Autumn is here and with it all those favorite things – cooler evenings and cozy sweaters, colorful leaves, and PUMPKINS! Besides being carved and used for decoration for Halloween, pumpkins are yummy nutrition powerhouses.
Pumpkin is a type of winter squash that is native to North America and a member of the plant family Cucurbitaceae.
Pumpkin is nutrient-rich due to its bright-orange color. This orange color comes from beta-carotene, an antioxidant that is converted to Vitamin A in the body. Pumpkin is an excellent source of Vitamin A, with one cup providing 245 percent of our recommended daily intake. Vitamin A is important to preserve vision, fight infections, maintain healthy skin and bones, and regulate cell growth and division.
Pumpkin is also low in calories and a good source of fiber, containing 50 calories and three grams fiber per one-cup serving. It’s also an excellent source of potassium at 564 milligrams, which helps your muscles contract, helps regulate fluids, maintain normal blood pressure, and balance minerals in and out of body cells.
Pumpkin seeds are also very healthy, packed with protein, fiber and many other minerals, such as iron, copper, magnesium, manganese, phosphorous, zinc, potassium, folate, niacin and selenium. They also contain healthy poly- and mono-unsaturated fats.
High Antioxidant Content
Pumpkin contains the antioxidants alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, beta-cryptoxanthin and many others, which may protect your cells against damage by free radicals. Free radicals are molecules produced by your body’s metabolic process. Though highly
unstable, they have useful roles, such as destroying harmful bacteria. However, excessive free radicals in your body create a state called oxidative stress, which has been linked to chronic illnesses, including heart disease and cancer.
Pumpkin is a good source of nutrients that can boost your immune system. It’s high in beta-carotene, which your body turns into vitamin A. Studies show that vitamin A can strengthen your immune system and help fight infections.
Pumpkin is also high in vitamin C, which has been shown to increase white blood cell production, help immune cells work more effectively and make wounds heal faster.
Pumpkin is also a good source of vitamin E, iron and folate — all of which have been shown to play a role in the immune system as well.
Protects Your Eyesight
Eating the right nutrients can help keep your eyes healthy and lower your risk of sight loss. Pumpkin is full of nutrients that have been linked to good eyesight, maintaining it as your body ages. For instance, its beta-carotene content provides your body with necessary Vitamin A. Research shows that Vitamin A deficiency is a very common cause of blindness. In an analysis of 22 studies, scientists discovered that people with higher intakes of beta-carotene had a significantly lower risk of cataracts, a common cause of blindness.
Pumpkin is also one of the best sources of lutein and zeaxanthin, two compounds linked to lower risks of age-related macular degeneration and cataracts.
Additionally, it contains good amounts of Vitamins C and E, which function as antioxidants and may prevent free radicals from damaging your eye cells.
Lowers Cancer Risk
Cancer cells produce free radicals to help them multiply rapidly. The carotenoids in pumpkin function as antioxidants, neutralizing free radicals. They have been linked to lower risks of stomach, throat, pancreas, and breast cancers.
Pumpkin contains a variety of nutrients that can improve your h
eart health. It’s high in potassium, Vitamin C and fiber, which have all been linked to heart benefits. Studies have shown that people with higher potassium intakes appear to have lower blood pressure and a reduced risk of strokes — two risk factors for heart disease.
Since pumpkin is so high in antioxidants, it may help protect “bad” LDL cholesterol from oxidizing. When LDL cholesterol particles oxidize, they can clump along the walls of blood vessels, which can restrict your vessels and raise your risk of heart disease. A diet high in colorful, nutrient dense foods like pumpkin help protect your precious heart!
Promotes Healthy Skin
Pumpkins are loaded with nutrients that are great for your skin. It’s high in carotenoids like beta-carotene, which your body turns into Vitamin A. In fact, one cup (245 grams) of cooked pumpkin packs 245% of the RDI for Vitamin A.
Studies show that carotenoids like beta-carotene can act as a natural sunblock. Once ingested, carotenoids are transported to various organs including your skin. Here, they help protect skin cells against damage from harmful UV rays.
Pumpkin is also high in Vitamin C, which is essential for healthy skin. Your body needs this Vitamin to make collagen, a protein that keeps your skin stay firm, strong and healthy.
Moreover, pumpkins contain lutein, zeaxanthin, Vitamin E and many more antioxidants that have been shown to boost your skin’s defenses against UV rays and keep your skin healthy.
Ways to enjoy pumpkin
Pumpkin is delicious, versatile and easy to add to your diet. Its sweet flavor makes it a popular ingredient in dishes like pies, muffins, and pancakes. However, it works just as well in savory dishes such as roasted vegetables, soups and even an addition to salads.
Pumpkins have a very tough skin, so it requires some effort to slice. Once you cut it, scoop out the seeds and any stringy parts, then slice the pumpkin into wedges. It can be baked and eaten roasted or put in a blender and pureed for using in soups or baked goods.
Pumpkin is also available pre-cut or canned, giving you flexibility with your recipes and preparation. When buying canned, be sure to read labels carefully.
Not all products will be 100% pumpkin and some may have added sugar, which you will want to avoid. Buy organic if available.
Although pumpkin is healthy, many pumpkin-based junk foods — such as lattés and pie fillings — are loaded with added sugar, unhealthy fats, and refined carbohydrates. They do not offer the same health benefits as consuming real pumpkin.
Adding pumpkin to your meals can be simple. My favorite way to eat pumpkin is roasted: Drizzle pumpkin wedges with olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and roast for about 25 minutes at 400⁰F. This can be eaten as a side dish or added to salads, soups, or pasta dishes. Delicious!
Another classic way to enjoy pumpkin is in a warming, delicious soup. A beautiful orange color, it is both comforting and packed with nutrition. Check out this recipe on our website: Creamy Toasted Pumpkin Soup
Pumpkin spiced lattes are a popular seasonal item in coffee houses this time of year. Unfortunately, the commercial versions are often high in sugar so consider making this healthy version at home: Healthy Pumpkin Spice Latte
Give yourself and your family a nutrition boost by adding pumpkin to your meals. Enjoy the Fall season!