It’s pumpkin time – fun to carve and healthy to eat!
Fall is here in its red and gold glory. What a popular time to decorate your home with pumpkins, Halloween decorations, and pretty 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 available and the super nutritional rewards, it’s no wonder why pumpkin is a great addition to your diet.
The first pumpkins
The term gourd comes from the Greek word pepon, which means “large melon,” although gourds are believed to have originated in Central America. When American settlers arrived in this country, they coined the word pumpkin from a combination of the French and English words pompon and pumpion. Native Americans have used gourds in countless ways over the centuries, weaving dried gourd strips into mats, cooking gourds over a fire, and incorporating gourd into folk medicines. Early American settlers discovered that they could remove the seeds from a pumpkin and fill the shell with milk, honey, and a variety of spices, and then use hot ashes to bake the tasty concoction.
Over time, pumpkin-based recipes have evolved to include cakes, soups, breads, puddings, muffins, smoothies, ice cream, and even pumpkin smoothies. With immediate availability in the fall and winter months, pumpkins are an appetizing and nutritious ingredient on seasonal menus.
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 squash. These free radical fighters have been shown in some studies to help prevent cataracts, promote eye health, and reduce the risk of macular degeneration, which can cause 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 essential minerals like zinc and iron. 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. In addition to being packed with fiber, which helps support gut and gut health, pumpkins are nutritionally rich in vitamins A, C, D, E, and K, as well as the B complex.
For those trying to lose weight in a healthy way, the good news is that eating pumpkin is not a problem, because pumpkin is naturally low in calories and fat content (a word of caution though: your weight loss diet requires strictly limiting the pumpkin in its delicious but caloric “dessert” and its sugary forms!). The nutrients in pumpkin also help reduce the risk of heart disease and improve the immune system, and may be beneficial in controlling bladder infections, kidney stones, and some parasitic / intestinal problems.
Wait, there’s more good news … pumpkin seeds are rich in nutrients and make a delicious snack! In nature, they are dark green in color and are often sold in jars or bags, either raw or toasted. The seeds are a good 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 joints of the body; and introduces phytosterols, which have been shown to lower cholesterol.
Enjoy them and eat them
Without a doubt, pumpkins are fun to use as a decoration, so much fun to carve, and they make a great dietary addition. In addition to being rich in essential vitamins and minerals, pumpkins and their seeds are delightful delicacies and can appear in a wide variety of recipes. The next time you carve a pumpkin, consider holding onto its many seeds and innards. Make pumpkin cakes … bake cookies … make soup … and find new ways to get creative with pumpkins. But a tip: organic as they are, if you don’t cook with the insides, be careful to throw them in your backyard. You may find that you have a pumpkin patch that is spreading wildly the following year!