As we’re approaching the fall season, many restaurants and cafes embrace the harvest theme by changing their menus.  For example, Dunkin Donuts and Starbucks serve everything from pumpkin scones to lattes to muffins.  Around this time of year I always get a lot of questions from parents about these pumpkin flavored treats.  Are they good for you?  Is there nutritional value?

The answer is largely no.  Pumpkin is itself is very nutritious: 1 cup cooked pumpkin yields a serious amount of the antioxidant vitamins C, E and especially vitamin A.  It’s also good source of potassium, dietary fiber and minerals cooper and manganese.  That’s right – it’s not just for carving jack-o-lanterns!  Pumpkin can be used just like other winter squashes: roasted, pureed in soups, or boiled in curries.  Even the seeds are nutritious, full of protein heart healthy fats, and minerals including magnesium, zinc, iron, copper and manganese.  These seeds are a favorite with kids in salads or just roasted plain.

Dunkin Donuts pumpkin flavored coffee

But the problem with pumpkin flavored treats from cafes is that they rarely include any of the original nutritional value from the pumpkin itself.  They tend to be sugar-laden and artificially flavored, meaning that you’re not getting any of the original nutrition from the pumpkin.  If you’re really looking to get that fix of pumpkin this autumn, start by making some things at home.  A Pumpkin Spice Latte is just a regular latte with pumpkin-flavored syrup in it.  Try adding a sprinkle of cinnamon or even pumpkin pie spice to your unsweetened coffee or low fat latte for the same sweet smell and flavor.  Buy some canned pumpkin (not pumpkin pie mix, which has added sugar already), and cook up your own baked goods, like pumpkin bread.  You can add that canned pumpkin to oatmeal for an extra burst of fiber, good nutrition and flavor, or stir it into vanilla yogurt and top with pumpkin seeds. Our Pumpkin Pie Dip (recipe below) is super nutritious and definitely a thumbs up recipe.

The key is to keep the pumpkin in as natural a form as possible, so you can enjoy the flavors of autumn while still enjoying the nutritional benefits without the added sugars and artificial stuff!

– Stacey Antine, M.S. R.D., author, Appetite for Life and founder, HealthBarn USA

What puzzles you about keeping your family healthy?  Tell me what’s on your mind by emailing [email protected].  I’ll answer those questions here weekly.


Pumpkin Pie Dip


We love pumpkin pie, so we decided to create a creamy dip with the same special taste.  Serve it as an appetizer or dessert, and dip in with sliced apples, pears or salty whole-grain pretzels.  Low-fat and loaded with vitamin A, this crowd-pleaser is a holiday favorite, but you can enjoy it year-round.


6 ounces reduced-fat cream cheese, at room temperature

1/3 cup plain fat-free (0%) Greek yogurt

1 can (15 ounces) pure pumpkin (not pumpkin pie mix)

2 tablespoons agave nectar

2 tablespoons packed brown sugar

2 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground allspice

¼ teaspoon ground cloves

¼ teaspoon grated nutmeg

1/8 teaspoon sea salt

Sliced fresh fruit and/or salted whole wheat pretzels



  1. In food processor, combine cream cheese and yogurt; blend until smooth. Add pumpkin and remaining ingredients except fruit; blend until well mixed.
  2. Cover and refrigerate at least 30 minutes or up to 4 days. Serve dip with sliced fruit or pretzels.

Makes 32 servings (2 tablespoons per serving).


Nutrition Facts per serving: 25 calories; 1.5g fat (1g sat fat, 0.5g mono, 0g trans fat); 5mg cholesterol; 3g carbohydrate (1g fiber, 2g sugar); 1g protein; 25mg sodium; 45% Daily Value (DV) vitamin A; 2% DV vitamin C; 2% DV calcium; 2% DV iron.

* Courtesy Appetite for Life, Stacey Antine, HarperOne, September 2012

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