Maybe you and your family spent a recent weekend at a pumpkin patch, or perhaps canned pumpkin caught your eye on your last trip to the supermarket. Either way, pumpkins are synonymous with fall. With Halloween right around the corner, we’re embracing pumpkin more than ever to get in the spirit!
It turns out pumpkins—and their seeds—pack a ton of nutritional value. To learn why you shouldn’t let this super food go to waste after carving up your jack-o-lanterns—and for recipe inspiration—read on!
What’s in a Pumpkin? The Benefits
Halloween may be associated with many sugar-packed treats, but pumpkins actually offer up tons of health benefits! Their high fiber content slows digestion and satiates hunger, promoting weight loss. And, canned pumpkin is 90% water, making it a low calorie ingredient that keeps you hydrated.
Additionally, pumpkin’s beta-carotene content counters sun damage to skin and lowers risk for prostate and lung cancer. The body converts beta-carotene to Vitamin A, which is essential for eye health. With the help of antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin, pumpkin prevents cataracts and macular degeneration! Vitamin A also works with pumpkin’s Vitamin C content to build your immune system. Finally, research showing that pumpkin reduces blood glucose levels, improves glucose tolerance and increases insulin production indicates that pumpkin helps counter diabetes.
Getting Creative in the Kitchen
While a whole pumpkin may seem like an intimidating ingredient, there are many ways to incorporate pumpkin into your cooking! After removing the seeds and pulp, cut the pumpkin flesh into chunks and bake or boil until tender. Try using the chunks as a substitute to squash, serving as a veggie side dish or tossing into pasta!
For a finer texture, peel the skin, then mash or puree the baked chunks. Mix with maple syrup, butter, and sprinkle in your favorite fall spices like cinnamon, nutmeg or allspice and finish with salt or pepper to taste; then, serve in place of mashed sweet potatoes! To achieve an even smoother texture—perhaps for pumpkin pie filling, custard or soup—press the pumpkin puree through a sieve. Of course, organic canned pumpkin provides a shortcut to achieving this texture, while still offering the same health benefits.
Hang on to the seeds too—they also pack major nutritional punch! A plant based omega 3 source, pumpkin seeds are rich in healthy fats, antioxidants and fibers that promote heart and liver health. Their high magnesium content means better muscles and bones and more regular, balanced systems, while their zinc content boosts immunity, promotes healthy cell growth and division, acts as a powerful antioxidant and stabilizes hormones and the endocrine system. Like pumpkin, pumpkin seeds improve insulin regulation, making them a great snack for diabetics.
As if those properties don’t have you convinced, consider that pumpkin seeds are a source of “the sleep hormone” tryptophan, making them the perfect treat for the kids to end a busy night of trick-or-treating with in lieu of sugary candy!
Before roasting pumpkin seeds, boil them for 10 minutes in salt water. Drain and towel the seeds dry, and spread onto a baking sheet. For savory seeds, drizzle with organic extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper; for a sweet snack, drizzle melted butter and sprinkle with cinnamon and brown sugar. Roast at 325°F for 10 minutes, and enjoy!
Of course, pumpkin isn’t the only orange food you can whip up in honor of Halloween—we also love oranges, carrots, butternut squash and sweet potatoes!