Fall is a treasured time of year, and its signature seasonal squash is the brightly colored orange pumpkin. When ripe, pumpkin can be boiled, baked, steamed, or roasted. Once cooked, the pumpkin flesh can be eaten as is with some butter or spices for flavoring, or it can be pureed and used to make a variety of delicious dishes including oatmeal, smoothies, corn bread, chili, soup, risotto, lasagna, pies, custard, soufflé and my personal fave—pumpkin bread! The possibilities for healthy food ideas using pumpkin are endless!
Not only is pumpkin versatile enough to make breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert, its loaded with nutrients that offer a wide range of health benefits.
Here’s what’s so great about pumpkins:
Great for the Eyes: A cup of cooked, mashed pumpkin contains more than 200 percent of the recommended daily intake of vitamin A, a powerful antioxidant that aids vision, particularly in dim light. The gourd gets its bright orange color from the carotenoid beta-carotene, which the body converts into a form of vitamin A for additional eye protection. Two other carotenoids found in pumpkin—lutein and zeaxanthin—also promote eye health and guard against macular degeneration.
Great for Managing Diabetes and Blood Sugar: Diets rich in beta-carotene also appear to offer protection against developing type 2 diabetes, with pumpkin consumption being the most effective. Pumpkin flesh contains a compound that increases the level of insulin in the bloodstream, which helps lower blood sugar. Two other major compounds in pumpkin—trigonelline and nicotinic acid—are effective in lowering blood sugar levels by improving insulin resistance and suppressing the onset of diabetes. Trigonelline and nicotinic acid also inhibit the accumulation of triglycerides in the blood, a danger that often accompanies diabetes.
Pumpkin also holds promise for type 1 diabetics: Chinese researchers found that pumpkin extracts can increase insulin production and regenerate damaged pancreatic cells. This could reduce or eliminate the need for insulin injections in type 1 diabetics.
Great for Boosting the Immune System: Pumpkin is a great source of Vitamin C, which helps fight free radicals and improves immunity. They are also high in phytosterols, which have been shown to enhance the immune response and decrease the risk of certain cancers. The zinc in pumpkin seeds also boosts the immune system.
Great For Preventing Cancer: Pumpkins contain compounds called cucurbitacins, which have been found to be effective at inhibiting the development and growth of cancerous tumors of the breast, colon, lung and central nervous system. Cucurbitacins offer the greatest protection against colon cancer. The oil in pumpkin seeds has also shown to be effective in the treatment and prevention of prostate cancer. The high amounts of Vitamin A, Vitamin C and carotenoids in pumpkins also offer protection against various forms of cancer.
Great for the Skin: The high amount of Vitamins A, C and E as well as alpha-hydroxy acids present in pumpkin all reduce signs of aging in skin and give it a healthy glow. Pumpkin seeds contain zinc, which also prevents appearance of wrinkles and helps to keep your skin hydrated and nourished.
Great for Lifting Your Mood: Pumpkin seeds are rich in the amino acid L-tryptophan, a compound important in the production of the neurotransmitter seratonin, which is responsible for feelings of well-being and happiness. Eating a handful of pumpkin seeds regularly can keep your spirits high and prevent depression.
Great Source of Fiber: Pumpkin flesh contains abundant quantities of dietary fiber—a one-cup serving of cooked pumpkin contains three grams. It is extremely effective for treating gastrointestinal disorders such as constipation and indigestion. The high amount of fiber curbs the appetite and reduces fat absorption, which can assist with weight loss. It also helps in lowering the LDL (bad) cholesterol levels and regulating blood sugar levels.
Great Anti-Inflammatory Effect: The beta-carotene in pumpkin seeds and flesh has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Regular consumption of pumpkin can protect against joint inflammation and arthritis. Pumpkins have been known to provide relief from inflammation quickly, without the harmful side effects of anti-inflammatory medicines.
Great for Lowering Blood Pressure and Preventing Heart Disease: Pumpkin is loaded with potassium and Zinc. Studies show that eating a potassium-rich diet can prevent onset of cardiovascular diseases and hypertension. Additionally, studies have shown that the phytosterols in pumpkin reduce LDL or “bad” cholesterol.
Great for Preventing Kidney Stones: Eating just 5 to 10 grams of pumpkin seeds every day stimulates the kidneys and prevents the formation of calcium oxalate stones.
Great Source of Protein and Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Pumpkin seeds, also known as Pepitas, are a rich source of protein and essential fatty acids. One ounce of pumpkin seeds contains approximately 7 grams of protein. The essential fatty acids present in pumpkin oil offer several health benefits from providing protection against serious health diseases such as high blood pressure, arthritis and cancer to promoting healthy skin and improving brain power.
Given the wide-ranging benefits of all parts of the pumpkin, it’s time this orange squash makes its way into the kitchen now that its role as a Halloween decoration has passed. For a picture tutorial on how to make your own fresh pumpkin puree, click here.