The humble pumpkin, which originated in Central America and was revered by early Native Americans, has been bestowed with transformative powers in modern American culture.
The bright orange color of pumpkin "meat" is a clue to its wealth of carotenoids, such as beta-carotene, which help neutralize free radicals and thereby reduce the risk of cancer. The carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin, found in pumpkin flesh, promote eye health and guard against macular degeneration. Pumpkin is also a good source of vitamins A and C as well as alpha-hydroxy acids, which reduce the signs of aging in skin.
The potassium in pumpkin makes it a good choice for those with hypertension. Its high-fiber content also helps to curb the appetite, reduce fat absorption and protect against atherosclerosis. Pumpkin holds promise for diabetics: In animal studies, it promoted the regeneration of damaged insulin-producing beta cells. As a result, pumpkin could drastically reduce the need for daily insulin injections in diabetics.
Seeds to Keep You Sound
When carving your Holloween pumpkin, don't throw away the seeds! Pumpkin seeds (also known as pepitas) might actually have more benefits than the orange flesh itself. Pumpkin seeds are especially promising in the realm of prostate health, in particular for a condition known as BPH (benign prostatic hypertrophy), which is common in men 50 years and older. The seeds are also high in carotenoids, omega-3 fats and zinc, compounds being studied for their potential prostate-supportive benefits. Zinc also helps guard against osteoporosis of the hip and spine.
Pumpkin seeds are high in phytosterols, compounds found in plants that have been shown to reduce blood levels of cholesterol, enhance the immune response and decrease the risk of certain cancers. They are commonly added to such foods as butter replacement spreads, but they occur in pumpkin seeds naturally and deliciously.
Compared with anti-inflammatory drugs for arthritis, pumpkin seeds are equally effective at reducing inflammation symptoms in animal studies. However, unlike drugs such as indomethacin — which can damage the lining of the joints and exacerbate arthritis — pumpkin seeds do not have any side effects.
Pumpkin seeds are nutrient-rich — a good source of magnesium, manganese and phosphorus — and high in protein. The oil of the pumpkin seed is loaded with essential fatty acids, which maintain healthy blood vessels and nerves as well as provide proper lubrication for tissues, including the skin.
Given the wide ranging benefits of all parts of the pumpkin, this autumn squash proves to have as many possibilities as a jack-o'-lantern's expression.