Pumpkins and their fellow winter squash are members of the Curcubitacea family, which began being cultivated some 10,000 years ago in Central America. They are well known to be one of the most significant plant sources of the carotenoids, including beta-carotene, which are precursors to Vitamin A. These high-fibre vegetables also contain significant amounts of Vitamin C, the B-complex vitamins, which include B1, B6, folic acid, pantothenic acid and niacin, as well as minerals such as copper, potassium, zinc and manganese.
Cardiovascular disease and its associated risk factors such as high cholesterol, hypoglycaemia and Type 2 diabetes are becoming epidemic in today’s society. Diets high in dietary fibre, omega-3 fatty acids, B-complex vitamins and antioxidants have been well documented to treat and reduce the risk of these diseases. The high dietary fibre found in pumpkin reduces the amount of cholesterol absorbed by the body as well as balancing blood sugar by reducing the speed at which sugars are digested and absorbed. Pumpkin also has the rare ability to block cholesterol formation through inhibiting the cholesterol forming enzyme HMG-CoA reductase. The unusually high content of B vitamins and antioxidant carotenoids, as well as the B vitamin-like molecule inositol, in pumpkin and pumpkin seeds have been widely shown to greatly affect not only blood sugar and insulin levels in the blood, but also the regeneration and repair of faulty pancreatic cells associated with Type 2 diabetes.
Zinc and vitamin A are critical components of the immune system. They play an important role as both antioxidants, scavenging damaging free radicals and immune boosters. These critical roles have been linked to not only reducing the risk of infections, cardiovascular disease and diabetes, but also in many cancers, including prostate cancer, colon cancer, lung cancer and breast cancer.
The health benefits of pumpkin are obvious. What isn’t so obvious in our culture today is how to get more pumpkin into our diet. While pie is a common treat at this time of year, the added sugar and cream doesn’t allow us to get the full benefits from pumpkin. Here are a few tasty ideas to increase the amount of pumpkin in your diet;
- Bake a small pumpkin whole in the oven or slow cooker by placing it in a shallow dish of water and piercing the skin to allow steam to escape. When a knife can easily be inserted near the stem, cut it in half, remove the seeds and scrape the flesh out.
- Cube pumpkin into 1 inch pieces and steam for 7 minutes, or until a fork can easily be inserted
- Top cooked pumpkin with a combination of any of the following; butter, brown sugar, maple syrup, honey and/or cinnamon. This tasty treat that can be eaten as a side dish at dinner, in oatmeal at breakfast, or mixed with apple sauce for a healthy pudding for dessert
- Add cooked or raw pumpkin to soups and stews to add not only body and flavour, but vitamins, minerals and fibre as well.
- Bake rinsed, raw seeds from your sugar or jack-o-lantern pumpkins in the oven at 160°F for 15-20 minutes. The seeds contain the highest amount of omega-3 fats, which are critical for optimal health.
- Substitute cooked pumpkin for oil, butter and eggs in cakes, muffins and breads.
So this year make pumpkins more than just dessert and decorations, make them a regular part of your diet.
For more information on nutrition or any other health concerns, contact Optimum Integrative Health Centre by phone: 519-787-4100, email: firstname.lastname@example.org visit us online at www.ontariohealth.org.
Murray, M. N.D. (2005). Winter Squash. In M. M. N.D., The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods (pp. 234-236). Toronto: Atria Books.
The George Mateljan Foundation. (2011). Squash, winter. Retrieved 09 22, 2011, from World's Healthiest Foods: http://whfoods.org/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=63