With the leaves changing and the air starting to get cooler, that means pumpkin season is here. Pumpkins are typically associated with pumpkin pie or “PSL” pumpkin spice lattes, however, it is so much more versatile than that, and can have many health benefits. October 26th is National Pumpkin Day, and this year, you can celebrate with a new pumpkin recipe, and learn some new facts about why pumpkins rock!
History of the Pumpkin
The pumpkin belongs to the species group Cucurbita pepo, which it shares with acorn squash and zucchini. Though pumpkins are thought of as vegetables, technically, they are a fruit due to their seeds. Pumpkins have been around for thousands of years, interestingly an archaeologist found a 10,000-year-old pumpkin field in Oaxaca, Mexico. (1) The popularity of pumpkins continued to rise as civilization grew as they were typically grown and cooked with beans and corn during 2500 B.C. During this time, pumpkins were cooked by roasting them, adding them into stews and drying them as vegetable jerky. (1)
In more modern times, pumpkins are still incorporated in meals, but are also added to desserts. The first pumpkin pie recipe was published in the United States’ first cookbook, American Cookery, in 1796. (1) Now, Thanksgiving and autumn are analogous with pumpkins. Each year, American farmers grow more than a billion pounds of pumpkin. (1)
Nutritional Benefits of Pumpkin
1 cup of canned pumpkin contains 7 grams of fiber. (2) Fiber has numerous benefits including heart health because it decreases the “bad” LDL cholesterol. Additionally, it stabilizes blood sugar, improves gut health, and helps with portion control because it keeps you full for longer. By incorporating pumpkin into your diet, it will get you closer to your goal of getting 25 grams of fiber per day.
Wonder why pumpkins have a bright orange color? Well, that is coming from a carotenoid called beta-carotene. Beta- carotene is converted to vitamin A in our bodies. One cup of pumpkin contains 245% of the recommended dietary allowance for vitamin A. (2) Vitamin A is important for eye health, skin health and the immune system. (2)
One cup of canned pumpkin contains 505 mg of potassium. (3) Having a diet high in potassium has been shown to lower blood pressure because it relaxes the walls of the blood vessels which can lower the blood pressure. Keeping blood pressure in a safe range, can lower your risk of getting a stroke. (3) Incorporate other high potassium foods such as bananas, beans, lentils, spinach, avocado, and yogurt. Before taking a potassium supplement, speak to your healthcare provider.
Don’t forget about the seeds! Pumpkin seeds, also known as pepitas, can be a powerhouse of nutrition. Per the American Heart Association (AHA) ¼ of a cup of pumpkin seeds has almost 40% of your daily recommendation of magnesium. (4) Magnesium is beneficial in improving blood pressure and bone health. (4)
How to Bake the Seeds
- Wash and dry the seeds.
- Place them on a cookie sheet.
- Season them with olive oil, and your favorite herbs/spices (ie garlic powder, paprika, black pepper or cinnamon for a sweet twist).
- Roast them at 325°F for 12 to 15 minutes and toss them every 5 minutes.
Ways to Add Pumpkin into Your Recipes
- Add a scoop of pumpkin puree and a sprinkle of cinnamon to oatmeal.
- Add canned pumpkin to your next chili recipe to give it extra creaminess with a fall twist.
- Looking for a healthier dessert option? Try adding pumpkin puree to your chia seed pudding for a pumpkin pie chia mousse.
- Cooking substitute for oil: When baking, substitute pumpkin one-to-one for oil.
- Cooking substitute for butter: When baking, substitute pumpkin for butter by multiplying the amount of butter to use by .75. For example, if the recipe asks for 2 cups of butter, then you would use 1.5 cups of pumpkin puree.
This year, celebrate this famous gourd by incorporating it into your favorite recipe. If you are interested in exploring other foods to incorporate to improve your health book an appointment online with a dietitian or call our Nutrition Coordinators at (919) 237-1337, option 4 today.
- Magazine, S. (2018, November 20). How the formerly ubiquitous pumpkin became a Thanksgiving treat. Smithsonian.com. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/how-formerly-ubiquitous-pumpkin-became-once-year-treat-180970860/
- ’Tis the season for pumpkin. Today’s Dietitian. (2015, November). https://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/1115p20.shtml
- The importance of potassium. Harvard Health. (2019, July 18). https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/the-importance-of-potassium
- American Heart Association. (2018, October 25). Pumpkin Seeds Pack a healthy punch. www.heart.org. https://www.heart.org/en/news/2018/10/25/pumpkin-seeds-pack-a-healthy-punch