Pumpkin

This post was researched and written by my Mentee, Ashley Langston. Check back each month for more posts by her.

Background Info:

  • Pumpkins are a type of squash in the Cucurbitaceae family, and the cultivar originated in Mexico approximately 10,000 years ago.
  • The modern day version of the Jack-O’lantern is based off of the Irish myth of Stingy Jack and the Jack O’Lantern. Using pumpkins for Jack O’Lanterns became popularized by Irish immigrants who came to America in the 1800’s.

Health Benefits:

  • The bright orange color of pumpkins come from a high beta-carotene content, and in the body, beta-carotene is converted to Vitamin A.
  • High in dietary fiber.
  • Good source of vitamin C, potassium, calcium, and folate.
  • The seeds, pepitas, are high in protein, fiber and other nutrients. They may be eaten with or without the hull, and roasting or drying are popular methods of preparing them.

Nutrition Information: (1 cup, cubed)

  • Calories: 30
  • Fat: < 1 gram
  • Protein: 2 grams
  • Carbohydrates: 8 grams
  • Fiber: 1 grams
  • Sugar: 3 grams
  • Cholesterol: 0 grams
  • Sodium: 1 milligram
  • Vitamin A: 2650 IU
  • Vitamin C: 12 milligrams
  • Calcium: 23 milligrams
  • Iron: 1 milligram
  • Folate: 21 micrograms
  • Potassium: 395 milligrams

Taste:

  • Sweet

Season:

  • Fall and Winter

Choose:

  • Firm pumpkins, that have a slightly hollow sound when gently knocked on.
  • No soft spots or bruises.
  • Firm bases.
  • Do not carry a pumpkin by the stem, as it can break off and damage the pumpkin.

Store:

  • Cool, dry place out of direct sunlight.
  • Do not leave cut pumpkins outside if there is extreme heat, a threat of frost, or rain.
  • May be frozen for up to 1 year in a non-metallic container. Thaw in the refrigerator before using.
  • Pumpkin may be canned using a pressure canner, making sure to follow recipe directions carefully.
  • Pumpkin may be dried using a dehydrator and low oven, and kept in an air-tight container.
  • Pumpkin may also be used in chutneys, butters, and preserves. These items cannot be pressure canned, and may be kept in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

Cook:

  • Pumpkin rinds range from thick to hard, and peeling the pumpkin may be challenging.
  • To bake: Cut pumpkin into quarters with the rind on. Bake at 325 degrees for 1 hour, or until fork tender.
  • Steaming or boiling: Cut pumpkin into chunks, and steam or boil until fork tender.
  • Make sure to scoop out the fibers and seeds beforehand.
  • Once cooked and cooled, the rind may be peeled off or the flesh scooped out.
  • The cooked flesh may be used as is, mashed, or pureed.
  • Pepitas may be seasoned, and roasted or dried for a healthy snack.

Serve:

  • Add cooked and peeled, cubed squash to salads, casseroles, soups, stews, and stir-fries.
  • Cooked pumpkin makes a great main dish if stuffed and baked with vegetables, rice, and ground meat.
  • Pumpkin is a popular pie filling, and may be used in several desserts.

References:

 

Cherry

Background Info:

  • Cherries were brought to the U.S. by ship in the 1600s
  • Cherry production began in the 1800s in Northern Michigan
  • States that produce the majority of cherries in the U.S.:
    • California, Michigan, Washington, Oregon, Utah

Nutrition Information (1 cup without pits):

  • Calories: 97
  • Fat: 0 grams
  • Carbohydrates: 25 grams
  • Protein: 2 grams
  • Fiber: 3 grams
  • Sugar: 20 grams
  • Calcium: 20 mg
  • Cholesterol: 0 mg
  • Potassium: 343 mg
  • Sodium: 0 mg
  • Iron: 1 mg
  • Vitamin C: 8 mg
  • Vitamin A: 97 IU
  • Folate: 6 mg

Taste:

  • Sweet or sour/tart
    • Sweet varieties include Bing, Stella, Van, and Rainier
    • Montmorency is a tart variety

Season:

  • Summer
    • Sweet cherry season is from May to August
    • Tart cherry season is from June to August

Choose:

  • Select firm cherries that are uniform in color and glossy with stems attached
  • In general, the darker the cherry, the sweeter its flavor
    • There are exceptions such as yellow cherry varieties
  • Avoid soft, shriveled, or blemished cherries

Store:

