Pumpkin Spice Granola
Fall is in the air. Which, as I'm told by Starbucks®, means pumpkin everything.
Apart from the accompanying sugar that is often found in these "pumpkin everythings" (be very careful about those lattés), I rather like pumpkin.
In fact, one time in college, some of my girlfiends and I decided to rescue a bunch of leftover Halloween pumpkins. We cooked, packaged, and froze 30 cups of pumpkins. Seven and a half quarts. That's almost two gallons of pumpkin.
It took forever.
As a result, I really appreciate the convenience of canned pumpkin. I mean, there is something special about knowing you went to all the work to chop, bake, mash, then puree your very own pumpkin (if you haven't tried it yet, you should do it sometime), but canned pumpkin is a great invention.
By the way, canned pumpkin should NOT be confused with canned pumpkin pie filling! Pumpkin pie filling contains added sugar; what you want is pure pumpkin so you can add the extra sugar yourself.
Pure pumpkin contains so many good things. It's probably fall's best-kept-secret. It's low in calories, high in fiber, and has a ton of vitamins and minerals. But one of my favorite things about pumpkin is noticeable at just a glance.
Have you noticed pumpkin's beautiful, bright orange color? That is its beta-carotene shining through.
Yes, that's right. Beta-carotene is literally the orange in your pumpkin (or carrots or butternut squash). Here are some really cool things that beta-carotene does for your body:
Beta-Carotene is an Antioxidant
Deep inside your body, metabolic reactions are happening all the time -- every time you breath or burn a calorie, for example. We're also exposed to all kinds of (natural) radiation (like the sun) all the time.
As a result, free radicals are produced. Although they sound really groovy, they really aren't so great.
Put on your chemistry caps for a moment: free radicals are elements like oxygen or nitrogen that have an unpaired electron. This causes them to be extra friendly with other molecules (i.e. reactive). And once they start reacting, in a process called oxidation, they can cause a cascade of reactions that can cause a bunch of negative health effects -- ranging from heart disease, inflammation, to cancer.
The nemesis of free radicals: antioxidants! Beta-carotene is one of such antioxidants.
Epidemiological research has shown a decreased risk of diseases like coronary heart disease with increased consumption of antioxidants from fruits and vegetables. This effect was NOT seen with supplemental intake of antioxidants. Fruits and veggies are better than supplements.
Beta-Carotene is a Precursor to Vitamin A
Retinol is the fancy name for vitamin A. In addition to eating vitamin A (like by eating liver, for example) or taking a supplement, your body can convert beta-carotene into Vitamin A.
Vitamin A is needed for a bunch of different things: eyesight, immune health, healthy skin. However, it is possible to overdose on vitamin A because it is stored in the liver. Toxic levels can cause some pretty terrible things, like birth defects if a pregnant mom takes too many vitamin A supplements.
The good news? You can't overdose on beta-carotene! Your body will only ever convert the amount of vitamin A that you need.
Thank you, pumpkin.
Want to learn more about beta-carotene? Check out this great article from the University of Maryland Medical Center. I used this article as well as the Evidence Analysis Library from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (sorry, members only) as my main resources for writing this article.
Okay, enough of my nerdy nutrition knowledge (did you like that alliteration?). Let's make some granola!
Measure six cups of old-fashioned oats into a large bowl, then stir in the following spices: a tablespoon of cinnamon, a half teaspoon of nutmeg, a half teaspoon of ground gloves, and a half teaspoon of course salt.
In a separate bowl, stir together a half cup of canola oil, a half cup of honey, a half cup of brown sugar, and a 14.5-oz can of pumpkin.
Stir the wet ingredients into your oat mixture until well-combined.
Spray two 9x13-inch baking dishes with non-stick cooking spray, then spread out your granola in the pans. Bake at 325 degrees for about an hour (or until the granola is fairly dry to the touch), stirring every 15 minutes. Make sure you don't heat your oven to 350 or more -- this will burn your granola before it dries!
And there you are! Fresh, delicious granola -- and you can even pronounce all of the ingredients on the label.
Serve as cereal with milk, add to yogurt (like these tasty parfaits), or take some with you on your next fall hike.
Pumpkin Spice Granola
6 c. old-fashioned oats
1 Tbsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. clove
1/2 tsp. coarse salt
1/2 c. canola oil
1/2 c. honey
1/2 c. brown sugar
1 can (14.5 oz) pumpkin
Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees fahrenheit.
In a large bowl, stir together oatmeal and spices
In a separate bowl, mix together oil, honey, sugar, and pumpkin.
Fold wet ingredients into oat mixture until well-combined.
Spray two 9x13-inch baking dishes with non-stick cooking spray and spread granola evenenly in pans.
Bake at 325 degrees for 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes, or until granola is crispy.
Allow to cool before storing in an airtight container.
Serves 8 - Serving Size: 1 cup - Nutrients per serving: 491 calories -- 19g total fat -- 2g saturated fat -- 0mg cholesterol -- 128mg sodium -- 77g total carbohydrates -- 8g fiber -- 8g protein