No other fruit bears the iconic status of heralding the arrival of the fall season like the pumpkin. We love to make and eat great seasonal foods with the pumpkin, such as pumpkin pie and pumpkin breads. Children love going to pumpkin patches in search of the perfect pumpkin for picking, then scooping out the gooey insides, and carving a face for Halloween. So that’s the common lore about pumpkins. What’s missed by most is the compelling nutritional facts about the pumpkin that could make you see the pumpkin more as a “super food” than just a seasonal decoration and holiday dessert ingredient.
The pumpkin is a power-packed whole food that is both nutritious and delicious. Pumpkins can vary greatly in their shape, size, and color (some rare giant pumpkins can weigh in excess of 1000 pounds!). Typically pumpkins are bright orange or yellowish in color, but just visit any pumpkin orchard and you will see a striking variety including white, dark, green, and even red pumpkins. Though the shape is traditionally round, and the rind is most often smooth and usually lightly ribbed, pumpkins actually come in a variety of exotic shapes and textures.
Pumpkins are incredibly rich in antioxidants and vitamins. One look at a pumpkin, with its bright orange color, signals to you that it’s loaded with nutritious natural beta-carotene. Beta-carotene is an important antioxidant essential in the bodily production and utilization of vitamin A. Research described by the University of Illinois suggests that a diet rich in beta-carotene can help in the risk reduction of the development of certain types of cancer. It can also offer protection from cardiovascular disease, and some of the degenerative aspects of aging. Interestingly, Illinois would know a thing or two about the pumpkin since approximately 95% of all the pumpkins grown in the United States are grown in Illinois.
Pumpkins are also relatively low in calories (about 26 calories per 100g). They contain no saturated fats or cholesterol, and are rich in dietary fiber, anti-oxidants, minerals, and other vitamins. Pumpkins are also jam-packed with the antioxidants vitamin C, vitamin E, cryptoxanthin, lutien, and the more recently celebrated “zeaxanthin”, which is a natural antioxidant reported to have natural ultraviolet ray (UV) filtering properties in parts of the retina of the eye. The UV filtering properties of zeaxanthin may help protect elderly individuals from age-related macular degeneration.
But the list of nutrients does not stop there. The pumpkin is also a rich source of minerals such as copper, calcium, potassium, and phosphorus. Pumpkin can be used in a multitude of delicious recipes from main meals to desserts whether it is baked, stewed, or steamed. Steamed is considered an optimal method for retaining the maximal nutritional value, and it can be used to prep pumpkin to be used in pies, pancakes, custard, ravioli, souffles, stuffing, and soups.
Of course, let’s not forget about pumpkin seeds, which are a superb source of dietary fiber that you can even sucker your kids into loving, especially this time of the year. Although pumpkin seeds are available year round and sold packaged at Fairway, they truly are freshest in the fall when pumpkins are in season. Dig the seeds out of a fresh pumpkin, clean them off, place them out flat on a cookie sheet, lightly salt them and bake to a desired crispiness. These nutty, slightly sweet, and chewy seeds are some of the most nutritious and tasty seeds around. The list of nutrients found in a pumpkin seed read like an ingredient list from an energy bar. They are abundant with manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, tryptophan, iron, copper, vitamin K, zinc, omega-3 fats, and protein. The potential health benefits of these seeds range from promoting prostate health, as well as providing bone protection, anti-inflammatory benefits, and cholesterol-lowering benefits.
TELL US: How do you like to eat pumpkin and pumpkin seeds?