began to soar, then, it kickstarted a craze across the nation.
And the popularity of the PB&J has endured throughout the decades. It helps, too, that the sandwich is incredibly easy to put together – even a child can do it. Still, in these health-conscious times, should we really be promoting the PB&J as a handy solution for lunch? And what exactly happens to you when you eat one of these treats?
Well, there are ways to avoid more obvious nutritional stumbling blocks if you’re intent on enjoying a PB&J. And even though sandwiches and white bread go together like, er, peanut butter and jelly, you may want to consider what Shereen Lehman had to say about the subject if you’re at all concerned about your diet.
In a piece for the Verywell Fit website, the healthcare writer explained, “Standard store-bought white bread is made with refined flour, which means the grain is stripped of its bran and germ layers before being ground into flour. Bread made with refined flour lasts longer than wholewheat versions and has a soft, light texture.”
Yet Lehman noted that white loaves don’t just lose the germ layers and bran. The expert continued, “The nutritional value of white bread is subpar to wholewheat because several nutrients are removed during the refining process.” To give you a better idea of what’s missing, both calcium and protein levels are generally much lower in white bread than its wholewheat equivalent.
So, wholewheat bread is pretty much the healthier option. And, luckily, it’s pretty abundant in stores, whether you prefer a whole grain loaf or a specialist spelt-made version. There’s an added bonus, too: depending on your choice, wholewheat slices can give a nuttier bite to your PB&Js.
For those of you who don’t like wholewheat bread, though, don’t worry. You see, Lehman reminds us that “whole grain white bread” is also available to buy in supermarkets. And those loaves give us pretty much the best of both worlds. Not only do they retain the goodness of wholewheat products, but they also possess a similar taste to any white variety.
That’s the bread sorted, but what about the jelly? Which products should you be on the lookout for if you want a healthier PB&J? Well, although there’s plenty of choice out there, Lehman revealed that you may want to think about avoiding certain jars on the shelves of your local grocery store.
The journalist explained in her piece for Verywell Fit, “Most brands of jelly are made from fruit juice, sugar and pectin. Unfortunately, processed jelly is often devoid of fiber and high in added sugars. For maximum nutrition, look for reduced-sugar jam instead of jelly. These fruit spreads are made with just the fruit and no added sugar.”
This may not sound too appetizing on the face of it, as sweet jelly is pretty much essential to that PB&J experience. But hear us out. According to Lehman, the reduced-sugar options are often just as moreish as the more processed products. Slather your sandwiches in jam, then, and they should retain their mouth-watering flavor.
Then there’s the all-important final component in a PB&J. But finding the right kind of peanut butter can be tricky, too. And when browsing your supermarket shelves, you’re likely to spot three variations of the spread – all with their own pros and cons. So, what are the differences between “regular” and “natural” peanut butter? And how about the unsweetened varieties?
Unsweetened peanut butter is pretty much what the name suggests. Much like the reduced-sugar jams that we spoke about, there are no additional sweeteners in the mix. Regular spreads, on the other hand, use sweeteners, hydrogenated oils and salt, and each jar’s contents also have to be made up of at least 90 percent peanuts.
There’s also the “natural” peanut butter option, which requires some work on your part. Don’t worry, though: even the laziest of us won’t have to do much. After unscrewing the top of a jar of natural peanut butter, you’ll notice that it has a sheet of oil on the surface. All that’s required to create a creamy spread, then, is to combine this layer with the nutty goodness underneath.
Then, when left untouched, the natural peanut butter will return to its original state, leaving the oil at the top again. But if you’re still unsure what type of PB to get, then consider what Max Bonem had to say in a 2017 article for Food & Wine.
Bonem said, “Natural peanut butter tends to be a bit grainier than its conventional counterpart – even if it’s ‘creamy.’ The natural separation [between the spread and the oil] is more likely to occur if you store peanut butter at room temperature. However, if you refrigerate it, natural peanut butter becomes much more difficult to work with.”
“Conventional peanut butter is a cohesive spread that remains as is – regardless of temperature or where it’s stored,” Bonem added. “[So], if you’re someone who enjoys the occasional spoonful of peanut butter to snack on, conventional is undoubtedly the way to go.” And with that info under your belt, you should now be able to choose a spread that’s right for you.
