If you thought the main thing pumpkins are good for is making a scary jack-o-lantern for Halloween, you’re missing out on the best part.  Yes, pumpkins are fun to carve into intricate designs but be sure to save the fibers and seeds inside so you don’t miss out on the powerful nutrients they have to offer.

Visiting a pumpkin patch in the fall is always a treat.  Acres and acres of hundreds to thousands of orange melons ready and ripe to be picked is quite a sight to see. The word pumpkin originated from the Greek word Pepon meaning large melon.  Over the years the word gradually morphed into the beloved “pumpkin” as we know it today.  Pumpkins are believed to have come from the ancient Americas with the American Indians introducing them to the Pilgrims which served as an important food source for them during winter months.

With the exception of during the fall and winter, it’s too bad many of us don’t make use of pumpkins more as a food source as it is an extremely nutrient dense food.  We may only think of using pumpkin for making pumpkin pie but there are many other ways it can be used such as in soups, salads, muffins, bread, smoothies, and even as a substitute for butter.

Here are some nutritional facts on pumpkins:

  • They are a rich source of vitamin A – ½ cup of boiled pumpkin contains 306 micrograms while ½ cup of canned pumpkin contains 953 micrograms.
  • It’s deeply rich orange color comes from the antioxidant beta-carotene and pumpkins are one of the best known sources of it.
  • A ½ cup of pumpkin contains 280 milligrams of potassium which is known to help lower blood pressure
  • They are naturally low calorie, low-fat, and contain no cholesterol.
  • A ½ cup of canned pumpkin contains 3.6 grams of fiber.
  • Pumpkins contain the antioxidants vitamin C, E and beta-carotene all which have been shown to support eye health and reduce macular degeneration.

Be sure to eat the pumpkin seeds (also known as pepitas) as they have much to offer also:

  • One quarter cup contains nearly half of the recommended daily amount of magnesium which is important for pumping of your heart, proper bone and tooth formation, and relaxation of your blood vessels.
  • Pumpkins seeds are an important source of zinc. Zinc is necessary for prostate health where it is found in the highest concentration in the body and they may play a role in treating benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) which is an enlarged prostate.
  • Animal studies suggest that pumpkin seeds may help improve insulin regulation and help prevent diabetic complications by decreasing oxidative stress.
  • Women experiencing hot flashes, headaches or hypertension may benefit from eating pumpkin seeds as they are rich in natural phytoestrogens.
  • Having trouble falling asleep at night? Pumpkins contain tryptophan, an amino acid that your body converts into serotonin which in turn is converted into melatonin, the “sleep” hormone.  Try eating a handful of pumpkin seeds a few hours before bedtime with a small piece of fruit to promote a good night’s sleep.
  • The oil of pumpkin seeds has been found to have anti-inflammatory effects in helping with arthritis.

Here’s a recipe for roasted pumpkin seeds:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Separate the seeds of a carved pumpkin from the stringy membrane and rinse the seed to remove remaining membrane.  Place seeds on a paper towel to dry for 20 minutes.  Spray a cooking sheet with nonstick cooking spray and place the seeds in a single layer on a baking sheet.  Lightly sprinkle with salt.  Bake for 15-20 minutes until lightly browned.  Cool and enjoy.  Store extra seeds in an airtight container.

To learn more about pumpkin facts and along with recipes including how to toast pumpkin seeds, visit allaboutpumpkins.

Categories: Health

Cheryl Mussatto

Cheryl Mussatto, MS, RD, LD, is a registered dietitian with a master’s degree in Dietetics and Nutrition from the University of Kansas and a bachelor’s degree in Dietetics and Institutional Management from Kansas State University. She is a clinical dietitian for Cotton O’Neil Clinics in Topeka and Osage City, an adjunct professor for Allen Community College, Burlingame, Ks where she teaches Basic Nutrition, and is a blog contributor for Dr. David Samadi and nutroutine.com, an online market place connecting nutrition experts with customers worldwide. She can be contacted here.

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