Pumpkin is at the heart of Halloween festivities, and for many is the only experience they have of the squash all season. This is usually for the joys of pumpkin carving rather than cooking. When you discover just how healthy pumpkins are however, you'll realise that pumpkin recipes are just as worth getting excited about and that it would be foolish not to eat the remaining flesh left over from your pumpkin carving. (As a note, if you're rolling up your sleeves ready to tackle your orange fellow there are plenty of free pumpkin carving pattern ideas available on the internet).
Pumpkin is a superfood indeed. In fact, it's not just the inner meat of a pumpkin that's virtuous but its seeds are super nutritous too and contain a wealth of health-promoting properties. Like melons, cucumber, and squash, pumpkins belong to the gourd family. They were much celebrated by Native American Indians who made use of their flesh and seeds for culinary and medicinal purposes. Pumpkin flesh is high in fibre and vitamins C and E, magnesium and potassium and a staggering quantity and variety of carotenoids, being one of the most abundant natural sources of these amazing phytonutrients.
Dietary carotenoids correlate with lower a risk of numerous cancers, heart disease, cataracts and blindness. Pumpkin contains heaps of beta-carotene as well as a huge concentration of alpha-carotene, with just a quarter of a cup yielding the recommended daily amount. Alpha-carotene protects against certain cancers and cataracts, and has also been discovered to be a powerful ally against aging.
Both alpha- and beta-carotene can be converted into vitamin A within the body, which plays an essential role in growth, development and immunity. Beta-carotene is a potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent and prevents cholesterol build up in blood vessels that could lead to stroke or heart attack. The presence of magnesium, potassium and folate in pumpkin heightens its heart-friendly attributes. Beta-carotene works most effectively in combination with other carotenoids and has been found to reduce the risk of lung and colon cancer in particular.
When exploring pumpkin recipes experiment with other squashes too. There are numerous types in all shapes and sizes with many similar nutritional values. One tasty alternative is the butternut squash.
Pumpkins yield delicious and highly nutritious seeds. Known as pepitas, they are dark green and flat with a chewy texture and rich nutty flavour. These seeds are dense in minerals, with just a quarter of a cup providing approximately half the daily recommended dose for magnesium and iron, in addition to high doses of zinc, phosphorous, potassium, selenium, manganese and copper. They also contain the amino acid tryptophan known for anti-depressant qualities, and essential fatty acids.
The dark green oil produced from pumpkin seeds has been used throughout history in India, Europe and America to fight parasites, aid the digestive tract and help with prostate and reproductive disorders. It has also been recommended for pregnant and lactating women because of its high content of essential fatty acids.
Pumpkin seeds have been found to help prevent against prostate gland enlargement due to the chemical substances called cucurbitacins it contains. The essential fatty acids in pumpkin seeds are also necessary for prostate health, and zinc (which pumpkin seeds are especially high in) is great for the reproductive systems and has been shown to reduce prostate size.
The L-tryptophan in pumpkin seeds is known to have anti-depressant properties, so it is suggested eating them can elevate your mood. Pumpkin seeds also contain omega-3 fatty acids known for their role in improving mental function, alleviating depression and aiding memory. Both the omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids in pumpkin seeds have a broad range of health functions in the body.
So, for a smashing pumpkin Halloween, as well enjoying carving pumpkins, check out some tasty pumpkin recipes so you can benefit from the super healthy flesh of your pumpkin carving remains, and throw a handful of pumpkin seeds on top for that extra nutritional boost!