Pumpkins are synonymous with fall. But while most of us associate them with Halloween, pumpkin spice pie and lattes, these fruits are actually extremely versatile. And depending on how they’re prepared, they can be healthy.
Although pumpkins are grown year-round, most of us don’t buy them until October to carve them into jack-o’-lanterns. This means that many are missing a surprisingly nutritious food of their diet. Pumpkins are high in nutrients while being low in calories. They contain a variety of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that each have different benefits for our health.
Here are some of the reasons why you should consider including pumpkins in your diet.
1. They are a source of antioxidants
Pumpkins contain high levels of antioxidants. These are molecules that fight harmful free radicals (a type of unstable molecule that can sometimes cause damage to our cellswhich can cause aging and contribute to various diseases overtime). While some antioxidants occur naturally in our bodyothers come from fruits and vegetables.
The high antioxidant content of pumpkins may therefore be associated with a lower risk of developing some diseasessuch as heart disease and cancer.
Pumpkins are also one of the best sources of the antioxidant beta-carotene. Not only does it give pumpkins their bright orange color, but it also converts to vitamin A which is essential for good vision, our immune system and even heart and lung function.
Pumpkins also contain vitamins C and E, antioxidants known to strengthen our immune system. In addition, vitamin C is important for wound healing and helps the body make collagen – a fibrous protein used in our connective tissues – including our bones, muscles and even our blood. Vitamin E on the other hand is good for preventing the formation of clots and can also be good for our skin, hair and nails.
2. They Are Packed With Important Minerals
Pumpkins contain both iron and folic acid.
The iron of course is important in helping our red blood cells carry oxygen from the lungs to the tissues of the body. It also helps keep our muscles and connective tissues healthy. Iron helps maintain many vital functions in the body, including energy and focus, gastrointestinal processes, the immune system, temperature regulation, and neurological growth and development.
Folate, also known as vitamin B9is a essential nutrient which supports the formation of DNA and RNA. This is why it is particularly important during pregnancy, infancy and adolescence. Low levels of folate are associated with an increased risk of several health problems, including birth defects and heart disease. Research also shows that folate is linked to a reduced risk of pancreatic, esophageal and colorectal cancer.
It should be noted that pumpkins are also high in potassium, so dialysis patients will need to limit their consumption.
3. Even pumpkin seeds pack a punch
Although they are small, pumpkin seeds are also full of valuable nutrients.
For example, pumpkin seeds contain magnesium, a mineral that supports muscle and nerve function, regulates blood pressure and supports the immune system. They too contain zincwhich, in addition to supporting our immune system, also plays an important role in cell growth, building DNA and proteins, and healing damaged tissue.
Another benefit of pumpkin seeds is that they contain unsaturated fatty acidsthat help reduce levels of LDL cholesterol (often called “bad” cholesterol, because it contributes to the accumulation of fat in the arteries and can increase the risk of heart attack or stroke, reduce inflammation and strengthen our cells).
They also contain many of the same antioxidants pumpkins do.
How to prepare your pumpkin
Pumpkins are a versatile fruit that is consumed regularly in many parts of the world. It can be prepared in different ways.
For example, when carving a pumpkin this year, instead of throwing away your seeds, separate them from the flesh, rinse them, and set them aside. Once they’re dry, roast them – either plain or consider topping them with honey. It is a popular dessert in Mexico known as palanquetas. You can also use the flesh (or pulp) in several dishes, especially in soup or mashor even in desserts, such as muffins, pudding or flan.
The fruit itself can be peeled and prepared or eaten like any other vegetable. Like other winter vegetables – like squash – it goes especially well with chili, nutmeg and sage. Or maybe you’d like to try preparing your pumpkin like they do in other parts of the world. In Armenia, pumpkin is used in the dish ghampama, in which the inside of a pumpkin is stuffed with boiled rice, dried fruits, nuts and honey before being cooked. Or maybe you prefer to try South Africa pampoenkoekieswhich are tiny pumpkin fritters made with cinnamon and nutmeg.
Every year, thousands of acres of farmland are used to grow pumpkins that are simply carved and then discarded. This could be considered a waste of valuable, nutritious and delicious food. So this year, you might want to consider turning your jack-o’-lantern into a delicious home-cooked meal.