This is the time of the year when you see these bright orange vegetables decorating the lawns in anticipation of Halloween. They will appear by doorsteps and in windows, hallowed out and carved into fun and scary decorations. This year, before you trash that sagging pumpkin on your porch, think again. The pumpkin has much more to offer than crooked smiles or a menial filling for holiday pies.
What’s so good about pumpkins, anyway?
Pumpkin meat is very high in carotenoids. They’re what give pumpkins their orange color—but that’s the least of their benefits. Carotenoids are really good at neutralizing free radicals, nasty molecules that can attack cell membranes and leave the cells vulnerable to damage.
Pumpkins are also high in lutein and zeaxanthin, which scavenge free radicals in the lens of the eye. Therefore, they may help prevent the formation of cataracts and reduce the risk of macular degeneration, a serious eye problem which usually results in blindness.
Besides carotenoids, luteins, and zeaxanthin, (which are all antioxidants), pumpkins have a lot of common nutrients, like iron, zinc, and fiber. Iron, of course, is needed by red blood cells. Zinc deficiency may be related to osteoporosis of the hip and spine in the elderly and fiber is important for bowel health.
Additionally, because pumpkins have high water content, they are an ideal choice for a snack because they are a good food source of water and are low in fat.
What about the seeds?
Pumpkin seeds, also called pepitas, are very high in protein. One ounce of seeds provides about seven grams of protein. They also contain copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, and zinc.
Pumpkin seeds are sold as a snack all year round. Typically, you can find pumpkin seeds roasted or raw, shelled or unshelled. They can be used in salads, casseroles, soups, and other baked goods, either ground or whole. Although the roasted pumpkin seeds tend to be better-tasting, you’ll receive higher nutritional value from the raw seeds.
So the next time you carve in to one of these fun and festive squash, remember scoop out the inside and enjoy the many health benefits it has to offer in a soup or side dish for dinner.