Every October, hundreds and hundreds of pumpkins make their way from pumpkin patches and into the homes of families eager to cut off the tops, scoop out the innards and get creative with carving. At the same time, sugar pumpkins, which seem tiny in comparison to these giant squash creations, are transported from farmers markets to kitchens and used to make delicious fall dishes packed with powerful natural substances that have the potential to transform your health. Read on to discover the perks of pumpkin and how to use it for more than just pie.
Low Calories, Lots of Nutrients
One cup of cooked pumpkin contains about 49 calories and delivers a healthy dose of nutrients. Vitamins A, C and E are found in abundance along with many B vitamins. Minerals in pumpkin include copper, iron, manganese, magnesium and phosphorous. Like all winter squashes, pumpkin also serves as a good source of fiber. Pure canned pumpkin can provide similar benefits when used in recipes.
Cartoenes Against Cancer
The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods notes that the carotenes giving pumpkins their rich orange color wield antioxidant power once inside your body. In fact, pumpkins are “one of the best-known sources” of beta-carotene according to Medical News Today. Antioxidants serve to neutralize free radicals that can cause cell damage that leads to cancer and other serious conditions. Beta-carotene has been shown to be especially effective in reducing the risk of both prostate and lung cancer. The combination of vitamin C and antioxidants such as carotenes works to boost overall immunity, which may in and of itself help prevent cancer development.
A Healthier Heart
It’s no secret that most people consume far too much sodium every day. Most plant foods, including pumpkins, are low in sodium and also contain potassium in a ratio that helps balance out the two minerals in our bodies. Just one cup of cooked pumpkin gives you 564 milligrams of potassium. Working in combination with fiber and vitamin C, healthy potassium levels help balance blood pressure, thus lowering the risk of stroke and other cardiovascular damage. Phytosterols present in pumpkin seeds may help to lower LDL cholesterol and further promote heart health.
Blood Sugar Balance
Some properties of pumpkin may make it beneficial for people suffering from Type 2 diabetes. It appears that eating pumpkin can help to lower blood glucose levels, increase insulin production and improve glucose tolerance. This can translate to a more balanced glucose response and an increase in the body’s ability to respond to insulin.
Ready to start adding more pumpkin to your diet? It’s simple to prepare and can be used in everything from breakfast to dessert.
Cooking with Pumpkin
To prep and cook a pumpkin, treat it like any other winter squash. Knock on it to check for ripeness; it should sound hollow. Give it a good wash to get rid of any dirt, cut it in half and scoop out the seeds. (You can save them to roast later if you like.) To roast, place the cut sides down on a parchment-lined baking sheet and cook at 350F for 40-45 minutes. When it’s done, the skin should peel right off. If you need pieces of pumpkin for soup, stew or chili, peel the skin off the raw pumpkin and cut each half into chunks of the desired size.
If you fancy making your own pumpkin puree, both Oh She Glows and The Pioneer Woman have great tutorials on the process with photos from start to finish. I’ve never done this myself, but I’m betting it’s much tastier than the canned variety.
Vegan Pumpkin Recipes to Enjoy
Need a little inspiration to help you turn pumpkin in something (even more) delicious? Any of these recipes makes a good starting point.
- Chock full of nutritious oat-y goodness, these oil-free Pumpkin Oatmeal Anytime Squares from Oh She Glows are healthy enough to eat, well, anytime!
- If you’re looking for more of a treat, try the Gooey Pumpkin Spice Latte Chocolate Pudding Cake instead. Mmmm, pudding cake…
- Keepin’ it Kind offers up some decadent vegan, gluten-free chocolate brownies with a tasty twist: pumpkin swirl!
- My Healthy Pumpkin Muffins with Nuts and Seeds are a warming choice for breakfast or snack as the weather begins to cool down.
- Reduce the sugar in this oil-free pumpkin bread from Amy in the Kitchen and you have another healthy way to start your day.
- On the savory side of things, Healthy. Happy. Life. has the Jack-o-Pumpkin breakfast sandwich! Homemade maple pumpkin butter turns a simple vegan sausage patty (which can be swapped for homemade vegan sausage or marinated tempeh) into a seasonal delight.
- And for dinner, there’s Pumpkin Soup from the Minimalist Baker.
- The Fat Free Vegan Kitchen offers a meal fit for Halloween with this Pumpkin and Black Bean Casserole!
- Fancy your pumpkin spicy? Try the pumpkin peanut curry over at My Darling Vegan.
This is just a small sampling of what you can do with this nutrient-packed winter squash. It just goes to show that this vibrant orange veggie can do so much more than light up your porch every October. Remember that the benefits of pumpkin come from eating the squash in its unprocessed form, not scarfing an entire pumpkin pie — but a pie made from fresh pumpkin or canned pumpkin without additives is still far healthier than all the candy that tends to invade the house this time of year!
Do you cook or bake with fresh pumpkin? Share your favorite pumpkin preparations in the comments!