Everyone loves to carve and decorate a pumpkin, especially kids. We can all remember scooping out the insides of the giant orange fruit (yes, pumpkin is a fruit). It is hilarious to watch children feels the slimy inside and pull out the seeds. Fun time of year for everyone.
But are you aware of the incredible health benefits of pumpkin? Do not let it go to waste after carving and pulling out the seeds. Eat the whole thing (minus the stem). Of course, I am speaking of the organic, pesticide-free variety and preferably fresh, not out of a can.
1) Pumpkin is loaded with fiber, 3 grams per cup, in fact. Thousands of studies confirm the benefits of fiber in reducing cancer risk, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. High fiber diets may even prevent dementia. Make sure you eat the skin for an extra fiber boost.
2) Beta-carotene. This precursor to vitamin A gives the pumpkin its orange color. But the proof of this nutrient is evident by over 6,000 articles in medical journals. You name the health ailment and beta-carotene consumption lowers the risk. It is most often linked to quality vision and eye function but beta-carotene decreases cancer risk and boosts immune function. Eat pumpkin with fats such as coconut oil to increase absorption of this nutrient. As an aside, beta-carotene is not the same as vitamin A. It must be converted to the active form of vitamin A with the use of certain nutrients and enzymes.
3) Potassium. Pumpkin is a rich source of potassium, an element critical to heart, brain, and the health of every cell in the body. Potassium normalizes blood pressure and prevents leg cramps. The typical diet is deficient in potassium and way too high in sodium. This trend needs to be reversed. 5 grams of potassium daily is recommended. My patients who achieve this amount typically have excellent blood pressure and feel great.
4) Beta-cryptoxanthin. This phytonutrient is anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, improves LDL and HDL, prevents osteoporosis, improves endothelial function, raises adiponectin (weight loss), and reduces PAI-1 (blood thinner)! Wow, did you get all that? I don’t want to get all scientific on you, but let’s just say this nutrient packs an overload of benefits. For more information, please check out the references below.
5) Zinc- The Seeds! They are loaded with protein, vitamins, minerals, and a huge dose of zinc. This mineral is important to heart health and immune function. It is a very important nutrient for fertility and pregnancy. Zinc also helps control blood sugar. The seeds are also high in the amino acid, tryptophan. This gets converted into GABA in the brain so you can get some sleep after a big Thanksgiving dinner. Finally, seed consumption improves blood sugar control.
Bonus alert for the men. According to a journal article from 2014, pumpkin oil improves urinary flow in men with prostate enlargement.
In addition to all the above, pumpkin contains B-vitamins, vitamin C, copper, and iron.
There are plenty of pumpkin varieties in all shapes and sizes. Try and find some heirloom options. The taste is different and the seeds are often beautiful shades of blue and green. Some of the above benefits are noted in other fruits and vegetables such as squash and tangerines.
• Baked pumpkin with coconut oil. Just cut your pumpkin into slices and coat with coconut oil. Bake until soft and the skin is starting to brown. Eat it like a sweet potato.
• Pumpkin soup. Recipes abound the internet, but quite simply, add baked or raw pumpkin to coconut milk and blend. Add some cinnamon for flavor. Chicken or beef stock is another option.
• Pumpkin muffins. Put the pumpkin in the food processor along with eggs, a little coconut oil and some almond flour. Spoon into muffin cups. Bake at 375 degrees.
• Roasted pumpkin seeds. Coat a pan with coconut oil. Sprinkle sea salt. 30 minutes at 375 degrees.
Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2014;54(10):1322-9.
J Pak Med Assoc. 2014, June: 64(6): 683-5
Am J Clin Nutr. 2005 Aug;82(2):451-5.
Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis. 2014 Oct;24(10):1090-6
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