Pumpkin is packed with multiple nutrients, but pumpkin-flavored products may lack these nutritional benefits, one researcher says.
The nutritional benefits of eating real pumpkin do not necessary translate to eating pumpkin-flavored food products, according to Suzy Weems, a registered dietitian and professor of nutrition sciences at Baylor University's College of Health and Human Sciences.
When you eat something with "pumpkin seasoning, or pumpkin flavoring, or pumpkin whatever, you are not getting the full benefit of the vegetable," Weems told Live Science.
For example, real pumpkin contains a lot of fiber, which helps you feel full for a long time. And the fruit (pumpkin is not a vegetable; it contains seeds) also contains a nutrient called zeaxanthin, a carotenoid that is essential for eye health, according to a 2009 study published in the journal Clinics in Dermatology.
Pumpkin is also low in cholesterol and high in vitamin A, a nutrient that is important for people's eyesight and healthy skin. In addition, it is a good source of trace elements such as magnesium, manganese and copper, Weems said in a statement. [Science You Can Eat: 10 Things You Didn't Know About Food]
Having sufficient levels of magnesium is important for a nerve function, heartbeat, muscle contraction and bone health. Manganese plays a role in metabolism and bone development, according to Oregon State University. And copper is essential for nerve function and bone growth, according to the Mayo Clinic.
But when it comes to pumpkin desserts, people should pay attention to whether there is any actual pumpkin in the dessert, or whether it only contains pumpkin flavoring, Weems said.
There is, however, good news for pumpkin pie fans: "That is generally made with the meat of the pumpkin," Weems said. "It is different from just getting a pumpkin-flavored latte."
Moreover, people should be aware that adding pumpkin or pumpkin flavoring to a product that is already high in calories is not going to make these calories disappear. "Pumpkin-laced candy is still candy," Weems said.
Similarly, "a pumpkin latte is not going to mean any fewer calories if it's made with a full-fat milk or syrup," she said. "And pumpkin doughnuts still have sugar."
People should still be mindful of the overall calorie content of any pumpkin product, she said. Similarly, "If you have diabetes, you look at the sugar and total carbohydrates; if you have cardiovascular disease, look at the fat," Weems said. For example, the fat that is present in pumpkin seeds "doesn’t disappear when you roast and eat them," she said.
Weems also suggested ways to best use the fresh pumpkin that's available this season. Carve out the pumpkin, and then "chop it up into cubes and then roast it, she said. "Or it can be baked or mashed."