Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Super-Healthy Gluten-Free Pumpkin Recipe

Ah yes, that wonderful gluten-free squash (or gourd) that many of us love to make into Pumpkin Pie, Pumpkin Rolls, Pumpkin Bread, Pumpkin Custard, and so many other delicious pumpkin-themed treats (not to mention pumpkin soup, and toasted pumpkin seeds). Pictured above is a small pumpkin of the variety usually sold as "pumpkin pie pumpkins" - which measure only between 5 and 6 inches in diameter, and weigh (while intact) about 2 pounds each (or, 1 kilogram). They have a much thinner and more tender skin than the large jack-o-lantern / Halloween carving-type pumpkins, and are very simple to work with and prepare.

Who would have guessed you could also use this incredible gluten-free vegetable for something so healthy and simple as a main-course or vegetable side-dish? And, better yet, a dish that takes nearly zero effort to prepare (certainly very little work compared to those pumpkin desserts and other recipes). The pumpkin is not just for Halloween or Thanksgiving holidays - instead, it can introduce a nice change of culinary scenery to your everyday lunch or dinner.

The Baked-Pumpkin (or Cooked/Microwaved Pumpkin) Recipe
Well, quite simply, this is about as healthy of a gluten-free food you can find. It has an incredibly low glycemic-index (or, another useful blood-sugar-impact analysis method, glycemic load), is full of essential vitamins, protein, and nutrients, plus it delivers a nice dose of your daily fiber requirements - all with a mild taste that is easily accented (as it is in pumpkin pie and other dishes). To top this off, my "recipe" is going to further attempt to positively affect your health by reducing your blood sugar, cholesterol, and triglycerides with cinnamon, and I'll explain that effect too a bit later in this post.

  • Simply take your pumpkin-pie pumpkin and split it vertically in half (from the stem at the top, to the center point at the bottom.
  • Scoop out all the seeds and loose fibers in the middle of each pumpkin half
  • In an oven-safe pan or pyrex dish an inch or two deep and large enough to hold the two halves of the pumpkin, place 1/2" of warm tap water.
  • Now, invert the pumpkin halves in the water (i.e., center of pumpkin facing down in pan)
  • Place in a preheated oven at 400 degrees F.
  • Bake for 35-40 minutes - when ready, a fork or knife should easily slide through the pumpkin.
  • Remove from oven.
  • Carefully (remember, this pumpkin is hot!) use a spoon to scrape the fleshy inside of the pumpkin away from the very thin rind, and place this onto serving plates or into a bowl for serving.
  • Suggested topping: upon serving, sprinkle a bit of cinnamon over each portion served, and perhaps a bit of granulated Splenda (or sugar / brown-sugar if you don't mind the calories or don't watch your sugar intake).

With the baked pumpkin being so mild on its own, the slight accent of cinnamon and a sweetener should remind you just a bit of a pumpkin pie. And, when it comes to health, you can't get much better than the nutrition of cooked pumpkin (check out that link - it is a really useful nutritional analysis site), which for every half-pound of cooked / baked pumpkin yields:
  • only 50 calories per 1/4 Kilogram (half-pound) serving - the entire prepared pumpkin likely won't exceed 150 calories, and it is quite filling
  • nearly 250% of your RDA of Vitamin-A, much of that as Beta-Carotene
  • nearly 3 grams of fiber
  • essentially zero sodium
  • roughly 20% of RDA of Vitamin-C
  • a bit of Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acides
  • about 8% of your Iron, and 4% of your daily Calcium recommendations
  • A super-low glycemic-Load of only 4 (in a range that goes up to 75 or 80)!
Hopefully you'll enjoy the pumpkin for both its taste and it's health benefits! I know I sure like these little pumpkins prepared as I detailed above, and I am so glad they are safe for Celiac Disease and Gluten-Free people too. I plan to experiment with a few other spice combinations, perhaps adding a bit of clove, nutmeg, ginger, etc to my dish - much like a pumpkin pie or pumpkin roll would use. I keep meaning to try this, but never get around to it, perhaps just because I enjoy the Cinnamon by itself so much. And, speaking of Cinnamon again...

