PUBLISHED: 3:28 PM on Wednesday, November 30, 2005
Pumpkins are bountiful in healthy benefits

Courtesy photo
Fall is in the air.

Thanksgiving has come and gone, and Christmas is just around the corner. So what to do with all the leftover pumpkins?

Eat 'em, that's what.

Holiday recipes, are in abundance this time of year - pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread, muffins, soup, pan cakes and cheese cake.

Yet, as tempting as those treats may be, there's a better reason to eat pumpkin, which is a member of the gourd family. Pumpkin is rich in carotenoids, the natural plant compounds responsible for its orange hue. This colorful fruit is naturally low in fat and sodium, contains no cholesterol and is a good source of dietary fiber, vitamin A and potassium.

Considered a fruit, pumpkins also are rich in beta-carotene, a key antioxidant that converts to vitamin A in the body. The antioxidant may reduce the risk of developing certain types of cancer, and it also protects against heart disease.

Alpha-carotene, a pro-vitamin A compound, also can be converted within the body into retinol, which is believed to slow certain biological effects of aging.

Now that makes the pumpkin a food that packs a powerful punch of good health year-round.

Pumpkin Muffins with Dried Cranberries

1 cup natural wheat bran

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup whole-wheat flour

1/4 cup packed brown sugar

1/4 cup granular Splenda

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup low-fat buttermilk

1/2 cup unsweetened canned pumpkin or 1/2 cup cooked squash

1/4 cup canola oil

1 egg (or 1/4 cup cholesterol-free egg substitute)

3 tablespoons chopped, dried sweetened cranberries

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In large mixing bowl, combine bran, flours, brown sugar, Splenda, baking powder, baking soda, nutmeg, cinnamon and salt.

In second bowl, stir together buttermilk, pumpkin, oil and egg. Pour into dry ingredients; stir just until moistened. Stir in cranberries.

Divide batter evenly among 12 nonstick or paper-lined medium muffin cups, filling three-quarters full.

Bake for 18 minutes or until firm to the touch.

Makes 12 medium muffins.