Chris Zellers, MPP -Assistant Professor/Educator, Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Cape May County, Family & Community Health Sciences Department
Since pumpkins are a vegetable, they are a nutritious food option. Pumpkins are considered a vegetable because their nutritional value is like that of a veggie, however they do still contain seeds like a fruit. Pumpkins are low-calorie (only 50 calories/cup) and high in fiber and a good choice for a healthy well-balanced diet.
Like many other fruits and veggies pumpkins are full of nutrients that assist with preventing chronic disease. The colors in fruits and vegetables called phytochemicals support various body functions. Orange colored produce like pumpkins and carrots are good supporters of eye health. Aging causes eyes to diminish naturally and because pumpkins are rich in Beta Carotene it slows the process of poor eyesight, blindness, and cataracts. The lutein and zeaxanthin found in pumpkins have been linked to lower risk of age-related macular degeneration. Vitamin C and Vitamin A in pumpkins function as antioxidants that prevent bad free radicals which may damage your eye cells. Potassium in pumpkins can aid in managing blood pressure and preventing heart disease. The antioxidants prevent bad or LDL cholesterol and since the Beta Carotene in pumpkins converts to Vitamin A it can assist with lung function. Antioxidants have been shown to reduce cancers, such as premenopausal breast cancer, lung cancer and pancreatic cancer, as well as heart disease and degenerative brain diseases like Alzheimer’s. Pumpkins are full of fiber that assists with maintaining a healthy weight. Most Americans fall short of fiber recommendations and should pay attention to how much fiber is being eaten each day. Women should eat at least 21 to 25 grams of fiber per day, and men should aim for 30 to 38 grams per day. Even though pumpkin may be more popular on the doorstep it is a tasty and healthy Fall super food.
The pulp of the pumpkin is not the only nutrient dense part of the vegetable, pumpkin seeds are nutritious as well. Pumpkin seeds are made up mostly of protein and fats and half of the fat in the seeds are omega 6 fat which is a polyunsaturated fat that is heart healthy. Pumpkin seeds contain potassium and vitamin B2. The seeds of pumpkin are rich in magnesium assisting the body with regulating blood sugar levels, preventing high blood pressure, and supporting healthy bones. Studies have shown that pumpkin seed consumption can reduce the risk of certain cancers and promote bladder and prostate health. The roasted seeds of pumpkins are great to add to salads and casseroles or as a snack. When removing the seeds from the pumpkin they can be eaten with the white outer shell or the green inner part or both, eating them with the shell on provides more fiber. When carving pumpkins rinse the seeds off and pat them dry. Seeds can be roasted or dried in a dehydrator or oven for a fall treat.
Pumpkin flavor has been promoted in the fall for coffees, pancakes, and other delicious treats. The smell or aroma of pumpkin spice is comforting and soothing on a chilly fall day but enjoying pumpkin as pie or as spice latte should be done in moderation since these are higher in sugar and fat. Adding pumpkin puree to muffins or pancakes can cut down on sugar since its naturally sweet, roasted pumpkin with a little cinnamon and olive oil is a hearty side dish. Instead of having a pumpkin spice latte try enjoying pumpkin puree in a smoothie for a rich fall flavor. Any pumpkin can be edible however the smaller ones are sweeter and less stringy than larger ones. Pumpkins make a great addition to a fall or winter meal, consider using them for more than festive fall decorations.