Save Room for Pumpkin Pie

What a shame…

to pass on the pumpkin pie.

What’s Thanksgiving without it?  And yet, this year millions will over feast and pass on our country’s crowning jewel to Thanksgiving traditions – pumpkin pie.

And, understandably.  When eating 2,000 to 4,500 calories in one meal, as many or more calories needed for an entire day, a person tends to get stuffed. We didn’t really need the University of Michigan Health System nor the Calorie Control Council to scientifically prove this.  The relief felt from sitting back and unbuttoning the pants unquestionably says “done”…”over done.”

And, done for a long time.  Average meals leave the stomach in several hours, but Thanksgiving dinner sticks around 8 to 12 hours.   While you wait, indigestion, flatulence and over all food-sedation fills the time.  Unfortunately, once the meal passes, there is little relief from the distension because the extra calories from this single meal add up to more than a pound of weight gain.

All real festivity downers.

Some of you turkeys may feel it’s worth the pain.  But the pleasures of overeating stress the body.  Case and point, gluttonous eating quadruples the risk of heart attack.  Add two sticks of butter to that Thanksgiving dinner, and the body becomes a well greased machine primed for high blood cholesterol, an overworked liver and painful passing of gallstones.

After this news, you may be most thankful to have survived so many Thanksgiving dinners past.

But what if, you used smaller plates, ate more of the vegetables and less of the buttery starches, reduced some of the fat in cooking, chewed slowly so to appreciate each bite and stopped with enough room for a piece of pumpkin pie?

Thank you.

And what better conclusion to a Thanksgiving dinner than pumpkin pie?  Besides being a native fruit to North America and delicious tradition to this countries Thanksgiving, the pumpkin adds some redeeming health benefits to the meal.

The pumpkin’s orange color is a cornucopia of beta-carotene, a plant pigment that gets converted to vitamin A by the body.  Per cup, pumpkin brims with a mega 53,000 mcg Retinol Activity Equivalents (RAE) of beta-carotene, more than most people need in a day.  But don’t worry, when eating a varied, balanced diet, beta-carotene from plant-foods poses no risk of toxicity.

Vitamin A is essential for a strong immune system, good vision, daily cell division and growth as well as for reproduction.  While the requirement is age and gender specific, the Dietary Reference Intakes (DRI) for adult women is 700 mcg RAE and men 900 mcg RAE.  This can be easily achieved eating traditional Thanksgiving fare including a big helping of 488 mcg RAE beta-carontene from a slice of pumpkin pie.

That’s one slice of a 9” pie cut into eight pieces.  It’s not a slice of what some once believed to be the largest pumpkin pie ever.  Requiring 36 pounds of sugar, 12 dozen eggs, 80 pounds of cooked pumpkin and 6 hours in the oven, it would be tough to eat even a sliver of this five-foot in diameter and 350 pound pumpkin pie.  In 2005, a 2,020 pound pie was baked.

Other orange foods dishing up beta–carotene include sweet potatoes, carrots, cantaloupe, mangos and apricots.  Perhaps less obvious sources of beta-carotene are red bell peppers and tomato juice.  But surprise!–spinach and broccoli are also excellent sources.  If it wasn’t for their green chlorophyll, these foods would be orange!

It’s easy to see why vitamin A deficiency is rare in the United States, a good reason to say “thanks.”  In developing countries, limited access to food deprives 190 million preschool-aged children and 19.1 million pregnant women of this vital nutrient according to the World Health Organization.

Still, here at home, around our own tables, some people have special interest in vitamin A.  Research has been looking at this nutrient’s role in cancer prevention, age-related eye disease and measles.

While beta-carotene may seem abundant, the small intestine only absorbs 9-22% of beta-carotene eaten; the rest is excreted as waste.  How much is absorbed can vary depending on if the pumpkin is raw or cooked.  But, if beta-carotene is absorbed at all, fat is a mandatory ingredient in the intestine.

Because pumpkin is basically fat-free and 90% water, beta-carotene requires some assistance from good fats from avocados, nuts and olive oil, for example, to cross the absorption finish line.  If you’re beginning to rationalize the cup of butter in the Thanksgiving dinner…

The answer is, “No.”  Trying to maximize beta-carotene absorption from that one piece of pumpkin pie does not justify eating too much fat.  Remember the calories, if nothing more.  It does, however, give a conceding nod to controlled indulgence.


  • Pumpkin is also a good source of dietary fiber, vitamin E, thiamin, niacin, vitamin B6, folate, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, vitamin A, vitamin C, riboflavin, potassium, copper and manganese.
  • Vitamin A is in fish, meats- particularly liver, and dairy.


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