Pumpkins really come into their own at this time of year with Halloween around the corner. But as well as making spooky lanterns, pumpkins provide great nutritional benefit in two ways.
Whilst the flesh can be used in soups or as a delicious side dish, the seeds are just as nutritious.
Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares the wonders of this amazing vegetable.
Pumpkin is also known as winter squash (one of them being ‘butternut’) and is technically a fruit as it contains seeds (more on this later). Its nutritional value is immense, and its culinary uses versatile in either sweet or savoury dishes. However, these nutritional benefits do very much depend on how the pumpkin is used. Pumpkin spiced lattes may taste great but don’t provide any nutritional value!
Interestingly, pumpkins are often used as weaning foods for babies as they’re non-allergenic, provide good energy and great nutritional value.
If you’re vegetarian or vegan, then hopefully lentils will already feature in your diet. They are an amazing source of plant protein and can easily be incorporated into many dishes.
Nutritional benefits of pumpkin
The flesh of pumpkin is rich in beta carotene which is turned into vitamin A as the body needs it. Vitamin A is essential for vision, by keeping it sharp and also helping to prevent macular degeneration, which impairs sight. It’s also essential for the immune system, helping the body to fight infections and for protecting the intestinal lining against unwanted invaders. Beta carotene is also an important antioxidant, helping protect the body from the ageing process, especially for the skin. Importantly, since vitamin A can only be found in animal produce, if you’re vegan or vegetarian, then pumpkins can provide a great source of this key vitamin in the form of beta carotene.
Pumpkin is also rich in potassium, which is essential for the heart and regulating blood pressure. It provides useful amounts of magnesium (essential for the smooth running of most of the body systems) and iron (another super-busy mineral and essential for immunity and energy).
If you’re looking to lose a little weight before the Christmas period starts, then pumpkin could really support your overall plan. The reason being that it can help keep blood sugar levels in balance, which is a key factor with any weight loss programme.
How to use pumpkin
One of the best ways to cook pumpkin is stuffed! The top needs to be chopped off, seeds scooped out and then the pumpkin is rubbed with olive oil and roasted in the over for around 45 minutes. Once it’s cooked, you can fill it with anything that takes your fancy. How about rice, chopped walnuts, pomegranate seeds, lemon, sliced apple, and garlic? The mixture needs to be cooked first and then returned to the oven. A great vegan Halloween treat!
What about those all-important seeds?
Pumpkin seeds make a great, low-calorie snack. And because they’re high in protein, they help to banish hunger pangs and stabilise blood sugar levels. Cravings then become less, and energy is more sustained. Indeed, pumpkin seed butter on oatcakes makes a really tasty, satisfying snack.
Importantly, they are high in the essential omega 3 and 6 fats that the body can’t make so need to be taken in via the diet. Both provide many health benefits, especially for the skin and heart.
However, many of pumpkin seeds’ health benefits germinate from their great vitamin and mineral profile, especially of zinc, which is often deficient in typical western-style diets. Additionally, pumpkin seeds are rich in antioxidants, which are essential for protecting the body against life’s onslaughts.
Interestingly, pumpkin seeds contain lignans which have antimicrobial properties, therefore are especially protective of the gut.
Pumpkin seeds are very easy to include in the diet; they make a great snack, can be added to salad dishes, or sprinkled on your morning porridge or why not try roasting and sprinkling over vegetable recipes for some added crunch.
Pumpkin makes a very tasty and nutritious addition to your Halloween menu and beyond.
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