Nutritious alternatives to pumpkin this Halloween

A Halloween jack o lantern carved out of a watermelon

With Halloween festivities in full flow, pumpkins are top of the shopping list not just for making lanterns but also for eating.  However if pumpkins are not to your taste, fear not as there are plenty of other tasty and nutritious options in the same vegetable family.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares some of her favourites.

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

The curcubit family, from which the pumpkin hails, is very large with around 995 species, although many you may not have heard of!  However, there are some very well-known and highly nutritious members of the family that can be included regularly into your diet, particularly if pumpkin is not your favourite vegetable.

CUCUMBER

The term ‘cool as a cucumber’ is often used and for very good reason. Cucumbers are cool to the touch but also have a very high water content (around 96%), which makes them both refreshing to eat but also wonderful to revive tired skin and eyes.

Although their high water content makes their nutritional value relatively low compared to other family members, as with any colourful vegetable they still provide valuable nutrients, namely vitamin C, K, B1 and B5 as well as some trace minerals.

Cucumbers are great to include in many recipes and will certainly help to flush out toxins from the body and can even help with weight loss. Cucumber works really well with strong flavours such as tuna. Why not try searing a fresh tuna steak and adding a Japanese-style salad with sliced cucumber strips, spring onions, cherry tomatoes with a dressing of lime juice, soy sauce and sesame oil? This makes a quick, easy, tasty and nutritious mid-week dinner.

COURGETTE

Courgettes, also known as zucchini, are very easy to grow in your home garden because the plants produce large quantities of the vegetable. However, if you’re not very ‘green-fingered’ then both the green and yellow varieties are readily available in the supermarkets and are extremely versatile in many recipes.  Plus they’re very low in calories and are packed with immune-boosting beta-carotene and vitamin C.

Zucchini can be used in ratatouille with tomatoes and onions, in a soup with pea and pesto, plain griddled, or sliced, lightly fried and layered with ricotta cheese and drizzled with olive oil.

BUTTERNUT SQUASH

Is this just a pumpkin by any other name? Well not quite, but the two are very similar.  Obviously the two come from the same family, and one could easily say that pumpkin is just another type of squash. However, they certainly taste different.

With regard to nutritional content they’re pretty similar. Butternut squash is very high in beta-carotene which converts into vitamin A in the body, as needed.  Beta-carotene is also a powerful antioxidant which helps support the immune system – a real positive for this time of year.

One of the tastiest ways to eat butternut squash is alongside sweet potato and beetroot simply roasted in the oven with a little olive oil and freshly ground pepper – truly colourful and delicious!

WATERMELON

Did you know that watermelons were first harvested in Egypt around 5,000 years ago?  Since then they have reputably become THE best-loved fruit in the US.  And that’s no surprise!

Obviously, as their name suggests, they contain a high percentage of water – around 92% (not quite as high as cucumber, but close!)

Another little-known fact about watermelons is that they may improve libido.  This is because they contain a compound called citrulline which converts in the kidneys to arginine; an amino acid that helps to relax blood vessels encouraging blood flow to the sex organs.  This effect may also be beneficial in cases of erectile dysfunction.

Interestingly, whilst tomatoes are well-known for their lycopene content, watermelons actually contain more!  Lycopene is great at zapping unwanted free radicals that try to harm the body, but it’s also protective of the heart, male prostate and skin.  Moreover, it has great anti-inflammatory effects which is positive for the bones and joints.  Watermelon is a real winner; delicious in flavour with many nutritional benefits.  It’s always best enjoyed simply on its own.

So, whether you like pumpkins or not, there are many other members of the family which can be enjoyed this Halloween and all year-round!

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