By Stephen T. Sinatra, M.D., F.A.C.C., F.A.C.N., C.N.S., C.B.T.
This Halloween, don’t just carve that pumpkin – cook it! Although most people only eat pumpkin when it’s in pie or bread, this sturdy autumn squash offers all sorts of health benefits when eaten as a part of a healthy, anti-inflammatory diet like my PAMM Diet. That’s because pumpkin seeds and pulp are packed with vitamins, minerals and fiber – nutrients that benefit your heart, blood pressure, vision and more. Here’s the full scoop, seeds and all:
The Versatile, Abundant Pumpkin
From tiny mini-pumpkins to the giant varieties showcased at fall fairs and festivals, pumpkins are members of the squash family, cousins to varieties like butternut and acorn squash. Like these, pumpkin has a creamy flesh with a core of many seeds.
Interestingly enough, pumpkins are grown on every continent in the world, though the U.S. is one of the major pumpkin producers. Pumpkins are freshly harvested in the fall, but they’re also available in canned and frozen form, so you can enjoy their flavor and nutritional benefits all year round, in recipes ranging from soup to sauces.
Why are pumpkins so healthy? Well, like carrots, yams and butternut squash, they are orange in color, which means that they are rich in antioxidants called carotenoids, specifically beta carotene. As natural plant pigments, carotenoids also give yellow and red fruits and veggies their vibrant colors. Tomatoes, watermelon and pink grapefruit, for example, all contain a powerful health-protective carotenoid called lycopene (which is one reason I love eating marinara sauce). Beta carotene – the carotenoid in pumpkin – is a VIP (very important phytonutrient) because it helps boost the immune system and helps prevent free radicals from wreaking havoc throughout the body. And like other beta-carotene-rich veggies, pumpkins are also high in fiber and full of essential vitamins including C, E and the B vitamin group, and minerals such as magnesium, copper, phosphorus, zinc and iron.
Benefits of Pumpkin Seeds
Don’t throw out the seeds! Like other kinds of seeds and nuts, pumpkin seeds are rich in antioxidant compounds called phytosterols, along with healthy fats and vital minerals that help:
- Support the heart and cardiovascular system
- Lower risk of Type II diabetes
- Reduce levels of inflammation throughout the body
- Improve immune responses
After reading this, how could you not save and roast the seeds after carving that pumpkin, or just start buying pumpkins to cook them?
More Pumpkin Benefits
If you still need convincing, here are four more reasons to make pumpkin squash and seeds a part of your diet when the fall season rolls around:
Pumpkin Helps Keep Your Heart Healthy
Pumpkin is rich in vitamins C, A (beta carotene), and E, as well as magnesium and potassium, which play a key role in keeping blood vessels flexible and improving circulation. And, like nuts and olive oil, pumpkin seeds provide healthy monounsaturated fats and a variety of minerals that can help to reduce inflammation and lower the risk of diabetes, which means you lower your heart disease risk too with these nutrients.
Pumpkin Can Help Lower Blood Pressure
High blood pressure is the number-one risk factor for heart disease. Most doctors recommend lowering sodium intake to reduce high blood pressure, but not all will tell you to increase potassium levels. Both pumpkin flesh and seeds are high in potassium, as well as magnesium, a mineral that‘s essential to over 600 body processes, including keeping blood vessels healthy and the heart pumping strong.
Pumpkin Supports Better Vision
Pumpkin in all its forms is rich in Vitamin A (beta carotene), which contributes to the health of rods and cones in the eye and boosts night vision. And because pumpkin also contains significant amounts of Vitamins C and E, it can help keep the tissues of the eye healthy and protect against damage caused by sun exposure.
Pumpkin Supports Immunity and May Reduce Lung Cancer Risk
Because pumpkin flesh and seeds contain so many essential antioxidant vitamins and minerals including copper, iron and zinc, this hearty squash can provide immune system support and may even help reduce the risk of some cancers, including lung cancer.
Get More Pumpkin Into Your Diet
Like other squashes, pumpkin alone is relatively bland. The bright side of blandness, of course, is versatility – you can dress up pumpkin with all sorts of sweet, spicy or savory seasonings. Creativity is key when sticking to a healthy, anti-inflammatory diet like my PAMM diet, and that’s why I created my signature line of spice blends and also offer 9 flavors of olive oil at Vervana. Some of my favorite ways to liven up pumpkin include my Mexican Seasoning Blend, Jalapeño-Garlic Olive Oil, Sea Salt Blend and even a dash of Honey or maple syrup (believe it or not, I use them all in the recipe below).
Fresh pumpkin is the highest vibrational option, but canned pumpkin can also serve as an acceptable stand-in – just don’t confuse it with canned pumpkin pie filling, which comes pre-loaded with sugar and other added ingredients.
How to Cook Pumpkin
So how do you eat pumpkin? Separate out the flesh from the seeds. Steam or bake the flesh, then puree it and eat with a finish of olive oil, salt and pepper. Pureed pumpkin makes an ideal base for velvety-smooth, nutritious soups, and you can mix it with other kinds of squash, apples and white beans.
Spicy Pumpkin Soup Recipe
- 2-4 Tbsp olive oil
- 1-2 onions, chopped
- 1-3 cloves garlic, chopped
- Optional: 1-2 cups chopped carrot or celery
- Optional: 1-2 cups pureed acorn or butternut squash
- 2-4 cups pumpkin puree
- Optional: 1-2 cups white beans
- 1-4 cups organic chicken or vegetable broth
- 1-3 Tbsp Mexican Seasoning Blend
- 1-2 tsp honey
- Himalayan sea salt blend
- Jalapeño-garlic olive oil
In a large saucepan, sauté the chopped onion (and carrots or celery if you’re using them) in olive oil over med-low heat until the onion is translucent. Stir in the pumpkin (and optional squash) puree as well as the white beans. Transfer in batches to a blender and add enough chicken or veggie broth to blend. When all is pureed and transferred back to the saucepan, and more broth until you reach desired consistency. Simmer on med-low heat for 20 min, and season to taste with Mexican Seasoning Blend, honey, and a little salt. Ladle into individual bowls and finish with a generous drizzle of Jalapeño-garlic olive oil.
As for the seeds, toss them in olive oil and a sprinkling of salt and bake them at 300 degrees F for 15 min on each side. Add some Mexican Seasoning Blend for more kick. Delicious for healthy snacking, pumpkin seeds are also the perfect pumpkin soup garnish.
- Klein S. “8 Impressive Health Benefits of Pumpkin.” The Huffington Post, 14, 2014.
- Kim MY, et al. Comparison of the chemical compositions and nutritive values of various pumpkin (Cucurbitaceae) species and parts. Nutr Res Pract. 2012 Feb;6(1):21-27.
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