Pumpkins are generally thought of as a Halloween icon and a staple of the fall season. They're the scary, illuminated face on your doorstep or the filling in your Thanksgiving pie. Beyond that, not much thought is given to the pumpkin. However, that orange gourd is more than just a jack o' lantern - it's also packed with nutrients that can protect your body against serious health conditions.
The pumpkin is a great low-calorie snack, and is an excellent source of the following nutrients:
Pumpkin seeds are also a good source of protein and provide 16.9 percent of the recommended Daily Value, according to World's Healthiest Foods. They also provide more than half of the Daily Value of manganese and about a quarter of the Daily Value of iron and copper.
Even though fresh pumpkins can be hard to find year-round, you can still incorporate them into your diet through canned pumpkin puree or pumpkin oil, which can be taken in capsule form. Both are filled with these nutrients and can satisfy that pumpkin craving before Thanksgiving comes.
Here are some of the ways that pumpkin's nutrients keep you healthy:
- Studies from South Korea have shown that the protein in pumpkin meat can combat vaginal yeast infections and diaper rash. The Pr-2 protein was also able to inhibit the growth of 10 other fungi, which could mean that pumpkin protein may be used as a natural medicine to cure fungal infections.
- The nutrients found in pumpkin seeds promote prostate health. The compounds in the seeds and oil fight against the development of Benign Prostatic Hypertrophy, or BPH, a condition that involves the enlargement of the prostate gland. Zinc, omega-3 and carotenoids, which are all found in pumpkins, have also been studied for their contribution to prostate health.
- The zinc in pumpkins is also a good promoter of bone health and can prevent osteoporosis from developing.
- Pumpkin seeds are a good source of phytosterols, which are plant compounds that are similar in nature to cholesterol. If eaten in large amounts, phytosterols can lower cholesterol and even protect against certain cancers. Phytosterols are a coveted compound and are sometimes removed from corn or soy and are used to fortify other foods such as butter.
- The Omega-3s, particularly alpha-linolenic acid, help reduce the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis and can even mimic the effects of NSAIDs, minus the side effects.
- The vitamin A that is produced from beta-carotene and other carotenoids is good for vision, hearing and skin. Mashing up pumpkin meat or using a canned puree to make a face cleanser is a unique way to fight acne.
Choosing a Pumpkin
When selecting a pumpkin, either from the pumpkin patch or the grocery store, there are a few tricks to figuring out if it's ripe or not. A uniform orange color is a good indicator of a ripe pumpkin, but it's not a foolproof test; green pumpkins or pumpkins with some green color on them could still be ripe. Here are other ways to make sure your pumpkin is ripe:
- Just like with cantaloupe, which also is a gourd, thumping the flesh of the pumpkin is a good way to tell if it's ripe. If the pumpkin sounds like it's hollow, then it's ripe.
- If both the skin and stem are hard, then the pumpkin is probably ripe. The stem should be difficult to twist and the skin should dent, not puncture, when prodded.
If you want to harvest your own pumpkins, and decide to buy seeds in bulk, you should make sure that they are as fresh as possible. Smell the seeds, make sure they don't have a musty or rotten smell to them. Also, make sure that none of the seeds look shriveled and check the package for tears or holes, which could be an entrance for insects or water - neither of which you would want on your pumpkin seeds.
Ways to Enjoy Pumpkins
After you've picked the perfect pumpkin, it's ready to be made into a delicious dish. Aside from pumpkin pie, there are many ways to enjoy pumpkin meat and pumpkin seeds. Here are just a few ideas for you to try:
- Pumpkin cookies
- Pumpkin muffins
- Pumpkin bread
- Pumpkin ravioli
- Pumpkin soup
- Sprinkle seeds on top of salads
- Stir seeds into cereal or oatmeal
So, as you get ready to carve that jack o' lantern, think twice before you throw away those pumpkin scraps. The pumpkin meat and the seeds can be used in a variety of dishes and are packed with vitamins that will keep your body healthy and happy all year round.