  • Refrigerate fresh ripe cherries up to 10 days in loose plastic wrapping to allow exposure to oxygen
    • Do not stack too many or the weight can crush the cherries on the bottom
  • Keep canned cherries up to 18 months at 70°F
  • Frozen cherries should maintain high quality for 1 year
  • Dried cherries can be held for 24 months at 70°F
  • Jams should keep for a least 1 year

Prep:

  • Stem & wash thoroughly just before using
  • Handle carefully to avoid bruising
  • If desired, remove pits

Cook:

  • Can cherries to create a cherry pie filling or jam
  • Dry for cherry raisins or fruit leather
  • Add to salads, oatmeal, yogurt, or trail mix
  • Mix into smoothies
  • Garnish meat dishes or create a glaze for ham
  • Make into a syrup to top pancakes, waffles, or French toast
  • Bake into cakes, cookies, and muffins
  • Enjoy cherry ice cream
  • Dip into melted chocolate for dessert or a garnish
  • Enjoy cherries Jubilee
  • Make a cherry vinaigrette

References:

Eggplant

Background Info:

  • Glossy back vegetable that has white flesh and meaty texture
  • Member of the nightshade or potato family
    • Also includes tomatoes and hot peppers
  • Can be purple, green, white, or striped
  • May be  pear-shaped or cylindrical
  • Size can vary from the size of golf ball to a football

Nutrition Information (1 cup cubed and cooked):

  • Calories: 35
  • Fat: 0 grams
  • Carbohydrates: 5 grams
  • Protein: 1 gram
  • Fiber: 3 grams
  • Sugar: 3 grams
  • Calcium: 7 mg
  • Cholesterol: 0 mg
  • Potassium: 188 mg
  • Sodium: 2 mg

Taste:

  • Smaller ones are often less bitter than larger eggplants

Season:

  • Summer

Choose:

  • Look for shiny, smooth skin without bruises or blemishes
  • Pick ones that are heavy for their size
  • Find a green stem that is free of mold

Store:

  • Keep whole until ready to use
  • Store in the refrigerator crisper drawer
  • Use within 5-7 days

Prep:

  • Wash and cut off ends
  • Leave the skin on
  • Sprinkle with salt after cutting into piece and let sit for 30 minutes
    • This pulls out some water and prevents eggplant from absorbing too much oil while cooking
    • Rinse afterwards to remove most of the salt

Cook:

  • Bake, roast, steam, or saute
  • If baking whole, pierce the eggplant several times with a fork
    • Remove the flesh from the skin and mash or puree and combine with other ingredients
  • Often used as a meat substitute

References:

  • “Eggplant”. (2018, August 24). Retrieved from https://snaped.fns.usda.gov/seasonal-produce-guide/cauliflower
  • “Eggplants”. Retrieved from http://eatfresh.org/discover-foods/eggplants
  • “Eggplant: Nutrition. Selection. Storage”. (2018). Retrieved from https://www.fruitsandveggiesmorematters.org/eggplant
  • Kirkland, Louise. (2009). “Eggplant”. Retrieved from https://extension.umaine.edu/publications/4307e/

Peaches

Background Info:

  • Originally came from China
    • In the early 1600s, Spanish explorers brought the peach to the new world
  • There are 2 main types of peaches
    • Freestone – the flesh doesn’t stick to the pit
    • Clingstone – the flesh “clings” or sticks to the pit, usually sold for canning
    • The oval pit needs to be remove before eating
  • Skin is slightly fuzzy
    • Nectarines are a type of peach which have smooth skin without fuzz
  • Size of a baseball
  • Flesh inside is usually yellow but may be white

Nutrition Information (1 medium peach = 1 cup fresh sliced peaches):

  • Calories – 60
  • Protein – 1 gram
  • Carbohydrate – 15 grams
  • Fat – 0 grams
  • Calcium – 9 mg
  • Cholesterol – 0
  • Fiber – 2 grams
  • Potassium – 285 mg
  • Sodium – 0 mg
  • Sugar – 13 grams

Season:

  • Summer

Choose:

  • One with a golden hue beneath the blush that is firm and fuzzy
  • They are ripe when they yield to gentle pressure 
  • Avoid blemishes
  • Green peaches means they were picked too early
  • You can also purchase canned or frozen

Store:

  • If ripe:
    • Store a room temperature for use within 1-2 days
    • Store in the refrigerator in a plastic bag for up to 5 days
  • If unripe:
    • Room temperature, stem side down until ripe
    • o speed ripening, place in a paper bag for a day or two
  • If cooked:
    • Store in a tightly closed container not made from metal in the refrigerator

