The Great Pumpkin

With Halloween weekend approaching, pumpkin season is upon us. It’s the perfect time to indulge in all things “pumpkin.” While the Great Pumpkin may not fly through the air with a bag of toys this Halloween, the great (and humble) pumpkin does deliver on vitamins and minerals in a big way.

Both the fleshy inner “meat” of the pumpkin as well as its seeds are both nutritious and delicious. While there are more than 150 types of pumpkin in the world today, the smaller round varieties (pie/sugar) found in grocery stores are best for cooking.  If you are lucky enough to have garden space to grow your own pumpkins, you can try a few more obscure cooking varieties in your soups and stews. Either way, you’ll want to take advantage of this nutritional powerhouse while it is in season.

Let’s take a quick look at some of the nutrients found in pumpkin and how they benefit our health.

Pumpkin Flesh

Vitamin A: One cup of pumpkin contains more than 200% of the daily value of beta and alpha carotene, which the body converts to vitamin A.  This antioxidant vitamin is necessary for normal vision, cell growth and division, reproduction, and immune health! Pumpkin also contains the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin that protect from age-related macular degeneration and cataracts.

B Vitamins: The B vitamins B2 (riboflavin) and B6 (pyridoxine) are found in smaller amounts in pumpkin. B2 is antioxidant in nature, is necessary for cell growth and development, and helps convert food into energy. Vitamin B6 takes part in nearly 200 chemical reactions in the body that are needed for healthy brain and nervous system function, oxygen transport, and immune system function!

Vitamin C, a major antioxidant and free-radical fighter, promotes immune system health and wound healing, maintains connective tissue and collagen, and protects heart and brain health.

Vitamin E: Like vitamin C, vitamin E is an antioxidant and free-radical scavenger. It’s important for eye, reproductive, blood, brain, and skin health.

Vitamin K plays a major role in blood clotting, bone building, and regulating the levels of calcium in the blood.

Minerals: Pumpkins are also mineral-rich, with magnesium, iron, potassium, and copper being the most prevalent. Studies show that close to 50% of all people are deficient in magnesium; eating pumpkin can help you get this needed mineral in a delicious way! Magnesium supports a healthy immune system, nerve and muscle function, cardiac electrical function, and regulates glucose and insulin metabolism. Iron is essential for producing red blood cells and some hormones. Potassium is necessary for normal functioning of all cells, maintaining fluid levels inside. It’s also vital for muscle and nerve function, heartbeat regulation, protein synthesis and carbohydrate metabolism. Finally, copper is an essential trace mineral that helps make red blood cells and maintain healthy immune function, bones, nerves, and blood vessels.

As you can see, the vitamins and minerals found in pumpkin flesh are  necessary for normal body functioning across a variety of systems! On top of that, per cup (245 grams), pumpkin contains only 137 calories,  3 grams of protein, 7 grams of fiber, 17 grams of carbohydrate and 7 grams of fat!

Pumpkin Seeds

Pumpkin seeds are also nutritious and delicious, especially when roasted. The American Heart Association recommends eating 30 grams (1/4 cup) of pumpkin seeds daily as a part of a healthy diet. One 30 g serving has 172 calories, of which 73% are from healthy fats. High in copper, magnesium, phosphorus, iron, zinc, and other minerals, pumpkin seeds pack a mighty punch in a small size.

As noted above, most people do not get enough magnesium in their diets. Since magnesium regulates glucose and insulin metabolism, it can help lower the risk of diabetes. In fact, since pumpkin seeds are also rich in other macromolecules and fiber, they can help reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes as well as improve blood sugar control and diabetic complications in diabetics.

Putting it all together…

With so many nutrients packed into one great pumpkin, it makes sense to make this perfect fruit (it has seeds!) an integral part of your diet. Consuming pumpkin and pumpkin seeds this fall and beyond will help you stay healthy in so many ways, including:

Pumpkin and pumpkin seeds are important Nature’s pHarmacy™ foods, falling on the Alkaline-forming side of the Food Effects chart. Be sure to pick up some pumpkins to use in your fall recipes and add a handful of pumpkin seeds to your trail mix or afternoon snack!  As a side note, roasting your own pumpkin seeds is always best; purchasing heavily salted or sugared versions will negate the healthy benefits of the natural food.

Five Final Fun Facts

  • Pumpkins grow on every continent except Antarctica.
  • Every part of the pumpkin is edible, including leaves and skin and flowers and stem!
  • Pumpkins are related to melons and cucumbers and luffa (the source of loofah sponges!)
  • Pumpkin flowers are only receptive to pollination for four hours! If bees miss this window, no pumpkin is formed.
  • Uncut pumpkins can be stored in a cool, dark place for up to three months, and their flavor improves with age.

Pumpkins really are great in so many ways. What will you make with your pumpkins this Fall? Let us know!