Pumpkin, more than meets the eye

Would you believe pumpkins were once recommended for removing freckles and curing snake bites?  That is not the case now, but pumpkin continues to be an incredibly nutritious piece of produce.  The pumpkin we know and love may be used as a decoration this Halloween, but we cannot forget the great source of nutrition it can be.  During the fall and winter months pumpkin can be purchased local and fresh. When produce is purchased in-season it means it has reached optimal nutritional quality before it was picked.  In-season produce means a product at peak freshness and nutrition quality. See the following list for the health benefits of pumpkin.

  • Fiber: Pumpkins are considered a squash, which provides a lot of fiber. Fiber is exercise for the stomach, which helps keep the gastrointestinal tract healthy. Fiber also keeps you fuller for longer, keeping you satisfied to prevent overeating later on in the day.
  • Vitamin A: Pumpkins are a great source of beta carotene which gets converted to Vitamin A in the body. Vitamin A helps prevent dry eyes and night blindness. It also helps reduce the risk of eye infections.
  • Potassium: Pumpkins contain potassium which is required for normal cell function. Potassium helps muscles contract, helps regulate fluid and mineral balance, helps maintain normal blood pressure, and the list goes on. Potassium is an important component in the diet and pumpkins have it!
  • Antioxidants: Pumpkins contain antioxidants which help protect your healthy cells from damage caused by free radicals. Free radicals form from your everyday body processes like breathing or exercise, so it is important to include fruits and vegetables in the diet every day for their antioxidant properties, which includes pumpkin!
  • Pumpkin seeds: Roasted pumpkin seeds as a delicious snack are a great source of proteins and healthy fats. Proteins are the building blocks for bone, muscle, cartilage, skin and so much more. Healthy fats found in pumpkin seeds are heart healthy and may help reduce the risk of fat build up in the arteries. Try these delicious seeds spiced with paprika and garlic powder, then toast in a pan with some canola oil or toast in a pre-heated oven.

With all these benefits, how can you possible avoid the all mighty pumpkin? Pumpkin can be included as a puree in a delicious, savory pumpkin soup or use pureed pumpkin in ground turkey chili.  Try pumpkin pancakes with whole wheat flour and pureed pumpkin. You can also bake pumpkin chunks with broth, onions, salt, and pepper until broth has been absorbed or pumpkin is soft. You can also mix in baked pumpkin into rice dishes, vegetable soups, or you can even eat the pumpkin solo.  Be sure to enjoy delicious pumpkins while they are fresh and in season.

Jennifer Seleem is a registered dietitian/nutritionist with the Institute for Weight Loss at Hackensack Meridian Health Raritan Bay Medical Center-Old Bridge. The Institute provides weight loss surgery and support for individuals seeking weight loss and have been unable to lose weight through conventional dieting, exercise or weight loss medication.  To attend a free seminar, which occurs three times a month, call 1-855-TIME-4-ME.

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