Seasonal Eating – Pumpkin
Fall is a great time to discuss the benefits of pumpkins. Pumpkins get carved for Halloween in October. Then, most Thanksgiving dinners are not complete without pumpkin pie in November. It’s the season to decorate the house with mini pumpkins while making pumpkin soup, pumpkin whoopie pies, or all sorts of other pumpkin dishes.
This year, try making your own pumpkin puree or cooking up the pumpkin seeds. It takes a few moments to separate the seeds from the rest of the pumpkin pulp but it is well worth the effort. Once the seeds are cleaned and cooked, it’s time to make homemade pumpkin puree, which has loads of its own health benefits.
Pumpkin is a great source of the plant pigment beta carotene which is responsible for the orange color of pumpkin and other vegetables like sweet potatoes and carrots. Beta carotene is a provitamin A carotenoid and can be converted into vitamin A in the body. Like vitamin A, beta carotene is a fat-soluble nutrient. In order to get the best absorption, pumpkin should be eaten with a small amount of fat such as drizzling the pumpkin seeds with olive oil before roasting or putting a small pat of butter into pumpkin mash.
Benefits of Pumpkin Seeds
Pumpkin seeds, also called pepitas, are a great source of minerals. Pumpkin seeds are a good source of magnesium and zinc, as well as the trace minerals manganese and copper. Trace minerals play an important role in the body, as they are cofactors for enzymes.
An enzyme cofactor is something that an enzyme requires to work. Manganese is a cofactor for the enzymes that make glucose from amino acids and protein. This enzyme makes glucose when the body is in a fasting state so that the body has plenty of its preferred cellular energy.
Copper is a cofactor for an enzyme called superoxide dismutase. This enzyme protects cells from free radicals naturally produced by the mitochondria. Copper also helps in the production of red blood cells, as it is necessary for the incorporation of iron into heme. Copper deficiency mimics iron deficiency for this reason.
Pumpkin seeds are also a good source of healthy fats. They are a particularly good source of omega-6 fatty acids which help improve the body’s sensitivity to insulin which helps keep blood sugar properly regulated. Omega-6 fatty acids also help manage cholesterol, as it raises LDL-cholesterol while raising HDL-cholesterol.
Benefits of Pumpkin
Vitamin A is most famous for its role in vision. This is because globally vitamin A deficiency is the primary cause of preventable blindness. This is because vitamin A is necessary to absorb light in the retina, the first step of vision.
Vitamin A is also essential for other things in the body, especially the immune system. Vitamin A plays a role in multiple plays in the immune system such as the growth of white blood cells and their activation when an infection is present. Without vitamin A, the immune system does not function properly.
With all these health advantages, make sure to include pumpkin on your menu during autumn. Buying cans of pumpkin is easy and saves time, but nothing beats fresh pumpkin puree, which can be frozen for later use. Pumpkin seeds can be sprinkled on salads, or used to garnish pumpkin soup. Pumpkin can be eaten as mash, made into soup, or baked into a variety of desserts.
Breaking Down a Pumpkin to Eat
Roasting Pumpkin Seeds
Split a pumpkin in half and scrape out the pulp. Separate the seeds from the orange pulp. Rinsing the seeds is optional, but if you do rinse or soak the seeds, let them sit in a single layer on the counter for an hour to dry off before baking. Wet seeds will not crisp as well in the oven.
When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Toss seeds with 1-3 teaspoons of oil and a pinch of salt. Roast for 20-25 minutes, or until they just start to brown. Eat as a snack, add to salads, or as a garnish for fall soups. Try plain with salt or get creative with 2 teaspoons of a spice mix to flavor the seeds!
Homemade Pumpkin Puree
Heat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Take the pumpkin halves with the pulp removed and place them cut side up onto a baking tray. Then, place them in the oven and roast them until they are soft. They are ready when a paring knife can easily pass through the pumpkin.
Baking time will depend on the size of the pumpkin. Start checking after 30 minutes. Then, check every 15 minutes until ready. Once cooked, remove the pumpkin halves from the oven and let them cool on a rack.
When cool enough to touch, scrape the flesh out of the skin and place it in a food processor. Process until smooth. Store in the fridge for one week or in the freezer for three months.
- Harvard Health Letter. 2020. No Need To Avoid Healthy Omega-6 Fats – Harvard Health. [online] Available at: https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/no-need-to-avoid-healthy-omega-6-fats
- World’s Healthiest Foods. 2020. Pumpkin Seeds. Available at: http://whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=82
- Nutritiondata.self.com. 2020. Seeds, Pumpkin And Squash Seed Kernels, Dried [Pepitas] Nutrition Facts & Calories. [Online] Available at: https://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/nut-and-seed-products/3066/2 [Accessed 16 October 2020].
- Vitamin A. Linus Pauling Institute. https://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/vitamins/vitamin-A. Published in 2020.
- Vitamin A. Office of Dietary Supplements. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminA-HealthProfessional. Published in 2020.