We hardly need reminding it’s Halloween this week! And the star of the day is the wonderful vegetable, pumpkin. It’s uses and nutritional benefits are far-reaching.
Whilst it’s often glowing brightly on doorsteps around the world on the night of Halloween, the health benefits of pumpkins also have star status.
Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her five top reasons for including pumpkins in your diet.
Pumpkins are high in beta-carotene
With the season of bugs now upon us, we really need to be supporting the immune system as much as possible. Beta-carotene is a key member of the carotenoid family which is turned into vitamin A in the body as needed. Vitamin A is important for keeping the immune system in good shape and helps us see in the dark – much needed now the clocks have gone back.
Eating foods rich in beta-carotene, like pumpkin, is especially good for vegetarians and vegans since vitamin A itself is only found in animal foods. Plus, vitamin A is an amazingly powerful antioxidant, further protecting the immune system.
Pumpkins have amazingly nutritious seeds
The seeds not only provide a wonderful transportable snack, they are rich in protein, to help stave hunger pangs, and loaded with many other nutrients. Importantly, they are rich in the vegetarian source of essential omega-3 fats, needed for healthy eyes, joints and hormones, as well as bone-loving calcium and magnesium.
Pumpkin seeds are also a great source of fibre so help keep everything moving when the body can often feel a little sluggish generally. As a bonus, they’re filled with the amino acid tryptophan which not only keeps you energised throughout the day, but helps boost levels of our happy hormone, serotonin. Pumpkin seeds are delicious lightly roasted with a little soy sauce.
Pumpkins are great for eyes in more ways than one
Whilst we know pumpkins are loaded with pro-vitamin A carotenoids, they’re also rich in other flavonoids (plant compounds) that have great affinity for eye health. They ‘re packed with lutein, zeaxanthin and cryptoxanthin which help protect the eyes from damaging blue light that we are all exposed to for too long every day.
We often wonder why eyesight deteriorates the more we look at screens; it’s all because of the blue light emitted from computers and mobile phones. Thankfully these compounds can help protect the eyes – even more reasons for eating pumpkin.
Pumpkins are rich in lycopene
Lycopene is yet another carotenoid with wonderful health benefits. When we hear lycopene, we often think of tomatoes as these are one of the best sources. However, pumpkins certainly hold their own where it is concerned. This amazing antioxidant has been found to help support prostate health – one of the most common health issues affecting men.
As with all carotenoids, their nutrient benefits are better absorbed from cooked sources, so roasted or mashed pumpkin is certainly the order of the day.
Pumpkins are amazingly versatile
Whilst we certainly love the warming glow pumpkins give off on Halloween night, their versatility in recipes can’t be overlooked. Pumpkin soup, made with coconut cream, sage leaves, onion and vegetable stock is certainly an autumn favourite. Pumpkin can also be roasted and served sprinkled with feta cheese and honey. It’s also great in a curry with other root vegetables and tomatoes, or in a risotto with spring onions, parmesan cheese, cumin and garlic.
But best of all is pumpkin pie! You can use ready prepared sweet shortcrust pastry for speed. The prepared pumpkin just needs to be mixed with brown sugar, eggs, cream and lots of spices such as ginger, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg for a warming Halloween treat.
So, enjoy Halloween and make the most of your pumpkins – both as lanterns and as a nutritious vegetable to add to your diet.
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