While pumpkins are traditionally associated with fall decorations, jack-o’-lanterns and Thanksgiving, you may not realize they are also regarded for their significant nutritional value and can be enjoyed any time of year without guilt or fear by pretty much everyone, regardless of the health condition that may exist.
A member of the cucurbit (gourd) family, the pumpkin is technically a fruit because it contains seeds and develops from a flower. It can easily be incorporated into both sweet and savory recipes for a tasty addition of the following nutritional benefits.
Low in sugar and carbs. Pumpkin is low in sugar and carbs, which means it won’t prompt a significant spike in insulin or neurotransmitters or provide a big food source for microbes like yeast and bacteria; making it a good choice for your heart, waist line, Candida overgrowth, SIBO, depression, anxiety, insulin resistance, sugar addiction, adrenal fatigue, compulsive overeating and type 2 diabetes.
It’s keto-friendly. Although the pumpkin is not a good source of fat, its low sugar and carb content make it one of the few fruits that can be enjoyed in moderation if you are eating ketogenic. It goes well combined with a high-fat food like coconut cream, oil or, milk; pecans; heavy cream; butter; or cream cheese.
Beta-carotene. The vivid orange color of the pumpkin indicates it is rich source of beta-carotene. Beta-carotene is a powerful antioxidant that protects cells from harmful free radicals and may aid in preventing cancer, heart disease and premature aging. Beta-carotene may also be converted to Vitamin A, which plays a key role in maintaining a healthy immune system, promoting good vision, and supporting normal cell growth.
Vitamins C. Supports a healthy immune system and contains antioxidant properties that protect cells from damaging free radicals. Also vital for the health of the adrenal glands and neurotransmitter production and function.
High in Potassium. Pumpkin contains more potassium than bananas. Necessary for heart and kidney function, the mineral potassium helps maintain normal blood pressure and proper fluid balance within body tissues.
Iron. An important mineral that helps transport oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body, iron also fosters healthy skin, hair, and nail growth and plays a vital role in energy production and synthesis of some crucial neurotransmitters.
Folate. A vital B vitamin needed for good mental health, cardiovascular health, cognitive function, red blood cell production and preventing neural tube defects in newborns.
Choline. Also part of the B complex family, choline supports cell membranes, reduces inflammation and homocysteine build up, and is a key component in acetylcholine, a primary neurotransmitter involved with regulating cognitive functions, moods, and the autonomic nervous system.
Pumpkin also contains fair amounts of calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, copper, zinc, vitamins E and K, riboflavin, thiamin, B6, manganese, and pantothenic acid.
Fiber. Known for contributing to healthy gut flora and digestive health, fiber helps keep bowel movements regular, assists in lowering ldl cholesterol, helps control blood sugar levels and make you feel fuller for longer. However, the fiber content is not so high that it will make SIBO proliferate, so it’s still acceptable if you are dealing with this condition.
And yes, the great pumpkin is Paleo approved. It’s low glycemic impact and rich nutrient level make it a favorite for Paleo folks year round.
Ways to Serve Pumpkin
Fortunately, adding the humble orange gourd to your diet can be as easy as opening a can. Canned pumpkin is readily available in the grocery store throughout the year. It can be stirred into soups, stews, nuts, coconut cream, heavy cream or just about any recipe in need of a nutritional boost.
It tastes great with spices of all kinds including the traditional cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger as well as onion, garlic, sage, parsley and coriander and it combines well with a variety of meat dishes like chicken, turkey, cornish hen, salmon, scallops, and even meat loaf.
Looking fora great dessert dish to add to your Thanksgiving meal or a dessert any time of year, take a look at my Pumpkin with Pecans Cream Recipe. Alternatively, if you live in a part of the world where it is now Summer, you may enjoy this delicious pumpkin ice cream recipe instead.
Worried about the nutritional value coming out of the can? You don’t need to be. A study at the University of Illinois found that canned pumpkin contains about 20 times more the amount of beta-carotene than freshly cooked pumpkin. Canned pumpkins are picked, cooked and packaged when they are in their prime of ripeness. As is the case with many fruits and vegetables, some nutrients like beta-carotene are increased with the cooking process.
However, do be sure to pick a can that is BPA free and that contains pumpkin puree, not pie mix. The latter typically contains sugar, which you want to avoid. I prefer the brand called Farmer’s Market.
Not interested in canned pumpkin? Fresh pumpkin can be cooked in the same way as squash. Simply cut it into chunks, peel, and roast or boil until tender. You can also cut it in half and bake in the oven. Sprinkle with butter or coconut oil and your favorite spice or make your own puree in the food processor. Add it to any dish you fancy.
Don’t Forget the Seeds!
Pumpkin seeds are also a good source of protein, fiber, and tryptophan, the amino acid that is converted into the critical mood regulating neurotransmitter serotonin. As well as vitamin E, iron, magnesium, potassium, copper, manganese and zinc. Which means they’re also good for your heart, liver, immune system, brain, mental health, endocrine system, prostate health and energy production.
Unlike the flesh, the seed is a also a good source of fat. They are also low-carb.
To prepare, simply scoop the seeds from the pumpkin, separate them from the flesh, let them dry overnight, and then toast the seeds in the oven. Sprinkle them with rock salt or other seasonings and enjoy. However, do keep in mind that you lose their healthy fats when they are roasted and cooking a seed oxidizes it. Dr. Joseph Mercola recommends roasting on low heat only for about 15 or 20 minutes to reduce cooking impact. Using a dehydrator is another better option, which can be done after soaking.
However, do be aware, that like all nuts and seeds, pumpkin seeds do contain anti-nutrients like phytic acid, which can lead to nutritional deficiencies and inflammation, if eaten in excess. So, consumption of seeds should be limited. Additionally, soaking your seeds can help reduce the anti-nutrient content.
Not Just for Thanksgiving
If you’re looking to ramp up the nutritional value of your next meal, turn to the versatile pumpkin. Incorporating pumpkin flesh or seeds into your favorite recipe is a simple way to add fiber, vitamins, and minerals to your diet.
And of course, make sure it is organic to enhance its nutrient levels and avoid the negative health effects of pesticides and herbicides.
Don’t forget that acquiring the nutritional benefits of pumpkin does not have to be reserved just for the holidays; they can be enjoyed any time of year.