Prep:

  • Wash in cold running water to remove any dirt
  • Keep cut peaches from turning brown by sprinkling with lemon or orange juice
  • To easily peel, dip peaches cut into halves into boiling water for 30 seconds or until skin loosens
    • Remove the peaches with a spoon and dip into cold water, the skin will then slide off

Cook:

  • Eat as a tasty snack whole, sliced, or chopped
  • Add to yogurt, cereal, or oatmeal
  • Mix into batters for pancakes, waffles, muffins, or bread
  • Blend into a smooth
  • Can also be baked or grilled

 

References

  • Glisan, Maggie. “Prime Time.” Better Homes & Gardens. August 2018. 98.
  • “Peaches”. (2018, July 16). USDA. Retrieved from https://snaped.fns.usda.gov/seasonal-produce-guide/peaches
  • “Peach: Nutrition. Selection. Storage”. Retrieved from https://www.fruitsandveggiesmorematters.org/peach
  • “Peaches”. (2012, December). USDA. Retrieved from https://whatscooking.fns.usda.gov/sites/default/files/factsheets/HHFS_PEACHES_FRESH_900205Dec2012.pdf
  • “Peach”. SNAP-Ed, Iowa Nutrition Network and Iowa Team Nutrition. Retrieved from http://idph.iowa.gov/Portals/1/Files/INN/Peach.pdf

Spirulina

Background Info:

  • Blue-green algae that gets its name from the spiral nature of its filaments
  • Reportedly used during the Aztec civilization
  • Lacks cellulose cell walls making it easily digested

Health Benefits:

  • For those lacking certain nutrients in their diet, spirulina can help with certain nutritional deficiencies

Nutrition Information (1 tablespoon, dried):

  • Calories: 20
  • Protein: 4 grams
  • Vitamin A: 40 IU
  • Iron: 2 mg
  • Magnesium: 14 mg

Choose:

  • Algae grown in a natural setting has a higher possibility of being contaminated by bacteria & heavy metals which can be dangerous if consumed so make sure to choose products that have been tested for these contaminants

Research:

More randomized, placebo-controlled trials need to be done in humans with larger sample sizes but these are the current research findings

  • Allergies
    • 2 grams of blue-green algae daily for 6 months relieved symptoms of allergies in adults
  • Chronic fatigue
    • The only placebo-controlled trial did not show significant differences in fatigue between spirulina & placebo administered at a dose of 3 grams per day
  • Cholesterol
    • Taking 4.2 grams per day showed a significant reduction in LDL cholesterol after 8 weeks, no changes in HDL
  • Diabetes
    • 1 gram of blue-green algae twice daily for 2 months showed lower blood sugar levels in those with diabetes
  • Exercise
    • Men taking 6 grams daily for 4 weeks could sprint for longer periods of time before becoming tired
  • Hepatitis C
    • Conflicting outcomes, showing liver function that worsened & improved
  • Menopause symptoms
    • 1.6 grams of blue-green algae taken daily for 8 weeks lowered anxiety & depression in women with menopause
  • Oral leukoplakia
    • 1 gram of spirulina daily by mouth for 12 months reduced oral leukoplakia in people who chew tobacco

Avoid:

  • If you are pregnant or breastfeeding
  • If you have an autoimmune disease as it might cause your immune system to become more active & increase your disease symptoms
  • If you have PKU, it contains phenylalanine

Drug Interactions: 

  • Immunosuppressants
    • As stated previously, blue-green algae may increase the immune system which would decrease the effectiveness of medications that decrease the immune system
  • Anticoagulants
    • Blue-green algae might slow blood clotting and if taken with other medications that slow blood clotting it may increase the chances of bruising & bleeding

 

References

https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/natural/923.html

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3136577/

https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/3306

Vitamin K

Background Info:

  • Fat-soluble vitamin

Health Benefits:

  • Plays a role in preventing bone loss
  • Blood clotting

Biochemistry:

  • Synthesized by plants in the form of vitamin K1 or pytonadione
  • Vitamin K 1 is also available in supplement or “free form”
  • Produced in the lower gut of humans by bacteria in the colon in the form of vitamin K2 or menaquinone
  • Vitamin K2 can also be found in some animal products such as dairy & fermented foods

Adequate Intake:

