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Photos of scrumptious pumpkin treats are filling my Instagram, a sure sign of the season. Some pumpkin flavored goodies, such as lattes and donuts, are full of sugar and not the healthiest of options. However, pumpkin’s health benefits are many. From soups to breads to muffins, enjoy one of the signature flavors of fall and appreciate the boost to health that pumpkin provides.
More Than a Jack O’Lantern
Pumpkins are an orange winter squash, native to the US and extremely popular in the fall. As summer draws to a close, bins of pumpkins replace bins of watermelons. From fall décor to jack o’lanterns to Thanksgiving pies, pumpkins are an integral part of the season.
Pumpkins are a fruit, with edible seeds. Nutritionally, however, these squashes are more similar to vegetables.
Pumpkins are not only fun to carve, they are delicious. In addition, they provide impressive benefits. Here are seven ways pumpkins improve health.
Pumpkin’s Health Benefits
High in Vitamins and Minerals
This brightly colored squash is high in vitamins A, B2, C and E. Additionally, pumpkins are a significant source for potassium, copper, manganese, iron, folate and beta-carotene, a carotenoid that the body converts into vitamin A.
Pumpkins are nutritionally dense, low calorie and high in water content. They are also a good source of fiber, making them excellent for managing weight.
Free radicals are produced naturally as part of the body’s metabolic process. We need some free radicals. They destroy harmful bacteria. However too many free radicals in the body create oxidative stress, which is linked to cell death, rapid aging, and chronic diseases such as cancer and heart disease.
Pumpkins contain powerful antioxidants that neutralize free radicals and prevent them from damaging healthy cells. Antioxidants also protect the skin from sun damage.
Supports the Immune System
Pumpkin’s nutrients provide a helpful boost to the immune system. Beta-carotene, that the body converts into vitamin A, strengthens the immune system and helps to fight off infections.
Pumpkin is also high in vitamin C. This potent vitamin increases white blood cell production, which boosts the immune system further and helps the body to heal faster. Finally, pumpkin’s vitamin E, folate and iron content all support the immune system as well.
Protects Eyesight and Promotes Healthy Skin
Pumpkin helps to protect eyesight. Vitamin A deficiency can cause blindness. Pumpkins are rich in vitamin A, beta-carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin that combine to support eye health and lower the risk of age related macular degeneration and cataracts. And the antioxidants in pumpkin prevent free radicals from destroying eye cells.
The nutrients in pumpkins also promote healthy skin. Carotenoids are a natural sunblock, protecting the skin from harmful UV rays. Vitamin C is essential for healthy, youthful skin. It boosts the production of collagen, a protein that keeps skin strong and supple.
Lowers the Risk for Cancer
Cancer occurs when cells grow abnormally. These cells produce an abundance of free radicals, which help them to multiply more quickly. Pumpkin’s carotenoids function as antioxidants. They neutralize the free radicals, which helps to protect the body from certain types of cancers, including stomach, pancreas, throat and breast cancers.
Improves Heart Health
The potassium, vitamin C and fiber found in pumpkins are linked to improved heart health.
Potassium lowers blood pressure, a leading cause of strokes. High blood pressure and strokes increase the risk for heart disease. Pumpkin’s antioxidants also prevent bad cholesterol from oxidizing and clumping on the walls of blood vessels. This helps to lower the risk of heart disease as well.
The edible seeds in pumpkins are full of health boosting properties too. They are a great source of magnesium, zinc, potassium and iron. Additionally, they are full of powerful antioxidants.
Pumpkins seeds support prostate and heart health, balance blood sugar, ease post menopausal symptoms in women, promote healthy cholesterol levels and lower the risk for cancer.
Roast your own pumpkin seeds, see link for instructions below, or purchase organic non GMO seeds at your favorite health conscious store.
Enjoying Pumpkin’s Health Benefits
Pumpkins are so versatile for baking and cooking. Add pumpkin puree to cookies, breads, muffins, pancakes and pies. Or roast chunks of pumpkin and add to vegetables, soups and sauces.
Cut through the hard outer skin. Remove seeds (save those for roasting) and the stringy part. Slice remaining pumpkin into wedges or chunks. Coat with sea salt and pepper and a small amount of coconut oil, if desired. Roast in the oven until tender. After cooling puree to use in baking or soups. Or enjoy the roasted pumpkin as is. Check out this awesome site for full instructions on roasting a pumpkin. And this one for roasting pumpkin seeds.
Pumpkin is also available canned, which is convenient for baking. Read labels carefully and only purchase 100% pureed pumpkin, without added sugar.
During this season of warmth and family fun, enjoy this fall favorite in all its versatility and reap pumpkin’s health benefits as well.
Watch next week for my roundup of plant based and gluten free pumpkin recipes. Here’s one to get you started!
Vegan & Gluten Free Pumpkin Bars
Organic Pumpkin Seeds from Amazon:
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