Monday, October 31, 2011

A Pumpkin A Day....

Wait! Wait! Don’t toss that pumpkin on the compost pile now that Halloween is over! Did you know that the pumpkin is a veritable boatload of healthy eating? Me neither, but this morning I did a little research. We finally carved our jack-o-lantern last night after the urgent pleading of our youngest. We even took the obligatory pictures of the kids scooping out the seeds, although the older two participated under some diress. My daughter even donned the rubber gloves (“I’m not touching that – it’s disgusting”). When it was all said and done my 9-year-old chased my 15-year-old out of the kitchen with pumpkin gut loaded hands outstretched and I rinsed the seeds and spread them out to dry over night.

This morning I surveyed the yucky mess. Pumpkin guts spattered on the counter and floor, dried pumpkin seeds now laminated to the towel where they were drying. The jack-o-lantern does look cute though. I was all set to roast our seeds, when I noticed an e-mail from one of my favorite blogs – Maria’s Farm Country Kitchen. A recipe for pumpkin seeds! I quickly clicked over and was dismayed to see that I’ve been doing my seeds all wrong forever. Every recipe I’ve ever seen, and every person I’ve ever asked, has said that you should rinse your seeds. Not so, Maria! Rinsing them takes away much of their delicious flavor. And this makes sense because really, why would you rinse them? They’ve been in a somewhat sterile environment inside a pumpkin for months. And we cook the pumpkin insides without rinsing them. So why would we rinse the seeds – it can’t be for the joy of prying them off the towel where they’ve been drying (according to directions!).

Too late for my seeds, but it got me wondering what else I don’t know about pumpkins. A lot, it turns out.

Let’s start with the pumpkin itself (if you want to know how to cook fresh pumpkin, check out my post of a few years ago), here’s the nutritional breakdown:

Pumpkin Nutrition Facts
(1 cup cooked, boiled, drained, without salt)
Calories 49
Protein 2 grams
Carbohydrate 12 grams
Dietary Fiber 3 grams
Calcium 37 mg
Iron 1.4 mg
Magnesium 22 mg
Potassium 564 mg
Zinc 1 mg
Selenium .50 mg
Vitamin C 12 mg
Niacin 1 mg
Folate 21 mcg
Vitamin A 2650 IU
Vitamin E 3 mg

Notice the Vitamin A, not bad huh? And folate and fiber? Those are good numbers too. All the Vitamin A comes from the beta-carotene in the pumpkin. Bet you were already clued in to that fact due to the pumpkin’s bright orange skin. Bright colors always seem to be a good thing in vegetables. Brilliant how we were designed to be instinctively attracted to what is healthy for us. Too bad that also makes us reach for the M&M’s.

According to research, beta-carotene may reduce the risk of certain types of cancers and offer protection against heart disease. It also may help us avoid some aspects of degenerative aging. I’m all for that.

I’ve been reading lately on the benefits of selenium, plus B-complex vitamins found in pumpkin like folate and niacin. It’s all good (but I’ll save it for a later post). So cook up that pumpkin and make it in to bread, soup, ravioli (yum), or if you must – pumpkin pie.

Now back to those seeds I shouldn’t have rinsed. As I surfed over the internet this morning, I came upon site after site proclaiming that pumpkin seeds are miracle workers when it comes to prostate health! Who’d have thought? Apparently pumpkin seeds have been prescribed by alternative practitioners for years to alleviate difficult urination associated with enlarged prostate. Hmm. Good to know. But they also are believed to improve bladder function in general.

Here are a few more claims found repeatedly (for what it’s worth) on websites far and wide:

Depression Treatment
They contain L-tryptophan, a compound naturally effective against depression.

Prevention of Osteoporosis
Because they are high in zinc, pumpkin seeds are a natural protector against osteoporosis. Low intake of zinc is linked to higher rates of osteoporosis.

Natural Anti-Inflammatory
Pumpkin seeds effectively reduce inflammation without the side effects of anti-inflammatory drugs.

Prevention of Kidney Stones
They prevent calcium oxalate kidney stone formation, according to studies.

Treatment of Parasites
They are used in many cultures as a natural treatment for tapeworms and other parasites. Studies also show them to be effective against acute schistosomiasis, a parasite contracted from snails. (snails??)

Great Source of Magnesium
1/2 cup of pumpkin seeds contains 92% of your daily value of magnesium, a mineral in which most Americans are deficient.

Lower Cholesterol
Pumpkin seeds contain phytosterols, compounds that that have been shown to reduce levels of LDL cholesterol.

Cancer Prevention
The same phytosterols that lower cholesterol also protect against many cancers

While some of these claims may seem far-fetched, I saw nothing in my reading or online claiming that pumpkin seeds aren’t good for you. So at least we have some agreement.

Pumpkin seeds are also known as “pepitas” and look flat and green when you buy them in the bulk aisle. I grind them and add them to my whole wheat bread. They give it a sweet, nutty taste and add some more nutrients. I bet they’d be good in pastas and soups too.

So, if your jack-o-lantern was left with the candle burning too long, like mine, and is now blackened on the inside (adding carcinogens to cancel out all the good stuff), head out to the market or, better yet, the roadside stand and pick up a few pumpkins to cook. Starting tomorrow, they’ll probably be reduced for quick sale. It’s pumpkin season – don’t miss out on this nutritional windfall!

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