How to Cook Low-Carb With Pumpkin

Chopping Pumpkin
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When you think "low-carb vegetable," pumpkin might not come to mind, but pumpkin is one of the vegetables allowed during the Atkins diet induction phase. Pumpkins are full of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants, and can work well in any of the popular low-carb diets. And eating pumpkin isn't just about holiday pies.

Pumpkin Nutrition

Pumpkin is one of those vegetables that is emblematic of fall—it makes us think of harvest, of frost, of lengthening nights and the oncoming winter. And yet, the only way it usually gets to the table is in a store-bought pie, or perhaps a can of pie filling that goes in a pie we make ourselves.

But pumpkin can be so much more. And since pumpkin keeps for 6 months whole or for years in a can, it can be a year-round addition to our diets.

Half a cup of canned pumpkin has 6.5 grams of carbohydrate and 3.5 grams of fiber.

Vitamins and Minerals

Pumpkin is chock full of nutrients. You can tell by its naturally bright color that it’s going to be good for you. Not only is pumpkin loaded with vitamin A and antioxidant carotenoids, particularly alpha and beta-carotenes, but it’s also a good source of vitamins C, K, and E, and lots of minerals, including magnesium, potassium, and iron.

The seeds are also worth latching on to. Pumpkin seeds, also called pepitas, provide polyunsaturated fat and are loaded with minerals. They seem to have an anti-inflammatory effect, and may even help protect against prostate cancer and osteoporosis. A quarter cup has about 5 grams of carbs and 1.5 grams of fiber.

Selection and Storage

For cooking, you want a pumpkin that is heavy for its size. The lighter ones are drier, with a larger open space in the middle. For the most part, stay away from large pumpkins when selecting a pumpkin for eating. Two to five pounds is about right.

Pumpkins can keep for a long time in a cool (ideally 50 to 60 degrees F), dry place. Put newspapers underneath just in case, though. Once the pumpkin is cut open, you need to use it within a couple of days (or freeze it) as it can mold quickly. Cooked, it’s fine in the refrigerator for four to five days.

Preparation and Recipes

For pumpkin puree, you don’t need to cut the pumpkin open before you roast it. Simply just jab it with a knife once or twice to vent the steam, put the whole thing on a baking sheet, and pop it in the oven at 350 F for an hour or so, until you can easily stick a knife into it.

Cool the pumpkin, then scoop out the seeds and stringy stuff with a spoon, or pull it out with tongs. It is much easier to do this step when the pumpkin is cooked than when it is raw.

If you want chunks of pumpkin, you’ll have to cut into it raw or par-roasted. Some stores have pumpkin pre-cut into chunks.

To roast the seeds, let them dry on paper towels, then add oil and salt (and any other seasonings you want). Slow roast in a 250 F oven until they smell good, about 45 to 60 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes or so. 

Pumpkin can be used in any squash recipe, and it has a depth of flavor that many other winter squashes don’t.

By Laura Dolson
Laura Dolson is a health and food writer who develops low-carb and gluten-free recipes for home cooks.