With October well underway, you’re likely seeing pumpkins everywhere: outside your local grocery store, on porches and maybe even in your garden. Pumpkins, a variety of squash, play a central role in fall festivities, from filling tasty pies to adorning porches and welcoming trick-or-treaters on Halloween. Indigenous to North America, these bright orange veggies were a staple of Native American diets before European settlement. Although they play more of a festive role in today’s society, pumpkins contain a large number of health benefits that would make it wise for us to incorporate them into our diet.
Pumpkins are the perfect fall treat. Next time you visit the pumpkin patch, pick up a few pumpkins to eat along with your jack-o'-lantern pumpkins. Photo By Mike McCune/Courtesy Flickr.
Rich in antioxidants: Pumpkins are packed with a number of immune-boosting antioxidants, including alpha-carotene and beta-carotene, which give this fall vegetable its orange hue. These antioxidants play a number of key roles in keeping our bodies healthy. They protect our eyes, enhance our immune system and aid in cancer prevention. Alpha- and beta-carotene are also carotenoids, or precursors to vitamin A, which the body uses to maintain healthy vision and skin.
High in fiber: Pumpkins are high in fiber; one cup of pumpkin meat contains 3 grams of dietary fiber, which the body uses to control blood sugar, lower bad cholesterol and aid in weight loss.
Low in calories (and fat): If your family celebrates the holidays with a sampling of pies, bypass the pecan and apple and head straight for the pumpkin pie. While all that added sugar and butter aren't doing your waist line any favors, pumpkin is naturally low in fat and calories (one cup contains only 49 calories), making pumpkin a healthy snack (and probably a healthier pie option, too). If plain pumpkin isn't sweet enough, skip the sugar and try adding cinnamon to enhance pumpkin's flavor. (Cinnamon is good for you, too.)
Good source of vitamins: Vitamin A aside, pumpkins contain high amounts of other essential vitamins and minerals, such as vitamins C and E, magnesium, potassium and iron.
Save the pumpkin seeds from your Halloween carving party and roast them. Pumpkin seeds, or pepitas, are packed with essential vitamins and minerals. Photo By Food Thinkers/Courtesy Flickr.
While it sounds easy to simply save the “guts” from your upcoming pumpkin carving party, the big pumpkins grown for Halloween carving aren’t well suited for cooking. Look instead for smaller “pie pumpkins” or “sweet pumpkins,” and select a pumpkin with a dried stem, indicated it was left on the vine longer is therefore sweeter.
Before you toss the pumpkin guts from your carving party in the compost pile, however, save the pumpkin seeds. These seeds, also known as pepitas, also contain a number of a vitamins and minerals, including manganese, magnesium and iron, and have a variety of health benefits, from protecting bones to treating arthritis. Studies have also shown that pumpkin seed oil can reduce symptoms of benign prostatic hypertrophy (BPH), or enlarged prostate. Cover your pumpkin seeds in sweet spices and roast in the oven.
Susan Melgren is the Web Editor of Mother Earth Living. Find her on Google+.