  • Birth to 6 months: 2 mcg
  • 7-12 months: 2.5 mcg
  • 1-3 years: 30 mcg
  • 4-8 years: 55 mcg
  • 9-13 years: 60 mcg
  • 14-18 years: 75 mcg
  • 19+ male: 120 mcg
  • 19+ female: 90 mcg

Sources:

  • Blueberries = 14 mcg in 1/2 cup
  • Broccoli = 110 mcg in 1/2 cup
  • Collards = 530 mcg in 1/2 cup
  • Grapes = 11 mcg in 1/2 cup
  • Kale = 113 mcg in 1 cup
  • Spinach = 145 mcg in 1 cup

Absorption:

  • Better absorbed as a supplement than from food sources because it can be bound to compounds within plants

Deficiency:

  • Bleeding & hemorrhaging occur in severe cases
  • Could also reduce bone mineralization and contribute to osteoporosis

Daily Upper Limit:

  • There is low potential for toxicity

Drug Interactions:

  • Warfarin and similar anticoagulantsVitamin K can have a serious and potentially dangerous interaction with anticoagulants such as warfarin. These drugs antagonize the activity of vitamin K, leading to the depletion of vitamin K-dependent clotting factors. People taking warfarin and similar anticoagulants need to maintain a consistent intake of vitamin K from food and supplements because sudden changes in vitamin K intakes can increase or decrease the anticoagulant effect
  • AntibioticsAntibiotics can destroy vitamin K-producing bacteria in the gut, potentially decreasing vitamin K status.
  • Bile acid sequestrantsBile acid sequestrants are used to reduce cholesterol levels by preventing reabsorption of bile acids. They can also reduce the absorption of vitamin K and other fat-soluble vitamins, although the clinical significance of this effect is not clear
  • OrlistatOrlistat is a weight-loss drug that reduces the body’s absorption of dietary fat and in doing so, it can also reduce the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, such as vitamin K. Combining orlistat with warfarin therapy might cause a significant increase in prothrombin time

References

  • Hultin, Ginger. “Vitamin K.” Food & Nutrition Magazine. May/June 2016. 24.
  • “Vitamin K.” (February 11, 2016). Retrieved from  https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminK-HealthProfessional/

 

Popcorn

Background Info:

Popcorn is going beyond the movie theater and entering the home as a snack thanks to new flavor options. Check out my post on innovative ready-to-eat popcorn for more info.

  • Not recommended for children under 4 due to choking hazard

Health Benefits:

Depending on the preparation & portion size, popcorn can actually be a healthful & delicious snack or become a vehicle for added sugar, fat, sodium, and calories.

Nutrition Information (in 3 cups of air-popped popcorn):

  • 100% whole grain
  • Calories: < 100
  • Fat: 1 gram
  • Fiber: 3.5 grams
  • Sodium: 2 mg

If you eat a large tub of movie theater popcorn this could turn into >1000 calories & a few days’ worth of saturated fat.

Choose:

  • Air-popped popcorn is not available at movie theaters therefore choose a small size & don’t add butter. It can still contain up to 6 cups of popcorn so share with a friend instead of each getting your own.
  • When choosing microwave popcorn, pick the 100-calorie, single-serving bags that are low in fat with no partially hydrogenated oil.
  • Bagged pre-popped popcorn will not have trans fat but can be high in calories, especially candy-coated varieties that have up to 10 teaspoons of added sugar. Treat this more like a dessert than a whole-grain snack.

Cook:

  • Make your own popcorn by putting 1/4 cup of kernels in a brown paper lunch bag, add 1 teaspoon of vegetable oil, fold the top twice, place in microwave, and pop for 2-3 minutes
  • You can also do this in a pot on the stove over medium-high heat keeping the lid on & shaking continuously until popping ceases
  • Try these add-ons:
    • Sprinkle with chili powder & lime juice
    • Mix with roasted nuts/chickpeas
    • Toss with Parmesan & fresh rosemary
    • Add some heat with cayenne pepper or Cajun seasoning mix
    • Drizzle with olive oil & sprinkle with garlic & black pepper
    • Dust with cinnamon & some brown sugar

Research:

  • Buying a larger size at the theater may make you eat more, even if it’s stale. In 2005, researchers found moviegoers ate 45% more fresh popcorn and 34% more 14-day-old popcorn when it was served in large containers

References:
Zelman, Kathleen. “The Power of Popcorn.” Food & Nutrition. July/August 2015. 20-21.