Pumpkin is so versatile, and depending what region of the world you come from will determine which form it is used. When I grew up in Michigan in the United States, the pumpkin I remember eating was in pumpkin pie. We carved pumpkins for Halloween and actually threw out the flesh! As an adult living in Australia, I realised how much of a waste that was. Luckily, my mother roasted the pumpkin seeds and we had those after the Halloween pumpkin jack-o-lantern was carved. At least then we received the health benefits from the pumpkin seeds. Our family ate pumpkin pie traditionally at Thanksgiving and on Christmas.
I remember when I first moved to Australia, pumpkin was eaten as a savoury vegetable, namely in pumpkin soup. It was also a favourite roasted vegetable that accompanied various meat roasts. There were also pumpkin muffins, pumpkin scones and pumpkin bread, that I hadn’t been exposed to before. In Australia today, pumpkin is thriving in various recipes and I am happy to say that I enjoy the wide variety that pumpkin has to offer. I still enjoy pumpkin pie too!
Pumpkin flesh contains vitamins C and E, magnesium, potassium and a staggering quantity and variety of carotenoids, being one of the most abundant natural sources of these amazing phytonutrients. There are numerous types of pumpkin in all shapes and sizes with many similar nutritional values. Although pumpkin is a squash that’s best between late summer and autumn, canned or tin pumpkin is readily available year-round in the United States. However, here in Australia we tend to puree our own from fresh pumpkin all year round. Pumpkin is also high in fibre with a one-half cup serving providing approximately 5 grams.
Powerful antioxidants known as carotenoids give pumpkin its superfood status. These compounds have the ability to ward off heart disease and cancer as well as certain eye-related diseases.
Pumpkin is packed with various nutrients and carotenoids, particularly alpha and beta carotene. Carotenoids are orange, yellow, and red colored, fat-soluble compounds occurring in a variety of plants. Carotenoids represent one of the most widespread groups of naturally occurring pigments. These compounds are largely responsible for the red, yellow, and orange color of fruits and vegetables, and are also found in many dark green vegetables. Carotenoids help to protect you from free radicals, enhance cell-to-cell communication, and modulate your immune response. They also protect your skin and eyes from damage caused by ultra violet light.
Pumpkin is the highest source of alpha carotene, which may be even more powerful than beta carotene. Pumpkin contains 400 percent of the recommended daily allowance of alpha carotene, along with close to 300 percent of beta carotene, and only 83 calories in a cup!
Alpha carotene and beta carotene have been tied with multiple health-promoting and disease-fighting benefits such as:
• Reduces inflammatory arthritis
• Decreases the risk of various cancers (breast, lung and colon)
• Lowers the rate of heart disease
Canned or tin pumpkin puree, which is not the same as the canned pie filling, is cooked down in order to reduce the water content that is still present in a fresh pumpkin. Because of this condensation, canned pumpkin is actually more nutritious than fresh pumpkin!
In fact, it’s not just the inner meat of a pumpkin that’s virtuous but its seeds are super nutritious too and contain a wealth of health-promoting properties. Like melons, cucumber, and squash, pumpkins belong to the gourd family. They were much celebrated by Native American Indians who made use of their flesh and seeds for culinary and medicinal purposes.
Pumpkin seeds are a superfood that the American Native tribes prized for its culinary and medicinal value.
High in fiber and protein, these seeds are also a rich source of minerals including magnesium, manganese, iron, and zinc. Pumpkin seeds are believed to be beneficial for things like prostrate health, bones strength, and arthritis. Pumpkin seeds also contain compounds called phytosterols, which are believed to reduce levels of harmful cholesterol and also improve the body’s immune system.
Pumpkin seeds can now be readily found. They are sold, raw, roasted, shelled, and unshelled. Pumpkin seeds are also known as pepitas, and they are dark green and flat with a chewy texture and rich nutty flavour. These seeds are dense in minerals, with just a quarter of a cup providing approximately half the daily recommended dose for magnesium and iron, in addition to high doses of zinc, phosphorous, potassium, selenium, manganese and copper. They also contain the amino acid tryptophan known for anti-depressant qualities, and essential fatty acids. These essential fatty acids assist in improving mental function and aiding memory.
The dark green oil produced from pumpkin seeds has been used throughout history in India, Europe and America to fight parasites, aid the digestive tract and help with prostate and reproductive disorders. It has also been recommended for pregnant and lactating women because of its high content of essential fatty acids.
The essential fatty acids in pumpkin seeds are also necessary for prostate health, and zinc (which pumpkin seeds are especially high in) is great for the reproductive systems and has been shown to reduce prostate size, and have been found to help prevent against prostate gland enlargement.
So don’t delay – there are many ways to get the health benefits of pumpkin. Here’s a recipe link for a good variety of ideas.