It’s harvest season, a time when much of North America turns shades of golden, hues of orange and blasts of deep, bright red. It’s a time of reaping what we’ve sown, feasting and enjoying the festivities. Among the many autumn favorites, pumpkins are perhaps the most entertaining.
Mostly known for being a part of Halloween decorations or a pie filling, pumpkins are also packed with nutrition and offer a wide range of health benefits. Pumpkins are a storehouse of vitamins, mineral and other healthy nutrients.
From pumpkin puree soups or chunky stews to lattes and pies (don’t throw out the pumpkin seeds!), using fresh roasted pumpkin will deliver to you a colorful array of health benefits.
What’s In a Pumpkin That Makes It So Nutritious and Delicious?
Pumpkins are a fruit from the squash family native to North America. Larger versions found in markets are typically the cucurbita maxima, whereas the smaller ones vary but are often called “sugar pumpkins.”
Sweet & Savory
These little guys have a sweeter flesh and tend to be less stringy. They’re great for purees to be used in a cream soup, for a sauce base or pumpkin pie. You can also throw a few dollops into your blended latte for a yummy pumpkin spice pick-me-up.
The cucurbita maxima is more savory and great for stew or to be used similarly to white and sweet potatoes. Some cultures season it with butter and salt and serve as a favorite side dish.
Pumpkin seeds are wildly nutritious and contribute to a fat burning diet. Here’s a brief list of the goodies packed in each little seed:
- Leucine. The essential amino acid leucine, dubbed “the anabolic trigger,” which studies show improves muscle mass, inhibits muscle breakdown and enhances weight loss.
- Testosterone. Increases testosterone, an attribute that’s good for men but also for women, where it’s anti-aging, bone density and muscle protecting powers are pleasing to the femmiest femme.
- Minerals and vitamins. Delivers zinc, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, manganese, iron, copper and vitamins E, K and B complex.
- Tryptophan. Provides l-tryptophan, an amino acid that helps you chill out and feel good; l-tryptophan is a precursor to the feel-good hormone serotonin.
- Fiber. Scoop, season and toast them fresh from the pumpkin keeping the hulls intact, and these are an excellent source of fiber delivering roughly 8 grams per cup.
- Alkaline balancing. Alkaline forming in the body, a rare quality for seeds.
That bright orange meat of a pumpkin packs more than meets the eye. Here are 7 reasons to feel good about eating plenty of pumpkin during this season, and at any time.
- Vitamin A. Pumpkins are rich in beta-carotene, which our bodies process into the antioxidant and vitamin retinol, aka vitamin A, and which is essential for bright eyes and healthy skin.
- Fiber. Offers an average of 7 grams of fiber per one cup serving (pureed).
- Potassium. Contains over 550mg of potassium, perfect for replenishing after a hard, sweaty workout.
- Low glycemic load, diabetic and diet friendly. Pumpkin ranks higher on the glycemic index but very low on the glycemic load (GL). This is hugely important. With a miniscule GL of 3, pumpkin won’t cause blood sugar and insulin spikes, making it safe for diabetics and dieters alike.
- Anti-diabetic. Studies show that pumpkin may, in fact, be anti-diabetic. In one such study, Japanese researchers fed type 2 diabetic rats pumpkin and an otherwise normal diet. Compared to the control group of type 2 diabetic rats, the pumpkin-eaters scored lower blood sugar and better metabolic markers.
- Treats type 1 diabetes and heals the pancreas. Scientists from East China Normal University found that cucurbita pumpkin extract helped type 1 diabetic rats to normalize blood sugar, bringing them up to 95% the insulin level of normal healthy rats, while also helping to heal and protect the pancreas. Regarding this study, Nutrition Review quoted David Bender from the University College Medical School, London, “The main finding is that feeding pumpkin extract prevents the progressive destruction of pancreatic beta-cells.”
- Reduces inflammation and risk of arthritis. Another carotenoid contained in pumpkins is beta-cryptoxanthin. Studies show that regular doses of this carotenoid through diet can cool inflammation. One epidemiological study involving over 25,000 subjects concluded: “modest increase in beta-cryptoxanthin intake…is associated with a reduced risk of developing inflammatory disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis.”
With so many health benefits, it is no wonder that pumpkin is an important part of the list of Superfoods. Next time you are carving a pumpkin, do not throw away the pulp or the seeds – instead boil, bake or cook them in any form you like.
Got some pumpkin now? Check out these delicious pumpkin recipes
This autumn season, may you and your loved ones enjoy wholesome eating and happy harvesting.