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Pumpkin Power, 10 Things To Know about This Fall Treat

Benefits of pumpkin

Autumn has officially arrived, and so it’s time once again to dig out the pumpkin pie recipes and the pumpkin carving knives. But there’s more to this popular fall vegetable than pie and jack-o-lanterns, so here are 10 things you should know about pumpkin.

Be aware of pumpkin power

What is a pumpkin? The answer to this question depends on where you live. For example, the rotund orange vegetable referred to as a pumpkin in the United States is known as a winter squash down under (Australia) and other parts of the world. In fact, there are hundreds of different varieties of pumpkins found around the globe, and all of them belong to the family Cucurbitaceae. Pumpkin, as well as squash and some gourds, belong to the genus Cucurbita.

Specifically, pumpkins and some varieties of winter squash (e.g., acorn, cushaw, spaghetti squash) belong to the species pepo (Cucurbita pepo).

Don't forget the seeds: Save your pumpkin seeds when making your jack-o-lantern or pie and roast them in the oven. To help ensure you retain as much of the seeds’ nutritional value as possible, here’s an easy way to prepare them.

Rinse the seeds quickly in water, drain in a colander, and add to a pot of boiling water. Boil for 5 minutes, drain and pat dry. Spread on a baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil (or oil of your choice), and season with any of the following: salt, garlic salt, garlic powder, chili powder, or your choice. Place in a preheated oven (325 degrees) for 10 minutes. Stir and roast for another 5 to 8 minutes. However, make sure you keep your cooking time to no more than 20 minutes, as you can begin to lose important nutritional value.

Superior source of zinc: If you carve a pumpkin this year, harvest those seeds. Pumpkin seeds are a superior source of zinc. Men may be especially interested in pumpkin seeds, since zinc is a critical nutrient for supporting prostate health.

The majority of zinc found in pumpkin seeds is located in the endosperm envelope, so if you eat the unshelled seeds, you will get the maximum amount of the mineral. However, even if you choose the shelled (seed kernels), you will get a good amount of zinc: about 10 milligrams of zinc per 3.5 ounces of unshelled pumpkin seeds versus 7 to 8 mg of seed kernels.

Gold mine of minerals: In addition to zinc, pumpkin seeds are a gold mine of other minerals. Just one-half cup of pumpkin seeds provides nearly 74 percent of your Daily Value of manganese, 48 percent of magnesium, 40 percent of phosphorus, 22 percent of copper, and 20 percent of protein.

E is for excellent: Pumpkin seeds also are a great source of vitamin E in several of the nutrient’s eight forms; namely, alpha-tocopherol, gamma-tocopherol, and delta-tocopherol, as well as two newly discovered forms called alpha-tocomonoenol and gamma-tocomonoenol. All together, these forms of vitamin E found in pumpkin seeds provide a great source of this potent antioxidant which is essential for healthy skin and also benefits menstrual pain, cataracts, heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and asthma.

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Superior source of beta-carotene: Beta-carotene is a type of plant carotenoid that is transformed into vitamin A in the body. In this converted form, beta-carotene may help with a variety of health issues, including heart disease, diabetes, some forms of cancer, and eye problems that include cataracts and macular degeneration.

Live long with alpha-carotene: Let’s not forget the “other” carotenoid, alpha-carotene. This plant nutrient is abundant in pumpkin and has been shown to extend lifespan.

Cat and dog remedy: A little bit of pureed pumpkin can go a long way toward helping ease common gastrointestinal problems experienced by our four-legged companions. One to two teaspoons per day of pureed pumpkin (either pumpkin you prepare yourself or 100% plain canned pumpkin without any additives such as spices or sugar) can help a cat or small dog who has constipation or diarrhea. A full tablespoon is suggested for medium to large dogs.

Fabulous fiber: Just one-half cup of canned pumpkin contains more than 3 grams of fiber, or 11 percent of Daily Value. Looking for a low-fat, low-calorie way to enjoy plain canned pumpkin? How about this recipe for a pumpkin smoothie with just a touch of sweetness?

8 ounces fat-free almond or soy milk
½ cup plain canned pumpkin
¼ tsp each ground cinnamon, ground ginger, and pure vanilla extract
½ tsp maple syrup
Combine all ingredients in a blender and process till smooth.

Low in calories: If you bake pumpkin into a pie, the calories can add up. But if you whip up a great autumn soup, you can sip on super nutrition for less than 100 calories per cup. Here’s how.

Spray oil
1 cup chopped onion
3 Tbs flour
¼ tsp each curry powder, ground cumin, ground nutmeg, salt
2 crushed garlic cloves
1 cup cubed sweet potato
2 14.5-oz cans of fat-free vegetable broth
1 15-oz can plain pumpkin
8 oz non-fat almond or soy milk, or skim milk

Spray a large sauce pan or Dutch oven with spray oil and saute the onions for 3 minutes. Stir in the flour, garlic, and spices and saute for 1 minute. Add the sweet potato, salt, broth, and pumpkin and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Process the mixture in a food processor or blender until smooth, then return it to the pan and stir in the soy beverage. Heat for 2 to 3 minutes while stirring, then remove from heat. Yields 6 one-cup servings.

Can you add any ideas to this list of 10 things to know about pumpkin?

US Department of Agriculture

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