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All About Pumpkins: Nutrition, Benefits, Recipes, Side Effects, and More
Pumpkins aren’t just to carve out for Halloween. They are veritable treasure troves of nutrients, that you can put to multiple uses. They are versatile and multipurpose – feeling curious about this supposed wonder vegetable?
In this article, we will unravel the world of possibilities with the humble pumpkin.
Nutrition and Health Benefits of Pumpkin
The first point of order is to understand just how nutritious pumpkins are. They are rich in the following nutrients −
This yellow-orange squash from South America is one of the highest sources of alpha and beta-carotene, which are carotenoids the body converts into Vitamin A it can use. It provides about 209% of our daily requirements of Vitamin A.
Vitamin A for its part bolsters your immune system and helps to fight off infections. It improves vision and may help stave off the progression of macular degeneration, and age-related vision loss, alongside the pumpkin’s lutein and zeaxanthin content. It is also an antioxidant with natural sunscreen properties that shield your skin from harmful UV rays.
At 10% of the required daily value, the vitamin C content in pumpkins can help strengthen your immune system, as it enhances the production of white blood cells. Vitamin C also promotes skin health, by boosting collagen production which keeps your skin healthy, supple, and elastic.
Vitamin C also has its fair share of antioxidants to prevent free radical build-up and oxidative stress in the body. It thus protects, heals and repairs cells and tissue as well.
One serving i.e., one cup or 245 grams of pumpkin gives you 22% of the recommended daily value of Vitamin E. Vitamin E is great for heart health by reducing risk factors like LDL cholesterol and systolic blood pressure. The tocopherols (compounds that constitute fat-soluble vitamin K) could also reduce liver inflammation and improve liver health in people with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
Pumpkin provides 37% of your daily needs of Vitamin K, a nutrient central to the production of the prothrombin protein, which in turn is crucial for blood clotting, healthy bone tissue, and bone metabolism.
Vitamins B6 and B2 (Riboflavin)
Riboflavin is crucial for the body’s mitochondrial activity and to convert food into energy. Vitamin B6 for its part ensures proper development and central nervous system functioning. At 10% of the daily value (DV), these B Vitamins can help keep issues like migraines and peripheral neuropathy at bay.
Copper, Iron, Magnesium, and Potassium
At 28% and 18% of the dietary requirements, the pumpkin gives you a good dose of copper and iron. These keep your nerves and cells healthy, promote red blood cell production, absorption and transport of oxygen, and metabolic functions like converting sugar into energy and hormone synthesis.
Likewise, 13% and 10% of magnesium and potassium daily value (DV) can be derived from one cup of pumpkin. They ensure healthy muscle function, regulate blood pressure, maintain fluid levels, and facilitate biochemical reactions like enzyme function.
Pumpkin flesh contains many other micronutrients as well like zinc, manganese, and folate in addition to containing lots of fiber. Pumpkin seeds i.e., pepitas also have tons of omega-3, 6 fat acids, i.e., (linoleic and linolenic acids), and sterols. Pumpkin seed oil is often used as a carrier oil for therapies as it is antimicrobial and antihistamine properties.
Recipes with Pumpkin
No, we aren’t going to recommend pumpkin pie or pumpkin spice lattes, or pumpkin macarons. Pumpkin spice has none of the nutrients that pumpkin in its original form does. And treats like pies, macarons, and cakes have a lot of refined sugar and fats to classify as healthy. They are fine from time to time, like on Thanksgiving, but not as part of your regular diet.
There is still a lot you can do with pumpkins.
You can make a wide array of pumpkin soups by combining them with other vegetables like lentils, beans, and chickpeas. You can season with farro, mix it with some chicken broth for an umami flavor, add in roasted pumpkin seeds for a crunch, or even add in roasted apples for a slightly sweet-autumn-like taste. Give it a Thai spin with some coconut milk, lime, and cilantro. Make hearty chilis in the winter with meats, beans, and ginger to warm yourself, or use cubed/mashed/grated pumpkin in pasta be they ravioli or spaghetti. A brown butter sauce makes that pumpkin creamier, giving you a lovely buttery past fix.
You can also add it to risottos with a little Parmesan cheese, and some mushrooms. Puree pumpkins and add them to pancake batter, bread dough, or waffle batter. Or simply cut them up and make pumpkin fries as a snack. For your sweet tooth, make pumpkin-based cookies, muffins and with clean ingredients like oat, wholewheat, and bran flour and throw in walnuts and almonds. Use dairy alternatives like soy or almond milk, and go for a no-sugar approach by sweetening with honey, almond butter, and maple syrup. You can boil, roast, or grill pumpkin, season lightly and have a meat and three-veg dinner, or you could use the puree with some spices, garlic, and paprika to make a sauce, hummus, or make a seafood stew with some bacon. Smoothies, stews, curries, brownies, or paleo cakes – the list of pumpkin delights is endless!
Side Effects of Pumpkin
Eating pumpkin in its natural form is healthy and harmless unless you have an allergy. But too many pumpkin seeds can cause stomach aches/cramps, nausea, and diarrhea because they have high concentrations of fatty acids. Likewise, pumpkins may not be suitable for people on specific medications like lithium or blood thinners. Pumpkin has a diuretic quality that interferes with the excretion of lithium by the kidneys and its fatty acid and Vitamin K content can interact with drugs like blood thinners causing bleeding. Consult your doctor before you start regularly consuming pumpkins.
If you are mind-blown by this fascinating new world of pumpkins, all we have to say is – go explore!
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