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Pumpkins: A Nutritious Treat on Your Doorstep

Submitted by: Amy Sercel MS RD CD

Edited by: Marcia Bristow MS RDN CSSD CD

Halloween has come and gone, and Thanksgiving is right around the corner.  This is the time of year for cooler days and longer nights illuminated by Jack-o-lanterns on every doorstep.  Carving pumpkins is a creative way to celebrate the season with your family and friends, but did you know these decorations can also make a healthy snack?  Pumpkins are delicious, low in calories, and full of vitamins, minerals, and fiber.  One cup of mashed pumpkin contains 49 calories and 2.7 grams of fiber, as wells as 10% of your daily need for iron, 12% of your daily need for potassium, and 80% of your daily need for vitamin A.1

Some cultures use pumpkins to lower blood sugar.  In China, India, Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico, you can find herbal medicines made with pumpkin that are used to treat early diabetes.  These herbal medicines contain pumpkin fiber, which has been shown to help control blood sugar levels and manage some symptoms of diabetes.  One typical symptom of diabetes is increased thirst caused by high blood sugar, followed by increased urination.  When patients with diabetes were given daily supplements of pumpkin fiber, however, they reported lower blood sugar levels and less frequent urination than patients who were not taking supplements.2

Even if you don’t have diabetes, pumpkins have many potential health benefits.  Pumpkins’ deep orange color shows that they are full of the antioxidant beta carotene, which is converted to vitamin A in your body and can keep your eyes healthy as you get older.3 Eating pumpkin will also help you make sure you’re getting enough potassium, which is related to lower blood pressure, decreased risk of heart disease, and decreased risk of developing osteoporosis.4

While you’ve probably eaten pumpkin in pies, muffins, and other desserts, you can enjoy pumpkin in many forms!

All these recipes can conveniently be made by using canned pumpkin puree and enjoyed even when pumpkins are not in season. If you use canned pumpkin, double check the label to make sure you didn’t accidentally grab pumpkin pie filling.  This will have added sugar, which increases the calorie content, and may not be good in a savory dish.

Although canned pumpkin is convenient, try cooking it up yourself by following these directions.

If you do use a whole pumpkin, don’t forget to roast the seeds.  Pumpkin seeds make another nutritious treat, with a ¼ cup serving providing 180 calories, 9 grams of protein, and 3 grams of fiber.5 No matter which way you eat it, pumpkin is a delicious vegetable that makes a colorful addition to any meal!

References:

  1.  USDA Agricultural Research Service. Basic Report: 11423, Pumpkin, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt. National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 28. https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/3142?manu=&fgcd=&ds=. Accessed October 27, 2016.
  2.  Adams GG, Imran S, Wang S, et al. The hypoglycaemic effect of pumpkins as anti-diabetic and functional medicines. Food Res Int. 2011;44(4):862-867. doi:10.1016/j.foodres.2011.03.016.
  3.  Pumpkin: Health Benefits and Nutritional Breakdown – Medical News Today. http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/279610.php. Accessed October 27, 2016.
  4.  Potassium. University of Maryland Medical Center. http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/supplement/potassium. Accessed October 27, 2016.
  5.  U.S. Department of Agriculture. 45043247, Organic Pumpkin Seeds, UPC: 725439949477. USDA Agricultural Research Service. https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/40768?manu=&fgcd=&ds=. Accessed October 27, 2016.

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