By Caroline Young
During the crisp autumn months, pumpkins pop up everywhere -- on our porches, in shop windows, and at the local farmers market. They are part of the gourd family, along with cucumbers, honeydew, watermelon, cantaloupe, and zucchini. Pumpkins were originally called "gros melons" by French explorer Jacques Cartier in 1584. The English translation was "pompions," which eventually evolved into our modern word, "pumpkin."
Their seeds are typically planted sometime between the end of May and beginning of June, to be picked just in time for Halloween in October. They're one of the classic symbols of the season, whether it's carving one on the front porch on Halloween, or baking it into a pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving. But pumpkins have an extensive list of nutritional benefits to offer and can be a part of your healthy, balanced diet every day.
1) Low-Calorie While Helping Fill You Up
One half-cup of canned pumpkin has about 40 calories. During the holiday season, we know it's easy to pack on a few extra pounds from indulging in holiday treats. A good way to slash calories and fat from a holiday dish is to use pumpkin instead of extra sugar, butter, or oil. One cup of pumpkin delivers 3 grams of fiber, a nutrient which may help you consume fewer overall calories. Pumpkin breads and muffins can be baked easily without all the added ingredients and still taste delicious. And you don't have to save the pumpkin for baked goods. Use it in savory dishes, like soups and pumpkin lasagna.
2) Source of Healthy Fats
When using fresh pumpkin to cook, it's important to keep the seeds. They are a rich source of nutrients, including unsaturated fat, antioxidants, and fiber. Pumpkin seeds are a natural source of protein with nearly 12 grams per cup, along with other vitamins and minerals, especially zinc. They deliver almost half of the daily recommended intake of zinc. You can simply roast your pumpkin seeds in the oven with a little cooking spray, then toss them in your salads, mix them into your granola, or eat them alone for a snack.
3) Rich in Beta-Carotene
Pumpkins' orange color is a big hint that they're loaded with the antioxidant beta-carotene, which is one of the plant carotenoids converted to Vitamin A in the body. Vitamin A is essential for healthy, glowing skin, strong eyesight, and our immune system.
4) High in Inflammatory Reducing Beta-Cryptoxanthin
Like beta-carotenoid, beta-cryptoxanthin is a pro-Vitamin A carotenoid. It provides several health benefits, including a reduced risk in developing inflammatory diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis. Pumpkin is ranked among foods with the highest levels of beta-cryptoxanthin.
5) Provides 500mg Of Potassium
Potassium is an essential mineral we need to keep our hearts and muscles working at their optimal levels. One cup of pumpkin delivers around 550 mg of potassium, making it one of the highest sources amongst fruits and vegetables (bananas bring in about 420 mg, and sweet potatoes bring in about 475 mg). Try adding pumpkin to your post-workout snack or meal for the extra potassium boost, which may aid in muscle and electrolyte recovery.
Although we often think fresh produce is healthier than canned (and oftentimes, this is true), canned and fresh pumpkin can be used interchangeably in recipes, and deliver health benefits. I hope you enjoy eating some more pumpkin this fall.
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