Get it out of your head that pumpkins are for October only, bound to be pie filling or a seasonal decoration. “Pumpkins provide a wealth of nutrients, especially this time of year, when we’re eating less fresh produce,” says Liz Applegate, director emeritus of sports nutrition at the University of California, Davis.
The orange flesh is loaded with carotenoids, which are plant pigments that act as antioxidants in your body, “putting out little fires in your cells, preventing damage caused by exposure to ultraviolet rays, air pollution, and even extra oxygen during exercise,” Applegate says. One of those carotenoids is beta-carotene, which your body converts to vitamin A, a micronutrient crucial to kidney function.
Even the seeds are a boon, full of protein, beneficial fats, and fiber, as well as vitamin E and zinc, both of which may bolster immunity to help you stay healthy through the winter. Getting plenty of zinc is especially important for fitnessy folks: A review in the journal Sports Medicine found that athletes generally have lower levels of the mineral, even though they get more zinc in their diets, which suggests that active people may need an increased amount.
Buy the whole, sweet varieties. Slice, roast, and cut into cubes, then add to curries, soups, and frittatas. You can also treat it like any squash: Drizzle slabs with olive oil and toss on a grill pan. Canned pumpkin is great in oatmeal and smoothies. Or, fine, bake a pie.