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It's finally pumpkin season, and considering pumpkins' nutritional profile, there are many reasons to celebrate. When you select the perfect pumpkin for the kids to carve into a jack-o'-lantern this month, also grab a smaller sugar pumpkin, which is a culinary variety — it's packed with flavor and nutrition.

Like other brightly colored vegetables, pumpkins are rich in carotenes, which are shown to have a protective effect against many types of cancer. Diets rich in carotenes may also offer protection against heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Pumpkins are also excellent sources of vitamins C and B1, folic acid, pantothenic acid, potassium, and fiber, and good sources of vitamin B6 and niacin.

Look for pumpkins that are firm, heavy for their size, and hard, dull rinds. Pumpkins decay easily, so inspect them carefully for any signs of decay. To prepare a pumpkin, wash it thoroughly under cold running water and scrub with a vegetable brush. Cut it in half and remove the seeds and fibrous material.

Don't toss those seeds! Clean them off under running water, spread them out on a towel or paper bag, and let them dry overnight. Toss in about a teaspoon of olive oil and a pinch of salt, place in a singer layer on a cookie sheet, and roast in a 325-degree oven for 10 to 15 minutes, keeping a close eye on them.

Depending on the recipe you're using, you can use the pumpkin peeled or unpeeled. Once the pumpkin is cut, the pieces will keep in the refrigerator for one to two days. Cooked pumpkin will keep in the fridge for three to five days.

Michael Murray, ND, offers the following quick serving ideas:

  • Pumpkin is often mashed like potatoes and either eaten as such or used in bread, cake, muffin, and pie recipes.
  • Top pureed, cooked pumpkin with cinnamon and honey.
  • Steam cubes of pumpkin for five minutes and then dress with olive oil, tamari, ginger, and pumpkin seeds.
  • Add cubes of pumpkin to your favorite vegetable soup recipe.

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