The fruit of these large, vining plants, so associated with harvest belong to the Cucurbitaceae, or cucumber, family. The two main types are "pepo," which scientists dubbed so-called "small" pumpkins and are often carved into Jack-o-lanterns in the fall, and "maxima," the giant variety grown to enter the "biggest pumpkin" contest at the county fair.
Also called sugar pumpkin, the former is vibrant orange with widely ribbed sections, growing close to the ground on twining vines with huge, fan-like leaves. Pumpkins rarely weigh more than 20 to 25 pounds and can be harvested much smaller, but the larger they are, the more food you'll get. These are the ones that also yield edible seeds. The latter variety, also called mammoth, is a cousin to winter squashes like the Hubbard. The orange color has a slightly pink-to-gray tinge, and the body often bulges where it lies on the ground.
The hollow centers of pumpkins come with dozens of off-white seeds attached to a pulpy matter. After cutting your pumpkin in half length-wise, the pulp can be disposed of after saving the seeds (if you desire). These are a great source of vitamins, minerals, proteins, and omega-3 fatty acids, and can be dried and salted for a homemade snack or saved to plant in the spring. But only a handful can generate a field full of orange beauties.
Health Benefits of Pumpkins
The only difference between 100 grams of raw and the same amount of cooked pumpkin is a 6-calorie increase in the raw form. So where do the nutrients come from? It's in the vitamins and minerals, including large amounts of fiber and 100% of the daily vitamin A requirement.
Pumpkins also provide lots of vitamin C, riboflavin, potassium, copper, and manganese. Smaller but significant amounts of vitamin E (alpha tocopherol), thiamin, niacin, vitamin B6, folate, iron, magnesium, and phosphorus also are present.
What does that mean for us? The bright orange hints at the presence of a particularly beneficial phytonutrient: carotene. This converts to vitamin A in the body for a tremendous punch of antioxidants with the capacity to help prevent heart disease, cancer, and many of the degenerating signs of aging. Vitamin A is also a must for good vision and helping to prevent lung and mouth cancers. Flavonoids such as cryptoxanthin, lutein, and zeaxanthin destroy harmful free radicals, and the latter, especially, helps protect the retina of the eye from macular degeneration.
Pumpkin seeds are not only a tasty, easy-to-transport snack, you could also say they're a concentrated source of minerals and vitamins, with 30 grams of protein, 110% of the daily value in iron and 559 calories, but no cholesterol, which is excellent for cardiovascular health. The fiber helps maintain regular elimination to keep the colon clear.
A special bonus in pumpkin seeds is the amino acid tryptophan, which, once in the brain, converts into GABA – a nutrient which relaxes the body, calms the nerves, improves sleep, and transmits signals between neurons.
Pumpkin Nutrition Facts
Serving Size: 3.5 ounces (100 grams), raw
|Calories from Fat
*Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie<
Studies Done on Pumpkins
Dietary intake of lycopene and other carotenoids was found to inhibit prostate cancer in studies done on 130 patients with the disease and 274 inpatients without. The prostate cancer risk declined with increasing consumption of lycopene, alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, beta-cryptoxanthin, lutein, and zeaxanthin – all found in pumpkins. Intake of watermelon, citrus fruits, and three vegetables, including pumpkins, also was inversely associated with the prostate cancer risk.1
A University of Massachusetts study on obesity-linked, non-insulin-dependent diabetes and hypertension, higher in North America than anywhere, was linked to dietary changes toward high calorie foods such as sugar, refined grain flour, and sweetened beverages. Pumpkins, beans, and maize were looked at for potentials of phenolic phytochemicals and found to have a very positive inverse effect on diabetes and hypertension. Pumpkin showed the best overall potential in this regard.2
Pumpkin Healthy Recipes:
Pumpkin, Feta, and Caramelized Onion Salad
|½ butternut pumpkin - diced into 2 cm cubes
||½ block of feta cheese (like Danish feta), crumbled
|1 packet pine nuts, roasted
||2 medium red onions, thinly sliced
||2 Tbsp brown sugar
|1-2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
||2 Tbsp oil
||Olive oil and balsamic for the dressing
- Caramelized onions. Heat oil in a large frying pan over low heat (Don't use a non-stick one).
- Add onions and a good pinch of salt and cook very slowly for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent them from catching. Don't be tempted to turn the heat up because the onions will burn.
- When onions have softened and have a bit of color, add sugar and balsamic and cook onion over low heat for a further 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until sticky and caramelized.
- Put the pumpkin on a flat baking tray, drizzle with some oil and season with salt and bake in a 180c oven for 25 minutes or until browned.
- Scatter salad leaves on a large platter or in a shallow dish, scatter the pumpkin and fetta and the caramelized onions and pine nuts. Drizzle some olive oil and balsamic over it and toss a bit.
This recipe makes 6 servings.
(From Lifestyle Food)
Pumpkins Fun Facts
News flash: pumpkins aren't vegetables; they’re fruits. Grown in America for more than 5,000 years, they were an unknown commodity in Europe before Columbus arrived.
Chances are if somebody mentions pumpkins, the first thought will be pie. Okay, maybe jack-o-lanterns. But pumpkins are also wonderful and warming when making soup, salad, casseroles… the list goes on, especially if you're creative.
Pumpkins are related to cucumbers and cantaloupes and come in large and small varieties. The health benefits are amazing because of the combination of vitamins, minerals, and other ingredients that make this plant-based food so unique.
Not only are pumpkins good for your heart, but they also contain compounds like lycopene and carotenoids known to help diminish cancer cells, inhibit diabetes, hypertension, the signs of aging, and prevent macular degeneration. Pumpkin seeds are great for between-meal nibbling, but even greater in the nutrients department, similar to the rest of the fruit, which provides a healthful alternative to sugary snacks.