Health Benefits of Cinnamon in Recipes and your Diet
If you already own my Gluten-Free Desserts recipe book, you have probably noticed that we use Cinnamon quite regularly in recipes (many times as "optional" ingredient if you don't care for cinnamon). We do this for a few reasons:
  1. we love the taste of cinnamon and the accent it provides to certain recipes
  2. Cinnamon can essentially be a gluten-free "flour" of sorts, as it is a powdered, ground form of the bark of a cinnamon tree with a super-high fiber-to-total-carbohydrates ratio (nearly 80% of the carbs are in the form of fiber), and a 1/4 ounce (about 1 Tablespoon) has 4 grams of dietary fiber.
  3. and, because scientific-evidence demonstrates Cinnamon's ability to lower fasting blood-glucose levels, triglyceride levels, and cholesterol levels - which is a very nice side-effect for such a versatile and delicious ingredient. *(see NOTES below before going TOO crazy with cinnamon).
If, in addition to consuming Cinnamon via our dessert recipes, you find additional ways to incorporate it into your daily life elsewhere (e.g., I love adding it to my pancakes, coffee, milk, tea, and many other things), hopefully you will get the full health benefit that was demonstrated in this 2003 study entitled: Cinnamon Improves Glucose and Lipids of People With Type 2 Diabetes.

There have been some concerns with long-term high-level dietary intake of cinnamon, though I personally wonder how much has to do with pharmaceutical companies wanting you to take their Diabetes medicines instead of using cinnamon as a first-line attempt at combating the disease. One reason I am a bit skeptical about the true presumed toxicity threat from cinnamon consumption comes from the fact that a particular cinnamon health-risk discussion paper went so far as to implicate cinnamon with pseudo-science repeatedly, pointing the finger at cinnamon for all sorts of things that can not be proven, like this:
"At least one case report points to carcinoma formation after the consumption of up to five packs of cinnamon chewing gum a day in a 24-year-old non-smoker"
The fundamental flaws in that type of statement come from 1) the incredibly small sample population - i.e., "at least one case"; and 2) the inability to rule out any other causes of the carcinoma aside from smoking - like, how about whether the gum used artificial red dyes or food colorings, like nearly all such gum does, or perhaps artificial sweeteners if applicable. This type of "proof" of cinnamon toxicity is bunk and a serious stretch to say the least. As such, it makes me question the motives behind that entire discussion paper, as the paper takes many different angles of attack on cinnamon to dissuade its use. You decide for yourself what to make of it though.

Now, on to the real science of potential cinnamon toxicity...

NOTES: Types of "Cinnamon" and Toxicity Potential Discussion
Basically, there are two primary types of Cinnamon available to consumers - the less common Ceylon Cinnamon ("true cinnamon") and the common mainstream "Cinnamon" (Cassia, or "Bastard Cinnamon") that is sold as powdered cinnamon throughout the USA. The cinnamon we all most likely use regularly is the latter type - Cassia - and is the type reported in the media and studies to have a beneficial effect on blood glucose (blood sugar), cholesterol, and triglycerides levels.

But, Cassia also contains higher levels of a toxic component called coumarin than does Ceylon Cinnamon (which contains very little - but also contains little of the chemical in Cassia that purportedly helped blood sugar and such). Cassia ("cinnamon") contains somewhere between 2 and 4 milligrams of coumarin per gram (mg/g) on average. The European Food Safety Authority has set the Tolerable Daily Intake (TDI) of coumarin at .1mg/Kilogram body-weight per day as being safe and of no threat to health (see here for further discussion and the .1mg/Kg/day reference).

