Every year, my co-worker would enter the local pumpkin-growing contest. They would load up their pumpkin into a trailer and drive to the zoo to have it weighed. The first year I went to witness this, my co-worker won. Some of those pumpkins weighed over 500 pounds! I had never seen pumpkins that size before. My favorite part of the event, however, was feeding the pumpkins to the elephants at the zoo. Watching them play and smash the pumpkins to get a tasty treat is one of my favorite holiday memories.
With pumpkin growing contests, pumpkin carvings, pumpkin pie, and pumpkin spice everything, it’s no wonder pumpkin is so popular. Not only is it festive and fun, but it’s also seasonal and yummy! While you might feel tempted to only buy seasonal pumpkin treats, like Starbucks’ infamous PSL, pumpkin by itself is a healthier option. Pumpkin is not only rich in vital antioxidants and vitamins, but has few calories, lots of Vitamin A, lutein, xanthin, and carotenes! Some even consider pumpkin a super food.
So, what other health benefits can you get from a pumpkin?
Health Benefits of Pumpkin
1. Keeps your vision healthy. A single cup of pumpkin contains about 197% of your daily vitamin An intake. Vitamin A plays an important role in keeping your vision healthy by protecting the surface of your eye. Vitamin A can also help decrease your risk of macular degeneration keeps your skin healthy and promotes bone health.
2. Helps you sleep. Pumpkin contains an amino acid called tryptophan. This is the same amino acid found in Turkey so it will help induce sleepiness.
3. May lower blood pressure. One study found that individuals on a high-fiber diet experienced a drop in blood pressure and pulse pressure. So in addition to helping your cholesterol levels (see next!), the pumpkin will also help keep your blood pressure levels in check.
4. Keeps your heart healthy. All the fiber that is found in pumpkin can also help keep your heart healthy. Fiber can reduce both “bad” cholesterol (LDL) and overall cholesterol. Scientists believe this is because it binds with cholesterol particles and then removes them from the body through the digestive system before it’s absorbed.
5. The pumpkin keeps you full. Including pumpkin in your diet may help you lose weight. Pumpkin contains fiber which also helps promote fullness and staves off hunger.
6. Mood booster. Pumpkin contains tryptophan, which is an amino acid that helps the body produces Serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is responsible for influencing things like mood, sleep, and even memory. Also known as the “feel good” chemical, when you have more serotonin, it’s likely that your mood will improve!
7. Antioxidants in abundance. Remember how much Vitamin A pumpkin has? It’s a powerful antioxidant that some research says it helps fend off cancer. Beta carotene, which converts to vitamin A, helps protect our cells and boosts immune system function.
Health Benefits of Pumpkin Seeds
1. Fiber. Pumpkin seeds contain around 1.7g of fiber per serving! As we’ve discussed before, fiber will help you feel fuller longer and has to heart healthy benefits.
2. Magnesium. Pumpkin seeds contain half of your recommended daily amount of magnesium. Magnesium helps promote healthy heart function, bone health, and bowel function.
3. Prostate health. Pumpkin seeds contain nutrients that help promote prostate health. Containing high levels of zinc and natural pumpkin seed oils may help block unhealthy prostate growth and maintain healthy testosterone levels.
4. Promotes better sleep. Pumpkin seeds are also rich in tryptophan which will help you get a good night’s rest.
Now that we know some health benefits of pumpkins and pumpkin seeds, let’s chat about the different kinds of pumpkin you can buy, and how to prepare them.
Fresh, Canned, or Pie Filling?
When you go out to buy a pumpkin, it can be a little overwhelming to see all the different kinds! You might wonder – is it better to use fresh pumpkin or canned pumpkin?
And when you wander over to the canned aisle, you have a couple of different canned pumpkin options staring back at you…purée pumpkin or pumpkin pie filling.
You also notice fresh pumpkin when you browse the produce aisle. So which one do you buy? Don’t worry, I’ve done the research for you, and this should make it easy!
Canned pumpkin is simply just pumpkin that has been cooked and puréed. It doesn’t contain any additional spices and is typically used for making dishes like soup or even pasta.
