You’re seeing them everywhere this time of year—big, fat, orange pumpkins—and they just scream autumn, but pumpkins are more than cheery, fall decorations. Pumpkins are a super food! Most of you think of pumpkins and two things immediately come to mind—jack ’o lanterns and pumpkin pie—but what you’ll be missing if you simply carve yours up and throw away the innards or load your pumpkin up with sugar and spices are some great health benefits. Here are some of the reasons you should be eating pumpkin, not just in the fall, but all year ‘round.
1. Pumpkins are orange, right? Know what it means when fruits and veggies have a red or orange color (the deeper, the better)? It means that they are loaded up with beta carotene, a potent antioxidant; and while beta carotene is not itself an essential nutrient, our bodies convert it to Vitamin A, which is. Vitamin A is important to our bodies because it promotes healthy skin and mucous membranes, helps our eyes stay healthy, and it supports our immune systems. Getting your beta carotene from natural food sources is the safest way to get your A. In case you didn’t know, you can get too much of a good thing—at least you can from supplements. If you overload your body with vitamin A supplements, the vitamin can be toxic; but if your beta carotene is coming from your food, your body converts only what it needs, so no toxicity. Studies have shown that antioxidants like beta carotene protect the body from free radicals and can reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease.
2. Did you know that pumpkin is a great source of fiber? Fiber is important in a healthy diet because it keeps things moving, digestively speaking. Fiber is the part of fruits and veggies that your body doesn’t digest; it creates bulk and that bulk helps to move things through the digestive system. Not enough fiber, not enough moving, and people become constipated and irregular. Fiber helps prevent colon cancer because it helps to move harmful things like carcinogens through your body and send them on their way. If you don’t eat enough fiber, and those same carcinogens sit around in your body, that’s not good. It also reduces your risk of heart disease and lowers cholesterol. Anything else, you ask? Yes! It may even help you lose weight. Fiber, because it creates bulk, can give you a “full” feeling which helps you eat less. Other good news about pumpkin—it’s a low calorie food. There are only about 49 calories in a one-cup serving of pumpkin.
3. Pumpkins are rich in potassium. You may have been told to have a banana after a workout to give your body some much needed potassium and replenish your electrolytes, but pumpkin is even better. Bananas have about 422 milligrams of potassium, while one cup of cooked pumpkin has about 564 milligrams.
4. Don’t skip the seeds! The seeds of a pumpkin rival the goodness and health benefits of pumpkin flesh. Pumpkin seeds are rich in phytosterols which can help to lower LDL (the “bad” cholesterol) levels, which in turn, helps your heart stay healthy. Along with your healthy heart, you may even get a happy mind. Pumpkin seeds contain tryptophan, an amino acid important in the production of serotonin. Serotonin helps to regulate our moods, sleep and appetite–all pretty important to an overall happy person. Pumpkin seeds aren’t going to change your life, but they may give your body the boost it needs to focus on trying.
Here’s the short story on pumpkin—eat it. It’s good for you. Eat it in breads, soups, stews, stir-fries, pies or all by itself. Even more good news—canned pumpkin may be even better for you than the original. The canning process concentrates the pumpkin, locking in all of the vitamins and nutrients that pumpkin is famous for; and the process of cooking the pumpkin also makes it easier for the body to process and absorb (the same is true of tomatoes!). What are some of your favorite ways to eat pumpkin? Drop us a line on our Facebook or Twitter pages and let us know!