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5 healthy, delicious ways to add more pumpkin to your diet

by Keri Glassman, R.D. / / Source: TODAY Contributor

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Pumpkins are as synonymous with fall as leaves and apples, but something has happened over the past few years to boost pumpkin into the ranks of a VIP A-List fall food. From pumpkin spice lattes to pumpkin ice cream, it’s nearly impossible to not eat (or drink) it.

If you’re looking to up your pumpkin game, here’s the lowdown on how you should do it. You can use pumpkin in surprising ways that play up the squash’s nutritious attributes, while also skipping the sugar and pie crust.

Here’s why you should: the orange fruit isn’t just for jack-o-lanterns. It’s a great source of antioxidants like beta-carotene and vitamin C, and it's filled with fiber and other important nutrients. From pancakes and muffins to even soufflé (made easy), pumpkin has a place at your table.

Here are my favorite ways to add it to your fall eats:

1. Coconut Pumpkin Custard:

Meet coconut + pumpkin, a match made in creamy, fall heaven.

Not only does it have the amazing benefits of the pumpkin, but you’ll be serving up a dose of the healthy kind of saturated fats. Saturated fats found in coconut are known as medium chain triglycerides (MCTs), which are more readily used in the body than other fats. Coconut milk is also beneficial for an immune system boost because it contains lauric and caprylic acid, both of which are anti-bacterial and anti-viral. A tip to make sure you get it just right: test if the custard’s done by inserting a sharp knife about one inch from the side of the cup. The knife should come out clean; the center may still be unset, but it’ll continue to cook after it’s out of the oven.

2. Healthy Morning Glory Muffins:

You’ll get your pumpkin, plus four other fruits and vegetables, making these a perfect breakfast-worthy muffin. But wait, there’s more! This muffin is packed with other plant-based nutrient-packed foods. Pecans have measured higher than any other nut for total antioxidant capacity, which means they may help reduce the risk of cancer and neurological diseases and help slow the effects of aging. Cinnamon is also packed with antioxidants and adds a natural sweetness without extra sugar. Need even more convincing? These muffins are totally gluten-free and grain-free thanks to the use of almond flour. Yep, I know what you’ll be prepping for this Sunday’s brunch.

3. Mini pumpkin pie bites:

When eating pumpkin pie during the holidays it’s so easy to cut yourself a “slice” that more closely resembles a large fraction (as in one-third) of the pie. (We get it, really we do.) The perfect solution? Turn your pumpkin pie into healthy “bites,” and you’ve got automatic portion control built into the delicious dessert. The crust on these bites is made out of wheat germ, flax seeds and chia, and just like the custard, the bites feature healthy fats from the coconut milk. Also, they’re super cute on a dessert tray.

4. Pumpkin souffle:

If you want to up your dessert game, soufflé is a great way to impress the most foodie guests, and this slightly healthier version is a great way to save room for a glass of eggnog or champagne. Because this soufflé is crustless, it’s great for gluten-free diners as well and that also means it’s lower in calories and sugar and way easier to make than a pie.

5. Pumpkin flaxseed pancakes:

OK, so they’re a bit more labor intensive than using Bisquick, but these pancakes will fill you up with nutrients instead of leading to post-brunch bloat. I’m in! Instead of white flour and sugar, these are filled with ingredients like spelt, which is loaded with fiber; flaxseeds, which are full of omega-3s; and coconut oil, plus lots of antioxidant-rich spices. They’re not an everyday food, but as a special Sunday breakfast on a crisp fall weekend? Yum.

For more tips on how to live a nutritious life, follow Keri on Instagram @nutritiouslifeofficial.

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