Good for more than just delighting trick-or-treaters, the pumpkin is related to the squash and melon family and packs a nutritional antioxidant punch. The pumpkin is an autumn favorite, but you don’t just have to think about using one for decorating or pie.
What’s in Pumpkin: One cup of cooked, unsalted pumpkin has 49 calories and is a great source of the antioxidant beta-carotene. Pumpkin seeds have protein, healthy fats, minerals and a small amount of omega-3 fats.
Choosing: Pumpkins intended for carving don’t always taste as good as sugar (also called baking or pie) pumpkins. Choose pumpkins that are firm, smooth and brightly colored and, when possible, with the stem still attached.
Storing: Pumpkin “pulp” can be frozen or canned. You can store whole pumpkins in a cool, dry place for up to three months. Once sliced, keep the pieces in the refrigerator, wrapped in plastic for five to seven days. Place cooked pumpkin in an airtight container in the refrigerator for a week or in the freezer for three to six months.
Using Pumpkin this Season: Besides the iconic pumpkin pie, try your hand at pumpkin muffins, pumpkin rolls or maybe even pumpkin soup. You cook pumpkin like you would any other winter squash — peel it, slice it and remove the seeds. Then roast, boil or steam the pieces until tender. You can dice the cooked flesh into bite-sized pieces or puree them in a food processor.
You can also use the seeds. They’re easy to roast and are nutritious and flavorful.
Health benefits of Pumpkin
- It is one of the very low calorie vegetables. 100 g fruit provides just 26 calories and contains no saturated fats or cholesterol; however, it is rich in dietary fiber, anti-oxidants, minerals, vitamins. The vegetable is one of the food items recommended by dietitians in cholesterol controlling and weight reduction programs.
- Pumpkin is a storehouse of many anti-oxidant vitamins such as vitamin-A, vitamin-C and vitamin-E.
- With 7384 mg per 100 g, it is one of the vegetables in the Cucurbitaceae family featuring highest levels of vitamin-A, providing about 246% of RDA. Vitamin A is a powerful natural anti-oxidant and is required by the body for maintaining the integrity of skin and mucus membranes. It is also an essential vitamin for good visual sight. Research studies suggest that natural foods rich in vitamin A help a body protects against lung and oral cavity cancers.
- It is also an excellent source of many natural poly-phenolic flavonoid compounds such as α, ß carotenes, cryptoxanthin, lutein and zea-xanthin. Carotenes convert into vitamin A inside the body.
- Zea-xanthin is a natural anti-oxidant which has UV (ultra-violet) rays filtering actions in the macula lutea in retina of the eyes. Thus, it helps protect from “age-related macular disease” (ARMD) in the elderly.
- The fruit is a good source of B-complex group of vitamins like folates, niacin, vitamin B-6 (pyridoxine), thiamin and pantothenic acid.
- It is also rich source of minerals like copper, calcium, potassium and phosphorus.
- Pumpkin seeds indeed are an excellent source of dietary fiber and mono-unsaturated fatty acids, which are good for heart health. In addition, the seeds are concentrated sources of protein, minerals and health-benefiting vitamins. For instance, 100 g of pumpkin seeds provide 559 calories, 30 g of protein, 110% RDA of iron, 4987 mg of niacin (31% RDA), selenium (17% of RDA), zinc (71%) etc., but no cholesterol. Further, the seeds are an excellent source of health promoting amino acid tryptophan. Tryptophan is converted to GABA in the brain.
Key Health Benefits of Pumpkin Seeds
- Promotes Prostate Health
For you men over 50 helping carve pumpkins this Halloween, be sure to save those seeds. Pumpkin seeds help promote a healthy prostate and minimize the issues such as urination problems due to an enlarged prostate. Prostate problems are most common in men over fifty.
- Better Bones
Although it is the season for scary ghosts and skeletons, I’m not talking about a great looking skeleton with good bones hanging on your door for the “trick or treaters”. I’m talking about your bones. Pumpkin seeds are high in zinc and are a great natural resource for this much needed nutrition. Low levels of zinc are one of the links to osteoporosis.
- Arthritis Relief
In a recent study pumpkin seeds showed the same anti-inflammatory benefits as the non-steroid drug indomethacin. The good news on these results is that the pumpkin seeds did not have the same negative effect of damaged fats (lipid peroxides) in the lining of joints like the anti-inflammatory drug. Okay, so this study was conducted on animals, but the healing benefits of pumpkin seeds for arthritis relief is a potential benefit to humans.
- Lower Cholesterol
Another known benefit of pumpkin seeds is their ability to help lower LDL “bad” cholesterol. That is because the seeds have phytosterols, a compound that not only helps lower cholesterol but helps protect against certain cancers. In addition to pumpkin seeds, many other nuts and seeds have the phytosterol compound including pistachios, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, English walnuts and Brazil nuts.
Making Pumpkin Seeds
Although you can buy pumpkin seeds already dried and seasoned, baking your own seeds is a less expensive and much more fun.
- Scoop out the seed from inside the pumpkin
- Using a paper towel, lightly pat the seeds and remove any pulp
- Spread seeds evenly on a paper bag and dry them overnight
- Preheat the oven to 160 – 170 degrees F
- Place them in a single layer on a cookie sheet
- Bake for 15 to 20 minutes
You can add seasoning like garlic powder, onion powder or salt and pepper for extra flavor.
By baking at a low temperature, you are more likely to preserve the essential oils and get all the health benefits of your pumpkin seeds. You can add your seeds to your favorite salads, sprinkle in your soup or chili, add to your sautéed veggies or just eat them as is.