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Pumpkin (and by extension, pumpkin spice) is known as the premiere flavor of fall, and for good reason: It’s sweet, spicy and heartwarming all at once. But besides being the perfect flavor accompaniment to watching the leaves change, pumpkin is also a versatile ingredient that delivers impressive health perks. Read on for everything you need to know to enjoy pumpkin to its fullest this season. 

Why Eat It: Despite being primarily used as a drink flavor or as a doorstep decoration, pumpkin is actually highly nutritious. It is incredibly rich in vitamin A and beta carotene (which the body converts to vitamin A), nutrients that are key for healthy eyes, a powerful immune system and strong cell growth. It contains antioxidants and other nutrients like vitamin C, potassium, vitamin E and folate to help protect the body from stress and inflammation and the problems that can result from those. Pumpkin is also incredibly nutrient-dense, meaning it is high in nutrients and water and low in calories, so can be a smart addition to your diet for those trying to maintain or lose weight. 

How to Eat It Straight: Pumpkin can be used in all of the same ways that squash is typically used in the fall and winter. Once you remove the outer skin, it can be sliced or diced then roasted and added to salads, bowls and stir-fries. Cutting off the top of the pumpkin, scooping out the seeds, then stuffing it with bread or vegetables and baking can make for an impressive centerpiece to a Thanksgiving appetizer spread. The seeds can also be enjoyed raw or roasted, salted, or tossed with warm spices.

How to Cook with Pumpkin Puree: Apart from in a classic pumpkin pie, there are multiple ways to incorporate pumpkin puree—either homemade or from a can—into recipes. It makes a deliciously sweet and creamy base for soup. It can be used to thicken and sweeten oatmeal and chili. Its silky-smooth texture blends perfectly into cheesecakes, while incorporating it into the batter for cakes, breads, muffins and other baked goods will make ultra-moist goodies. And of course, adding a scoop to your latte along with some spices will yield a classic PSL.

Other Uses for Pumpkin: So you’re not going to eat your pumpkin. That’s okay! You can carve a spooky jack-o-lantern for your porch. Perhaps you’d rather mix some pumpkin puree with a tiny bit of honey and milk to make a facial mask that will help eliminate redness, slough off dead skin and leave you with a glowing complexion. Or maybe you cut off the top of the pumpkin, remove the seeds, then fill it with dirt or flowers and turn it into a planter or vase. If you’re hosting Thanksgiving or any other fall gatherings, pick up a large pumpkin, cut off the top, scoop out the insides and replace them with a bowl full of ice and beer for a festive cooler.

How do you like to enjoy pumpkin? Tell us in the comments on our Instagram @powerforlifefitness.