October is the month we see lots of pumpkins around, but they are so much more than just a pretty fall decoration or good for making jack-o-lanterns.
What’s In Pumpkin That is So Healthy?
First, pumpkin is a great source of beta-carotene, an antioxidant that the body turns into Vitamin A. This particular antioxidant which gives the pumpkin its orange color, has been found to lower risks of heart disease, asthma, and according to the National Cancer Institute, some forms of cancer. The beta-carotene as well as the vitamin C and vitamin E it contains, also make it good for eye health and help support immune system function as beta-carotene in particular helps in making white blood cells and pumpkin oil has been found to help against some bacterial and fungal infections. It also contains lutein and zeaxanthin, antioxidants found to help in preventing cataracts and reduce development of macular degeneration.
Next on the list of health benefits from pumpkin is that it is high in fiber and potassium which contribute to heart health, help keep blood pressure levels stable, reduce risks of stroke, and help preserve bone density. The seeds from the pumpkin are a rich source of phytosterols that research shows can help in reducing LDL cholesterol levels. There are also studies suggesting that eating pumpkin can help in reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes since it has compounds in its pulp and seeds that aid glucose absorption in tissues and intestines and balance levels in the liver. The USDA National Nutrient Database reports that a cup of cooked, boiled or drained pumpkin minus salt gives you over 200% of vitamin A recommended daily, 19% of daily recommended vitamin C and 10% of your daily recommended amounts of vitamin E, riboflavin, potassium, copper and manganese. Then to top it all off, pumpkins are a good food to put on your weight loss plan as they are filling, but low calorie. According to Caroline Kaufman, MS, RDN, one cup of canned pumpkin gives you 7 grams of fiber, which is more than 2 slices of whole grain bread, to help you feel full and slow down your digestion so that you feel full for a longer time, but with only 49 calories. Since canned pumpkin is about 90% water, you also get a hydration benefit.
A Pumpkin Boost
Pumpkin has also been found to help boost your energy level as well as your mood. Potassium is known to give us a natural energy boost and people often turn to bananas for this boost. But a cup of cooked pumpkin has 564 milligrams of potassium in comparison to the 422 milligrams found in a banana. Since potassium is also good for restoring the electrolyte balance in your body which is often unbalanced by heavy exercise, pumpkin makes an excellent after workout snack. It also can help with optimal muscle function.
For a mood boost, pumpkin seeds are a great source of tryptophan, an amino acid that helps in producing serotonin. Next time you find yourself down in the dumps, try eating a handful of pumpkin seeds and see if your mood becomes lighter.
Best Ways to Use Pumpkin
The best ways to get your pumpkin is either from fresh pumpkin or canned. The process used to can pumpkin still allows for survival of most of the healthy nutrients. Stay away from the canned pumpkin pie fillings though as they usually have sugars and syrups added. For baking, you can also use pureed pumpkin in place of butter or oil in your recipes. Add some powdered algae to your pumpkin dishes and you’ll really have a superfood.
Another way to use pumpkin that you may not have thought of is to use it in making a natural face mask. Mix 1/4 cup pureed pumpkin, one egg, one tablespoon of honey, and one tablespoon of milk to make the mask. Put it on your face for 20 minutes and wash off with warm water. If you are not a fan of facial masks, know that even eating pumpkin is good for your skin as the beta-carotene in it gives you protection from UV rays.
So sure, go ahead and use your pumpkins to decorate for fall or make some jack-o-lanterns, but get some extra to add into your healthy eating plan and get in on all the added benefits you can get from pumpkins.
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