October is the pumpkin’s time to shine. It’s a recognizable symbol of the autumn season and harvest.
The rest of the year, pumpkins tend to take a backseat. We forget about the brightly colored squash after the last slice of pumpkin pie is gone and the jackolanterns turn into mush on the front porch.
But maybe we shouldn’t…
The pumpkin has a lot of incredible natural health benefits, and it’s good for much more than just pie.
7 Ways Pumpkins Can Improve Your Health
Peter Peter Pumpkin-Eater was probably a pretty healthy guy!
Here’s a look at the nutritional advantages of pumpkins and how they can contribute to good health.
1. Good Source of Vitamin A & Carotenoids
The vibrant orange color of pumpkins is a dead giveaway that they are packed with beta-carotene, which your body converts into Vitamin A.
Beta-carotene is known for it potential to support your immune system. Vitamin A is also an essential vitamin for maintaining vision health. A cup of pumpkin has nearly 200% of the recommended daily value for Vitamin A.
2. Cholesterol & Heart Health
The most amazing part of the pumpkin may actually be the seeds, which have a lot of nutritious qualities. One of them is the potential to support healthy cholesterol levels – particularly the balance between good and bad cholesterol (LDL & HDL).
Pumpkin seeds as well as other nuts and seeds are rich in phytosterols, which are plant-based chemicals that could keep LDL levels in check. Healthy cholesterol levels mean a healthier heart – and that’s not the only way pumpkin seeds help your ticker.
They are also packed with magnesium, an important mineral, of which most Americans have a deficiency. Magnesium promotes healthy blood pressure and could help keep you health so serious problems are less likely – like a heart attack or stroke. A quarter-cup of pumpkin seeds contains about half the recommended daily amount of magnesium.
- Get shelled, unsalted Pumpkin Seeds from Natural Healthy Concepts
3. Lots of Fiber
Fresh pumpkins have about three grams of fiber per one-cup serving. Add to that the fact that it also contains only about 50 calories per serving, and this is an excellent vegetable to help you control hunger as well as weight gain.
Since canned pumpkin is more concentrated – it actually has even more fiber – as much as seven grams per serving as well as three grams of protein. There’s some more fiber in those pumpkin seeds too.
4. Good Source of Zinc
Pumpkin seeds are also a great way to get the mineral zinc. If you aren’t getting enough zinc in your diet, your body could be more susceptible to coming down with colds and the flu. That’s why zinc is viewed as an important mineral for immune system health.
Pumpkin seeds and pumpkin seed oil can also be beneficial to men’s health. They’ve been shown to support the prostate because of the high zinc content. There’s more than 2 mg in just one ounce of seeds. Zinc has even been shown to potentially reduce enlarged prostate or benign prostatic hyperplasia. Read the study for more information.
- Find supplements with Pumpkin Seed Oil at Natural Healthy Concepts
5. Skin Health & Protection
Healthy skin is yet another positive effect of the pumpkin. You’ll often find natural lotions that include pumpkin in the ingredients.
The carotenoids in pumpkin may help neutralize free radicals, which can cause stress and damage to your skin. Dermatologist and author Kenneth Beer told Health.com that because the pumpkin contains Vitamins A, C and E, it can also help cleanse the skin.
To top it all off, pumpkins have excellent hydrating properties to keep your skin from getting dried out.
6. Potassium for Refueling
We’ve always heard that the banana is nature’s energy bar because of all the potassium (or Vitamin K). But you may surprised to learn that while one average-sized banana has about 420 mg of potassium, a cup of cooked pumpkin contains more than 560 mg.
Potassium can help restore electrolytes and maintain fluids in your body after a good workout. That ensures your muscles recover properly and helps you avoid cramping. Plus, a deficiency in potassium could also contribute to reducing hypertension/high blood pressure.
7. Boost Mood and Help You Sleep
Usually we talk about turkey when we think of tryptophan, which can make you feel sleepy. But turkey meat doesn’t actually have all that much of the amino acid. However, pumpkin seeds truly are a good source of tryptophan.
Your body uses tryptophan to help it produce the hormone serotonin. Of course, serotonin is known as the “happy hormone.” So eating pumpkin seeds could improve your mood.
You use serotonin to produce melatonin – also known as the “sleep hormone.” Melatonin is important for developing a healthy, normal sleep cycle. In an article about the benefits of pumpkin seeds, Dr. Joseph Mercola suggests eating a handful of pumpkin seeds a few hours before you plan to go to bed. It could be a natural way to help you fall asleep and stay asleep.
7 Recipes for Using Pumpkins
So now that you know how healthy pumpkins are – you’re probably wondering about the best way to use them – other than in a pie.
Never fear! There are a ton of ways to put the power of pumpkins in your diet. With most of the recipes below, you can choose to substitute fresh-cooked pumpkin for canned pumpkin and vice versa.
1. Pumpkin Oatmeal
Mixing some pumpkin into a bowl of oatmeal is a great way to start your day. It’s easy to add some pumpkin puree to your rolled oats as you cook them on the stove. You’ll find this to be a delicious breakfast dish for the fall season.