What does this mean? Well, if you weigh 154 pounds (70 Kilograms) for example, the acceptable TDI for you is 7 milligrams of coumarin from Cassia "Cinnamon" or other sources (70 Kilograms x .1mg/Kilogram = 7 milligrams ). So, using the upper end of coumarin-level estimates (4mg/g) in cinnamon, consuming ~2grams of Cinnamon per day at 4mg/g coumarin concentration every single day for life would put you at the TDI threshold (i.e., between 1/2 and 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon every day).

Cinnamon Health Benefits in relation to toxicity concerns
By comparison, the health-benefits-from-cinnamon study showed substantial and significant benefit from cinnamon when consumed at between 1 and 6 grams per day (i.e., a maximum of a quarter ounce / day). And, even the lowest-dose level (1 gram/day) produced substantial reductions (in blood sugar, cholesterol, and triglycerides) in this study, with such dosing levels being well within the TDI threshold discussed above.

Though it was only one study on cinnamon's health benefits, the study appeared scientifically valid and placebo-controlled and everything, and it showed the following results (after just 40 days in the 6g/day group, and with nearly the same findings in the 1g/day group):
  • Between 18-29% lower fasting glucose levels
  • approximately 25% lower cholesterol levels
  • approximately 25-30% lower triglyceride levels
Those are some rather impressive figures to say the least! I'm looking forward to additional, larger, follow up studies that can further validate these results. They sure look encouraging, and are substantial enough to provoke persons like myself to include cinnamon in their diet. As with any dietary alteration, it is probably best to consult with your doctor or physician to make sure you don't cause any unplanned drug-interactions and the like (especially if you are using Diabetes medications already). And, I only put this information here for you to evaluate and make personal decisions on, as I am not a doctor. You may want to read other sources like this one on Cinnamon Health Benefits for similar information and further research.

In the mean time, using a bit of cinnamon on your freshly prepared baked pumpkin, or in and on some of your favorite desserts, is certainly a delicious way to enhance your gluten-free foods while potentially improving your health along the way. Enjoy!


LoLo said...

Mike, in my book you are truly amazing. Since the first time I ever found your blog, last year, I have been so fond of you and your writing. You are such a help to me, and I know so many others, and all your writing is so informative. I love cinnamon and you just gave me all I need to know about cinnamon, which makes me love it even more. Thank you for all that you do!

Mike Eberhart said...

freckled face mama,
Thank You so very much for that wonderful compliment - I'm so happy when I'm helping others, and I hope to keep doing it for years to come. Thanks for reading and letting me know my time spent researching and writing is time well invested.

Dianne said...

Hi Mike

I'm going to buy a big pumpkin towards the end of the month, and see what I can do with it. As I love the taste of cinammon too your pumpkin recipe is likely to be in the range of goods coming out of my kitchen!


Mike Eberhart said...

Good luck with that pumpkin! I haven't tried my recipe with the larger varieties, but I assume it'd work fine. I'd probably avoid the really big carving-type pumpkins just because I would expect the flesh would be a bit too fibrous, but I'm not really sure. Enjoy!

jim said...

Mike -- very interesting recipe. Think I'll try this as I'm always looking for something different. We grew some butternut squash this year to try out in recipes. And I also love cinnamon -- I add it to my carob cookie and cake recipes for my daughters.
-- jim at

Mike Eberhart said...

If you find this one interesting, stay tuned... a few new pumpkin-based recipes coming soon :)

Anonymous said...

Coumarins are simply blood thinners. They are what your doctor would prescribe if you had to have them. It is normally only considered posinous when consumed in extreemly large doses. This usually only occurs in plants that contain them and livestock who eat extreemly large amounts. Or when a person would try to take cinnamon in medicinal quantites. The are many medicinal plants that also contain coumarins, and when haveing any kind of surgery you should report their use to the doctor as well. And stop their use before like you would stop using Aspirin.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for all of the cinnamon info! I have heard about health "problems" associated with cinnamon in the past, but I didn't know the details. Thanks for doing the leg work and putting it all together! Your blog is great!