It's Canned Pumpkin That Packs The Vitamin Punch

An extra piece of pumpkin pie at a holiday dinner? You might almost call it health food, particularly if it's made from canned pumpkin. University of Illinois researchers found that canned pumpkin contains roughly 20 times the beta carotene of fresh.

Barbara Klein, a professor of food science and nutrition, and her colleagues used data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and from food manufacturers to compare the vitamin and fiber content of canned, fresh and frozen foods.

The study found that half a cup of canned pumpkin contained 540 percent of the recommended dietary intake (RDI) for beta carotene, a substance that is converted to vitamin A in the body. A half cup of fresh, cooked pumpkin, though, contained just 27 percent of the RDI for beta carotene.

Canned pumpkin is richer in beta carotene for two reasons, said Klein. Food manufacturers choose the richest, most orange pumpkins for canning because they are more visually appealing to consumers, Klein said. Beta carotene is what gives the pumpkins their deep orange hue.

In preparing the pumpkin puree for canning, food manufacturers also remove some of the moisture by evaporation, thereby concentrating the beta carotene.