Oct 242012

pumpkin nutritionThere’s a lot more to pumpkins than their pretty faces — namely nutrition. I get excited about eating anything orange — a dead giveaway that it’s bound to be loaded with nutrition, and the important antioxidant beta-carotene. Plus the fact that you can use the whole pumpkin; flesh and seeds, makes it a good value. So, while the season is upon us of pumpkin spiced yogurts, ice cream and lattes, let’s dig a bit deeper to the enormous nutrition benefits of these friendly—or downright scary—faces.

The pumpkin is a part of the Cucurbitaceous family, and is fast-growing vine that creeps on the surface similar to that of other nutritious family vegetables and fruits such as cucumber, squash, beans, and cantaloupes. It is one of the most popular field crops cultivated around the world for its fruit, and seeds.  You can easily grow nutritious pumpkin in your garden.

What is the Nutrition in Pumpkin?

One cup of mashed pumpkin contains only 49 calories, is cholesterol and fat free, with only 2 mg sodium, 2 grams protein, 12 grams carboydrate and 3.5 grams of fiber. This qualifies pumpkin as a nutrient dense food.

What are the Health Benefits of Pumpkin?

  • The carotenes found in pumpkin are converted to vitamin A, which is essential for a strong and healthy immune system.
  • Pumpkin is a good source of vitamins C, K, and E, and lots of minerals, including magnesium, potassium, and iron.
  • The fruit is a good source of B-complex group of vitamins like folates, niacin, vitamin B-6 (pyridoxine), thiamin and pantothenic acid.
  • The antioxidants leutin ans xanthin provide major protection for the macula, and can help vision.

Pumpkin Seed Benefits

  • Pumpkin seeds have long been valued as a source of the mineral zinc, and the World Health Organization recommends their consumption as a good way of obtaining this nutrient.
  • Pumpkin seeds are loaded with minerals, seem to have an anti-inflammatory effect, and may even help protect against prostate cancer and osteoporosis. A quarter cup has about 5 grams of  carbs and 1.5 grams of fiber.
  • Recent studies show that pumpkin seeds deliver Vitamin E in 5 different forms.  The antioxidant benefits of vitamin are well known for protecting the heart.
  • The seeds are an excellent source of health promoting amino acid tryptophan. Tryptophan is converted to GABA in the brain, and promotes good sleep.

How to roast Pumpkin Seeds

Simple–Let them dry on paper towels, then oil and salt them (and any other seasonings you want) and slow roast them in a 250 F oven until they smell good – about 45 to 60 minutes. Stir them every 15 minutes or so.  Done!

How to select and store Pumpkin?

Examine the entire pumpkin carefully for soft spots or cracks.  If there are any, move on.  Look for bugs and insects–specifically, look for holes in the pumpkin, which are indicative of insect problems. Shape doesn’t matter—just select one that is heavy for its size.  I find that sometimes pumpkins chose us—that moment when you know it’s the one!

When selecting a pumpkin for cooking, the best selection is a “pie pumpkin” or “sweet pumpkin.” These are smaller than the large jack-o-lantern pumpkins, about 3-5 pounds, and the flesh is sweeter and less watery. However, you can substitute the jack-o-lantern variety with fairly good results.

Pumpkins can keep for a long time in a cool (ideally 50 to 60 degrees) dry place. Put newspapers underneath just in case, though. Once the pumpkin is cut open, you need to use it within a couple of days (or freeze it) as it can mold quickly. Cooked, it’s fine in the refrigerator for 4 to 5 days.

Pumpkin Fun facts and Tips

  • The word pumpkin originated from the Greek word Pepon, which means large melon.  The word gradually morphed by the French, English and then Americans into the word “pumpkin.”  Pumpkin seeds are often called pepitas
  • To prepare roasted pumpkin, you must first remove the tough skin and that can be a chore! An easier method is to simply cut the pumpkin in half, and roast the meat in the oven or microwave. Once tender, you can scoop out the seeds and flesh for your favorite recipe.
  • Substitute mashed, cooked pumpkin for all but ¼ cup of the oil or butter in your favorite quick bread or brownie recipe to boost the nutritional value and reduce calories without sacrificing flavor.
  • Cubed pumpkin can be subsituted in soups for higher carb foods such as potatoes or pasta.
  •  Figure one pound of raw, untrimmed pumpkin for each cup finished pumpkin puree.

pumpkin nutritionCheck out this weeks delicious recipe for pumpkin bread — it freezes well, and you can eat it year round.

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