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Pumpkins

It’s no Trick: Pumpkin is a Healthy Treat


Enjoy the health benefits of pumpkins just like our forefathers before us. Native American Indians used pumpkin as a healthy staple in their diets for centuries before the pilgrims landed. Pumpkins continued to be an important crop for the pilgrims because they stored well and provided a nutritious food source during the winter months.

Today, pumpkin flavoring is in everything from candy and coffee to ice cream and doughnuts. Don’t be fooled by this; pumpkins and their seeds are nutrient-dense foods that score high on the Aggregate Nutrient Density Index (ANDI).

Pumpkins Contain Carotenoids Important for Immune Function

Pumpkins and related squashes are good sources of beta-carotene, alpha-carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin, antioxidants belonging to a group of pigments called carotenoids.

  • Carotenoids defend the body’s tissues against oxidative damage, helping to prevent chronic diseases and premature aging.1,2
  • Lutein and zeaxanthin are the only known carotenoids located in the human retina. They help protect the eye from damage and improve several aspects of visual performance.3

Pumpkin is a Versatile Food

Pumpkin makes a great pie but, don’t stop there. Pumpkin puree can be stirred into soups, stews or chilis. You can whip up a pumpkin smoothie by blending pumpkin puree with a banana, spinach or romaine lettuce, a few dates, some non-diary milk and cinnamon and nutmeg. I recommend cooking your own pumpkin puree or using the puree packed in non-BPA containing cartons.

Easy Pumpkin Puree

Tip: Choose the lighter colored “pie pumpkins” or “sugar pumpkins,” they are sweeter and less watery than the orange jack-o'-lantern pumpkins.

  1. Cut the top from the pumpkin and scrape out the stringy membranes and seeds.
  2. Cut the pumpkin into large pieces and place in a roasting pan.
  3. Pour ½ cup water into the bottom of the pan and cover with foil.
  4. Bake 45-60 minutes or until pumpkin is soft and easily pierced with a fork.
  5. Scrape the soft pulp from the skin into a food processor or blender and puree.

Leftover pumpkin puree may be frozen in an airtight container for up to 12 months.

Pumpkin Seeds are Super Foods

When preparing pumpkin puree or carving a jack-o’-lantern, don’t throw away the seeds. Pumpkin seeds, also known as pepitas, are not only flavorful, they are a super food. Pumpkin seeds are a good source of:

  • Omega-3 fatty acids
  • Phytochemicals
  • Zinc, calcium and iron

Roast Pumpkin Seeds

  1. Rinse seeds under cold water and pick out the pulp and strings.
  2. Place seeds in a single layer on a non-stick baking sheet and, if desired, sprinkle with your choice of no-salt seasonings.
  3. Bake at 225 degrees F. until lightly toasted, about 45 minutes, checking and stirring frequently.
  4. Sprinkle on salads, mix into healthy baked recipes or use as a topping for soups and entrees.

Enjoy the delicious flavors and health benefits of fresh pumpkins, pumpkin seeds and other winter squashes, and ignore those SAD pumpkin-flavored fake foods.

References
  1. Higdon J: Carotenoids. In An Evidence-Based Approach to Dietary Phytochemicals. 2006: 47-61.
  2. Krinsky NI, Johnson EJ. Carotenoid actions and their relation to health and disease. Mol Aspects Med 2005;26:459-516.
  3. Stringham JM, Bovier ER, Wong JC, et al. The influence of dietary lutein and zeaxanthin on visual performance.  J Food Sci 2010; 75:R24-29.
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