Q: Is pumpkin pie healthy? My husband loves it, but I'm not sure it has much nutritional value—pumpkin pie is dessert, after all!
A: Absolutely. It may be the most nutritious pie, if you use the right recipe. Pumpkin is one of the best sources of carotenoids, plant pigments that include beta carotene (an antioxidant that converts to vitamin A in the body) and lutein (important for eye health).
Pumpkin pie is rich in fiber and potassium and has some calcium, iron, vitamin C, B vitamins and other nutrients. Moreover, canned pumpkin, often used in pies, has even more carotenoids and nutrients, ounce for ounce, than fresh because it is more concentrated (cooking eliminates much of the water).
Of course, how healthful pumpkin pie is depends on how much sugar and shortening you use. And some recipes call for cream, cream cheese and whipped cream. Be aware, too, that there's a big difference between canned pumpkin (80 calories per cup) and canned pumpkin pie mix (280 calories, most from added sugar).
If you make the pie yourself, use plain canned pumpkin (add your own sugar, just enough to satisfy) and nonfat evaporated milk instead of cream—and skip other high-calorie ingredients. You can even bake the filling in a custard dish with no crust. For another nutritious pumpkin dessert, mix canned pumpkin with applesauce or plain low-fat or nonfat yogurt, along with some sugar or honey and spices.
Source: Originally published in The University of California, Berkeley Wellness Letter (November 2011)