By-Meena Ganagani,Practicing Clinical Nutritionist,Mumbai.
What is Pumpkin?
Pumpkins are part of the squash family and they are usually large, round and vibrant orange with a slightly ribbed, tough and smooth outer skin. Inside the pumpkin are the seeds and flesh. When cooked, the whole pumpkin is edible the skin, pulp and seeds you just need to remove the stringy bits which hold the seeds in place. (1)
The most important part of pumpkin is its low-fat and protein-rich seeds. The second most important part is its fruit. The immature fruit is cooked as a vegetable, while the mature fruit is sweet and used to make confectionery and beverages. The fruit has a good b-carotene content and has a moderate content of carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals. Edible oil is also obtained from the seed of pumpkin which is rich in oleic acid.
Pumpkin has been considered as beneficial to health because it contains various biologically active components such as polysaccharides, para-aminobenzoic acid, fixed oils, sterols, proteins and peptides. The fruits are a good source of carotenoids and g-aminobutyric acid. Pumpkin seeds are valued for their high protein content and useful amounts of the essential fatty acid, linoleic acid. Pumpkin seeds contain remarkably high proportions of essential amino acids. Pumpkin seeds also contain relatively large amount of various essential micro-elements such as K, Cr and Na. Pumpkin seeds are a good source of Mg, Zn, Cu, Mo and Se, etc. From pumpkin leaves and germinated seeds, several phytochemicals such as polysaccharides, phenolic glycosides, NEFA and proteins have been isolated. Various hypoglycaemic polysaccharides have been characterised from fruit pulps of pumpkin plants.
Pumpkin-supplemented foods are considered as a good source of anti-inflammatory substances, which can help in many diseases such as arthritis, etc. (2)
Consuming fruits and vegetables have long been associated with a reduced risk of many lifestyle-related health conditions. Numerous studies have suggested that increasing consumption of plant foods like pumpkin decreases the risk of obesity and overall mortality, diabetes, heart disease and promotes a healthy complexion and hair, increased energy, overall lower weight.
- Pumpkin is an extremely nutrient dense food, meaning it is chock-full of vitamins and minerals but low on calories.
- Pumpkin is one of the best-known sources of beta-carotene, a powerful antioxidant known to give orange vegetables and fruits their vibrant color and which is converted to vitamin A in the body. Consuming foods rich in beta-carotene may reduce the risk of developing certain types of cancer, offer protection against asthma and heart disease, and delay aging and body degeneration.
- Blood pressure: Eating pumpkin is good for the heart. The fiber, potassium and vitamin C content in pumpkin all support heart health. Consuming adequate potassium is almost as important as decreasing sodium intake for the treatment of hypertension (high blood pressure). Increased potassium intakes are also associated with a reduced risk of stroke, protection against loss of muscle mass, preservation of bone mineral density and reduction in the formation of kidney stones.
- Cancer: One particular type of cancer where research has shown a positive benefit of a diet rich in beta-carotene is prostate cancer. Beta-carotene has also been shown to have an inverse association with the development of colon cancer.
- Eye Health: The antioxidants vitamin C, vitamin E and beta-carotene (all of which pumpkin has) have been shown to support eye health and prevent degenerative damage.
- Fertility: For women of child-bearing age, consuming more iron from plant sources such as spinach, beans, pumpkin, tomatoes, and beets appear to promote fertility. The vitamin A in pumpkin (consumed as beta-carotene then converted to vitamin A in the body) is also essential during pregnancy and lactation for hormone synthesis.
- Immunity: Plant foods like pumpkins that are high in both vitamin C and beta-carotene offer an immunity a boost from their powerful combination of nutrients. (3)
Tips for including pumpkin in a healthful diet:
There are many ways people can eat more pumpkin. Preparing fresh pumpkin at home will deliver the most benefits for health, but canned pumpkin is also a great choice. Pumpkin retains many of its health benefits in the canning process.
- Make your own pumpkin puree instead of buying canned.
- Use pumpkin puree or canned pumpkin in place of oil or butter in any baking recipe.
- Make a quick treat of pumpkin chocolate yogurt by combining Greek yogurt, pumpkin puree or canned pumpkin, honey, cinnamon, and cocoa powder. (4)