Pumpkin Pie Filling
This version of canned pumpkin is what it says – pumpkin pie filling. It’s cooked and puréed pumpkin that has spices varying from cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, allspice or ginger and is sweetened. It’s an efficient, time-saving way to make baked goods like pumpkin pie or pumpkin cookies!
The large pumpkins you buy for jack-o-lantern carving are not the pumpkins you’ll buy for pies, soups, muffins, or bread! In this instance, smaller is better.
How to Prepare Fresh Pumpkin
1. My first tip, and most important, is to choose smaller pumpkins! The large ones that we typically use for carving are not the ones that work best in recipes. You can, however, keep their seeds (more on this later)! For the smaller pumpkins, there are many flavorful varieties to pick from.
2. Decide how you’re going to prepare your pumpkin – will you use the baking method, boiling method, or microwave method? This article from AllRecipes.com has excellent instructions on all three (as well as Ausmed)
a. Baking Method
i. Cut the pumpkin in half, discard the stem, and remove seeds and pulp. This is an important first step – if you don’t do this, the bottom of your pumpkin could burn, and it may fall apart.
ii. In a baking dish, place the two halves face down, cover with foil.
iii. Bake at 375 degrees F for about 1 ½ hours, or until tender.
iv. Once the pumpkin has cooled, scoop out the flesh and purée.
b. Boiling Method
i. Cut the pumpkin in half, discard the stem, and remove seeds and pulp.
ii. Peel the pumpkin – I’ve read that microwaving the pumpkin for a few minutes can make the skin easier to peel.
iii. Place in a saucepan, cover with water.
iv. Bring to a boil, cook until pumpkin is tender.
v. Once the chunks have cooled, purée in a food processor or mash with a potato masher.
c. Microwave Method
i. Cut the pumpkin in half, discard stringy insides and seeds
ii. Microwave on high for seven minutes per pound.
iii. Turn pieces every few minutes so that it cooks evenly.
iv. Purée or mash
How to Prepare Pumpkin Seeds
Pumpkin seeds are not only a great source of magnesium; they also contain around 1.7g of fiber per serving. I’m going to share with you a basic way to prepare fresh pumpkin seeds.
1. Preheat Oven. Preheat your oven to 300 degrees F.
2. Wash the seeds. Separate the pumpkin seeds from the pulp, and rinse them in a colander under cold water. Once they’re clean, shake dry. If you blot them with a paper towel to dry, the seeds will stick.
3. Dry the seeds. Take an oiled baking sheet and spread your pumpkin seeds out in a single layer. Place into the oven and roast for 30 minutes to remove moisture.
4. Spice it up. Take the pumpkin seeds out of the oven. Toss them with some olive oil, salt, and whatever spices you like. I like to toss them in some cinnamon and some brown sugar. Feel free to try out different combinations depending on what you’d like.
Easy Ways to Incorporate Pumpkin into your Diet
There are multiple ways to incorporate pumpkin into your diet. My favorite is preparing pumpkin soup, or simply roasting diced pumpkin with other seasonal vegetables like Brussel sprouts and carrots. Try adding some pumpkin into a smoothie or making a breakfast parfait with puréed pumpkin, granola, and cinnamon.
Pumpkin is an amazing way to get important nutrients into your diet. Roasting pumpkin seeds makes for a delicious and easy on-the-go snack with multiple spice combinations making it a kid-friendly option, too.
While pumpkin may not seem like an immediate choice of seasonal vegetable to include in your diet, I hope this article has inspired you to give it a try.
When you’re out looking at pre-made pumpkin pies or delicious pumpkin treats this holiday season, why not try branching out and creating something from scratch.
Using seasonal fruits and vegetables in your cooking is not only a great way to increase variety in your diet, but It may help save some money, too. Since pumpkin is not a very common dish, use it to surprise and delight your dinner guests at your next event!
With the various health benefits of pumpkin and its’ seeds, as well as the multiple ways you can prepare it, why not try? You may notice an improved mood and some weight loss!