Many people only eat pumpkin at Thanksgiving in sugary pumpkin pies. What a waste.
Pumpkins and winter squash are some of the healthiest of all vegetables (or fruits for the picky) and rich in antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and dietary fiber. Not only do they taste great, pumpkins are low in calories yet surprisingly filling.
Here’s why it’s worth replacing fattening potatoes with healthy pumpkin on your dinner plate. Your body will thank you for it.
Pumpkins – the Antioxidant Vegetable
Pumpkins are full to bursting with antioxidant carotenoids for protecting your body’s cells from free radical damage. Most people have heard of beta-carotene and their rich orange color is a clue that pumpkins have good quantities of it. But they are also one of the best sources of alpha-carotene and beta-cryptoxanthin, which may be even more powerful antioxidants.
Research in a study at the Department of Biochemistry in Tokyo entitled Anticarcinogenesis Activity of Natural Carotenes showed alpha-carotene performed even better than beta-carotene at inhibiting the proliferation of cancer cells in cultures.
Beta-cryptoxanthin is a less common carotenoid and hasn’t been studied as much as beta-carotene or alpha carotene, but some research suggests a good regular intake may lower your chance of developing arthritis and lung cancer.
The eye antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin are also found in fresh pumpkin and winter squash. The macular area of your eyes are where these pair of carotenoids are concentrated. At good levels they can protect your vision from damaging UV and high-intensity blue light. However, when dietary intake of lutein and zeaxanthin is consistently low, symptoms are said to include eyestrain and deteriorating vision.
Getting plenty of these two carotenoids in your diet is believed to reduce your risk of developing both cataracts and age-related macular degeneration (which is the primary cause of blindness in America).
Pumpkins Vitamins and Minerals
Most health resources list pumpkin as high in vitamin A. I think a better description would be potential vitamin A. The beta-carotene, alpha-carotene and beta-cryptoxanthin they contain can convert to vitamin A if you are low in it. But why shortchange yourself on the beneficial antioxidant potential of these carotenoids by not getting enough vitamin A in your diet?
Fresh liver is rich in vitamin A, but, if like me, you’re not a fan, then lemon flavored cod liver oil is a great source, not just of vitamin A, but also vitamin D and the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA.
Pumpkin also has B vitamins like riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, pyridoxine and folate, along with good levels of vitamin C, some vitamin E and the often difficult to get vitamin K.
In the mineral stakes pumpkins have potassium, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and zinc. It is also a good source of iron and copper for healthy hair.
Like all vegetables, the mineral content in your pumpkin will vary depending on the soil it is grown in. This alone, aside from any concerns about pesticides, is a good reason to consider organic if you can find them. Organic produce is often grown in less intensely farmed and mineral depleted soils which may lead to more mineral rich veggies.
The concentrated nutrition in raw pumpkin seeds is an even better source of minerals and it’s worth a quick read about just how healthy this superfood snack is.
Fiber and Calories in Pumpkin
Pumpkin is an excellent source of dietary fiber to help out your hard-working digestive system. It is said to be great for relieving constipation, so perhaps some of the recipes ahead will be a better choice than harsh laxatives.
Potatoes in their natural state are also a good source of fiber. Unfortunately, being the most commonly processed of all vegetables, they are rarely eaten in their natural state these days. This study found potato product consumption to be one of the highest markers for weight gain.
There’s a misconception that pumpkins are fattening, but despite its rich taste, pumpkin is low in calories with only around 26 per 100 grams. Even with such a low calorie content, they are surprisingly filling, actually making them a great food for anyone wanting to lose weight.
Pumpkin Vs Potato: The Verdict
Pumpkins are a more nutritious food than potatoes in just about every way and they make a great replacement for steamed, roasted or mashed potatoes on your dinner plate.
Where as eating too many potatoes can be fattening, eating pumpkins regularly could help you lose weight and improve your overall health and well-being. It’s a simple change but a valuable one.
Next is a look at Cooking Pumpkin for Maximum Nutrition and a simple way to prepare them for most recipes.