- Get Pumpkin Oatmeal Directions from Greatist.com
- Check out a Vegan Pumpkin Oatmeal Bake recipe from Chocolate Covered Katie
You’ll really be boosting your fiber intake when you combine oatmeal and pumpkin. That’s a breakfast that will keep you going all day long.
2. Roast Your Own Pumpkin Seeds
Don’t just toss out those pumpkin seeds after you and the kids carve a jackolantern for Halloween! Rinse the guts off of them and roast them yourself for a tasty, healthy snack.
This is really easy. Once you have the seeds cleaned off and patted dry, coat them in melted butter or olive oil and then season them with sea salt or whatever you like. You could make a spicy version, a garlic version, or a black pepper version of the seeds.
Finally, spread them out on a baking sheet and stick them in the oven.
There’s different advice for how long to roast pumpkin seeds. The lower the temperature and less exposure to heat – the more nutrients are preserved. Of course, roasty, salty and crunchy seeds taste the best. Some recipes will tell you to bake them at 350-degrees for 45 minutes, others will say 200-degrees for 20 minutes.
So experiment, and find out what you like.
3. Pumpkin Ravioli
Sounds a bit strange at first – but don’t knock pumpkin and pasta until you try it. This is the perfect way to make pumpkin the star of your meal. It’s a rich and delicious dish that typically combines pumpkin puree with ricotta cheese and a savory sauce.
But you’re probably wondering how you stuff raviolis if you don’t want to make homemade paste. Well, one option would be to use wonton wrappers, as they do in a pumpkin ravioli dish on Health.com.
If you’re feeling ambitious and want to try your hand at making pasta – check out the recipe on the foodie blog Eat Yourself Skinny.
Pumpkin ravioli could be a very impressive thing to put on plates when you want to show off in front of your dinner guests!
4. Pumpkin Parfait
Let’s be honest, the best way to enjoy pumpkin is as a decadent treat full of spices like nutmeg, ginger and cinnamon. You’ve had pumpkin pie and pumpkin bread full of chocolate chips – but how does a pumpkin parfait sound?
You can spoil yourself with this pumpkin parfait recipe from the Food Network that includes dark rum, heavy cream and comes topped with ginger snap cookies.
If you’d rather mix up a healthier parfait, there are recipes for that too!
- Check out the Paleo Pumpkin Parfait from PaleOMG.com
- Try this lo-cal version called the Skinny Pumpkin Parfait
5. Pumpkin Energy Bars
Remember – pumpkins are a great way to refuel because of all that potassium. So why not make some homemade energy bars?
Just imagine going for a run outdoors and enjoying the autumn leaves followed by a chewy treat with all the flavors fall.
- Here’s an Energy Punching Pumpkin Bar recipe from WomensRunning.com
- There’s a vegan-friendly recipe from NutritionistIntheKitch.com
- Or try Cranberry-Pumpkin Seed Bars from Food & Wine magazine
Not only will it be super healthy, but you may also be saving money if you regularly get store-bought energy bars.
6. Pumpkin Soup
This is a great way to take fresh pumpkin and turn it into a savory soup that warms you up from head to toe.
It could be a fun first round to a fancy Thanksgiving feast. You can really impress your guests if you serve it up in a bowl made out of a pumpkin shell! And some chefs even recommend pouring pumpkin soup over your leftover turkey before you eat it.
- Try a Pumpkin Soup with Crispy Sage from FoodieCrush.com
- Mix up the from-scratch version found on ThePioneerWoman.com
There are a lot of different ways to turn pumpkin into a steamy soup. You could even try this recipe for Turkey Pumpkin Chili from Whole Foods Market.
7. Pumpkin Cheddar Mac
What kid doesn’t love a bowl of creamy macaroni and cheese? In fact – most grown-ups do too!
But maybe you feel a little guilty feeding the kids starch, butter and gooey cheese multiple times per week. Here’s a way to pack your mac with the health benefits of pumpkins.
There’s a very cool recipe we found on the Taste and Tell blog that originally came from Rachael Ray. It uses penne noodles with pumpkin and even some of the typical spices that go with it. So you should expect a different flavor to this mac and cheese. It may be for a more-defined palate -but it only takes 30 minutes to make.
If you’re afraid the younger members of your family won’t appreciate the complex flavors – try this simpler Pumpkin Mac and Cheese recipe from The Stir.
How Do You Use Pumpkin?
Got some tasty pumpkin recipes of your own. Tell us what you do with pumpkins and pumpkin seeds!
Leave a comment below and let us in on your secrets. Or put up a link to your favorite pumpkin recipe.
Images Credits: Via Flickr Creative Commons License
- Oatmeal – GucciBeaR
- Roasted Seeds – Rachelle @ Mommy? I’m Hungry!
- Ravioli – stijn
- Parfait – shutterbean
- Energy Bars – knitting iris
- Soup – ccharmon
- Mac & Cheese – Seoulful Adventures