Autumn is here in all its red and gold glory. What a popular time to decorate your home with pumpkins, Halloween decorations and good looking pumpkins! However, few people realize that their jack-o’-lantern is much more than just a “pretty” (or scary!) face. Consuming pumpkin and pumpkin seeds also offers many health benefits. With so many delicious pumpkin recipes and super nutritious rewards, it’s no wonder pumpkin makes a great addition to your diet.
The first pumpkins
The term pumpkin comes from the Greek word pepon, meaning “big melon,” although pumpkins are thought to have originated in Central America. When American colonists came to this country, they coined the word pumpkin from a combination of the French and English words pompon and pumpion. Native Americans have used pumpkins in myriad ways for centuries, from weaving dried strips of pumpkin into mats, cooking pumpkin over fire, and incorporating pumpkin into folk medicine. The early American colonists found that they could remove the seeds from a squash and fill the husk with milk, honey and a variety of spices, and then use hot ash to bake the delicious concoction.
Over time, pumpkin-based recipes have evolved into pies, soups, breads, puddings, muffins, shakes, ice cream, and even pumpkin smoothies. With their ready availability during the fall and winter months, pumpkins are an appetizing and nutritious ingredient on menus for these times of year.
Pumpkins are valuable sources of vitamins and minerals, including carotenoids, lutein, and zeaxanthin. Carotenoids are the reason for the orange and occasionally yellowish color of a pumpkin. These free radical scavengers have been shown in some studies to help prevent cataracts, promote eye health and reduce the risk of macular degeneration, which can lead to blindness. The carotene in pumpkin helps reduce inflammation in the body, and several studies suggest that pumpkin may even help slow the aging process. Pumpkin contains such important minerals as zinc and iron. A lack of zinc in the diet can contribute to osteoporosis, and iron is an essential component of red blood cells. Pumpkin is also rich in the minerals potassium, calcium, magnesium and phosphorus. Aside from being packed with fiber that supports gut and gut health, squashes are nutritionally rich in vitamins A, C, D, E, and K, and the B complex.
For those trying to lose weight the healthy way, the welcome news is that eating pumpkin isn’t a problem since pumpkin is naturally low in calories and fat (but a word of caution: your weight loss diet requires strict limitation of the pumpkin its delicious but high-calorie “dessert” and forms with added sugar!). The nutrients in pumpkin also help reduce the risk of heart disease and boost the immune system, and may be beneficial in treating bladder infections, kidney stones, and some parasitic/intestinal problems.
Wait, there’s more good news… Pumpkin seeds are packed with nutrients and make a delicious snack! In nature they are dark green in color and are often sold raw or roasted in jars or bags. The seeds make a beautiful addition to salads and mixed vegetables, and pumpkin seed oil can be added to a variety of salad dressings. Some studies suggest that eating pumpkin seeds promotes prostate health and stronger bones (an important Halloween note!); acts as an anti-inflammatory measure for various body joints; and introduces phytosterols that have been shown to lower cholesterol levels.
Enjoy them and eat them
Without a doubt, pumpkins are fun to decorate, a lot of fun to carve and make an excellent nutritional supplement. In addition to being rich in essential vitamins and minerals, pumpkins and their seeds are a delicious treat and can be used in a variety of recipes. The next time you carve a pumpkin, remember to capture its many seeds and innards. Make pumpkin pies…bake cookies…cook soup…and find new ways to be pumpkin-creative. But one piece of advice: organic as they are, if you don’t cook with the offal, be careful when tossing them in your garden. You may discover in the following year that you have a sprawling pumpkin patch!
Thanks to Dr. Chad Laurence