But regardless of your bread, jelly and peanut butter selection, what actually happens to your body once you consume a PB&J? And does the snack have any kind of effect on your long-term health? Let’s hear what food expert Natalie Rizzo has said about the topic – as she definitely knows her stuff.
Once, Rizzo worked in the advertising sector; now, though, she’s a dietitian. And she’s used her knowledge as a self-professed “gym rat” to focus on the importance of exercise and healthy nourishment. So, given all that expertise, what does she have to say about PB&Js? Well, it could surprise you, as it certainly surprised us.
Speaking to the Eat This, Not That! website about the American food staple, Rizzo revealed, “The healthiest part of the PB&J sandwich is the peanut butter. A natural peanut butter is made from just peanuts, which contain more than 30 vitamins and minerals, fiber and healthy fats.” We always assumed that the bread would take the trophy.
But that’s not all. Apparently, a single PB&J houses a fifth of your suggested vitamin E consumption for the day. And as that particular vitamin is an antioxidant, it should help shield your body from volatile molecules called “free radicals” – which is a very good thing indeed.
A 2018 piece for the SFGate website claims that a PB&J will give you 14 percent of your suggested magnesium and calcium for the day, too. And if you’re a guy, one of the sandwiches may provide 12 percent of your recommended daily zinc intake along with 30 percent of the iron you need.
However, those numbers are significantly different for the opposite sex, as women reportedly take in 17 percent of their recommended daily zinc and just 13 percent of iron after consuming the snack. But Rizzo’s mention of healthy fats shouldn’t be lost in the shuffle, as it ties into the PB&J’s next health benefit.
Simply put, the fats in a PB&J can help shield you from catastrophic illnesses. And heart disease – one of the world’s biggest killers – is among those ailments. Harvard School of Public Health professor Walter Willett has covered this subject in a Q&A on the college’s website.
Willett explained, “Over the years, numerous studies have shown that people who regularly include nuts or peanut butter in their diets are less likely to develop heart disease or type 2 diabetes than those who rarely eat nuts. The body’s response to saturated fat in food is to increase the amounts of both harmful LDL [low-density lipoproteins, or so-called “bad cholesterol”] and protective HDL [high-density lipoproteins, or “good cholesterol”] in circulation.”
“In moderation, some saturated fat is okay,” Willett added. “Eating a lot of it, though, promotes artery-clogging atherosclerosis – the process that underlies most cardiovascular disease. In contrast, unsaturated fats, which make up the majority of the fat content in peanut butter, help reduce LDL cholesterol and lower the risk of heart disease.”
Then there are the hunger-curbing effects of a PB&J. That’s right: according to Rizzo, you’ll feel full up for a longer period of time after consuming the tasty snack than you would if you, say, ate a BLT. You may only experience this sensation, though, if you’ve used a certain type of bread.
Rizzo told Eat This, Not That!, “If you make your PB&J sandwich on wholewheat bread, you’ll also get some added protein and fiber from the bread. Those two nutrients together help with appetite control.” In most cases, a standard PB&J contains 3.5 grams of fiber and around 13 grams of protein.
If you use a couple of slices from an Ezekiel loaf, however, then those numbers receive a sizable bump. When chowing down on your sandwich, you should be taking in around 7 grams of fiber and nearly 20 grams of protein. Pretty impressive, right? And all that should fill you up for a bit until your next meal.
As with anything that tastes so good, though, there are health risks associated with PB&Js. So, don’t suddenly use this article as an excuse to scarf down too many, people, as you could well feel ill later on! And Lehman has suggested exactly why that is, writing, “Most jelly is loaded with sugar.”
Rizzo expanded on this danger, explaining, “For instance, a normal grape jelly has about ten grams of added sugar in just one tablespoon. [However], most people use more than one tablespoon in their sandwich.” And that’s sobering to hear, considering that the FDA recommends consuming no more than 50 grams of sugar over the course of a day.
We all know the damage that sugar can do if you overindulge, of course. For one, it makes you more susceptible to diseases such as cancer and diabetes down the line. But with all of what we’ve said in mind, you’re probably now curious about the best way to prepare a PB&J going forward.
In Rizzo’s opinion, a single tablespoon of jelly and peanut butter should be enough. And she’s offered up some alternatives, too. The dietitian concluded, “Dave’s Killer Bread makes thin-sliced bread, which is smaller and lower in calories but… still has plenty of protein and fiber. Blueberry chia jam is [also] incredibly easy to make and has very little added sugar.”