Super Food: Pumpkin

It is now the season to begin thinking about Halloween and Thanksgiving, which of course means carving pumpkin’s and pumpkin pie. MrsToronto has assured me that some fresh new pumpkin recipes will be featured here shortly, but for now here is what pumpkin has to offer.

Pumpkin is actually a fruit, but because it is usually referred to a vegetable, I’ll be calling it one from here on in. It is very widely grown, and is incredibly rich in vital antioxidants, and vitamins. This low-calorie ‘vegetable’ contains vitamin-A, as well as flavonoid poly-phenolic antioxidants such as leutin, xanthin, and carotenes in abundance.

The plant is relatively easy to grow as it’s a fast-growing vine that creeps on the surface in a similar fashion like that of other cucurbitaceae family vegetables and fruits such as cucumber, squash, and cantaloupes. It is one of the most popular field crops cultivated around the world, including North America, especially commercially for its fruit, and seeds.

Pumpkins vary greatly in shape, size and colors. Giant pumpkins generally weigh six to ten pounds with the largest capable of reaching a weight of over 60 pounds. Golden-nugget pumpkins are flat, and are smaller in size. They have sweet, creamy orange color flesh.

Pumpkins in general are orange or yellow in color. Some varieties however, are dark to pale green, brown, white, red and gray. The color is largely influenced by yellow-orange pigments in their skin and pulp. The rind is smooth with light, vertical ribs.

Structurally, its fruit pulp ranges from golden-yellow to orange in color depending on the poly-phenolic pigments in it. The fruit has a hollow center, with numerous small, off-white colored seeds interspersed in the netting like structure. Pumpkin seeds are a great source of protein, minerals, vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids.

Pumpkin is one of the very lowest calorie vegetables. 100 grams of pumpkin fruit provides just 26 calories, and contains no saturated fats or cholesterol. Even with such minimal calories, it also is rich in dietary fiber, anti-oxidants, minerals, vitamins. The vegetable is one of the food items recommended by dietitians for cholesterol reduction and weight management.

Pumpkin is a great source of many anti-oxidant vitamins such as vitamin-A, vitamin-C and vitamin-E. With a whopping 7384 milligrams per 100 grams, it is one of the vegetables in the cucurbitaceae family featuring the highest levels of vitamin-A. This provides about 246 percent of our daily RDA. Vitamin-A is a powerful natural anti-oxidant, and is required by the body for maintaining the integrity of skin and mucus membranes. It is also an essential vitamin for good sight. Research studies suggest that natural foods rich in vitamin-A help the body to protect against lung and oral cavity cancers.

It is also an excellent source of many natural poly-phenolic flavonoid compounds such as A and B carotenes, cryptoxanthin, lutein and zea-xanthin. Carotenes convert into vitamin A inside the body. Zea-xanthin is a natural anti-oxidant which has ultra-violet ray filtering actions in the macula lutea in retina of the eyes. This means can it help protect against age-related macular disease in the elderly.

The fruit is also a good source of the B-complex group of vitamins like folates, niacin, vitamin B-6 (pyridoxine), thiamin and pantothenic acid. It is also rich source of minerals like copper, calcium, potassium and phosphorus.

Pumpkin seeds indeed are an excellent source of dietary fiber and mono-unsaturated fatty acids, which are good for heart health. In addition, the seeds are concentrated sources of protein, minerals and health-benefiting vitamins. For instance, 100 grams of pumpkin seeds provide 559 calories, 30 grams of protein, 110 percent of the RDA of iron, 4987 mg of niacin, or 31 percent of the RDA, 17 percent of the RDA of selenium,  and 71 percent of the RDA of zinc, but no cholesterol. Furthermore, the seeds are an excellent source of the health promoting amino acid tryptophan. Tryptophan is converted to GABA in the brain.

Pumpkins are readily available in the market year around. Buy well-grown whole pumpkin instead of sections, for freshness over convenience. Look for mature pumpkins that make a woody note on tapping, are heavy in hand and have a dry, stout stem. Avoid the ones with wrinkled surface, cuts and bruises. Once at home, fully ripened pumpkin can be stored for many weeks in a cool, well-ventilated place at room temperature. Cut sections should be placed inside the refrigerator where it can keep well for a few days.

Some hybrid varieties are usually subjected to insecticide powder or spray. They need to be washed thoroughly in running water in order to remove dust, soil and any residual insecticides or fungicides. Cut the stem end and slice the whole fruit into two equal halves. Remove the central netting like structure, and set aside seeds. Then cut into desired sizes. In general, small cubes are used in cooking preparations. Almost all the parts of the pumpkin plant including the fruit, leaves, flowers and seeds, are edible.

Happy Lifting!

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