Pumpkin: A Surprisingly Healthy Halloween Treat
Credit: Pumpkin photo via Shutterstock

There's a crisp chill in the air and ghoulish décor everywhere you turn. It's almost time for Halloween! The celebrations can be fun, but are also typically a time for overindulgence. Don't believe me? Ask your friends how many pieces of Halloween candy they swiped from their kids' loot bags. Then, double that number to get a truer estimation.

Those candy bags are dangerous to have around. But with all of the sinful indulgence comes a fun tradition that can actually have a positive effect on your health and waistline. I'm talking about carving those Jack-O-Lanterns!

Sure, you may burn some calories cutting those spooky faces, but dig a little deeper and you'll find an often overlooked source of nutritional goodness. Pumpkin is low in saturated fat and cholesterol, and it's a great source of vitamins E, B1, B6 and folate. It's also a good source of dietary fiber, which means eating it will keep you feeling full.

As you can imagine, with such a healthy nutritional profile, there have been a few clinical studies done on this food. A study published this month in the journal Nutrition, Metabolism and Cardiovascular Diseases suggests that eating foods rich in beta-carotene, such as pumpkin, may reduce men's risk of cardiovascular-related deaths. Another  study, this one published in January in the Journal of Medicinal Food, found that pumpkin seed oil may help reduce high blood pressure and help protect against damage to the cardiovascular system.

Of course, when you think of pumpkin and food together, you probably think of pumpkin pie. Well, you probably won't be surprised to learn that pie isn't the healthiest way to eat your Halloween pumpkins.

Here are a few of my favorite ways to enjoy this seasonal squash:

  1. Pumpkin salad: That's right. You can grill cubes of pumpkin and toss it in with your salad. It's surprisingly tasty, and adds a autumn vibe to an otherwise summery dish.
  2. Gourd soup: Pumpkin soup is one of my favorite fall treats, and you can enjoy it so many different ways. Add pureed pumpkin to a tortilla soup with tomatoes, cilantro and other spices, or just add pumpkin to your favorite vegetable soup recipe.
  3. Stir-fried squash: Say what? Actually, stir-fried squash is a traditional Thai dish. It's very simple and awfully good. There are many variations, but my go-to recipe involves a little fish sauce, garlic, peppercorns, and just a sprinkle of sugar.
  4. Roasted pepitas: As soon as we're done scooping out those pumpkin seeds (also known as pepitas), I rinse them off, place them on a lightly oiled baking sheet and toast for about 25 minutes at a temperature of 325 degrees. When they're done, they go into an airtight container and I either eat them as a midday snack, or pop a handful into my pumpkin salad. Yum!

Healthy Bites appears on MyHealthNewsDaily on Wednesdays. Deborah Herlax Enos is a certified nutritionist and a health coach and weight loss expert in the Seattle area with more than 20 years of experience. Read more tips on her blog, Health in a Hurry!