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The fall season means it’s time for pumpkins. From pies to bread to oatmeal to yogurt, there’s no shortage of pumpkin-themed foods from September through November. While some of the most popular pumpkin foods of the season arguably contain little to no actual pumpkin (think pumpkin-spiced latte), there are plenty of ways to make nutrient-dense real pumpkin treats at home.
When pumpkins are prepared as part of nutritious and low-sugar recipes, there are more reasons to love them than their delicious taste. Nutrition therapists love pumpkins for their array of nutrients and health benefits. Read on to learn some fun facts about pumpkins, top nutrients in pumpkins, and easy ways to enjoy these autumn delights.
Fun Facts About Pumpkins
Pumpkins are native only to the southern United States and northern Mexico, but they have been introduced and cultivated around the world. Although the word pumpkin most often refers to the plant by the scientific name of Cucurbita pepo, it can actually refer to several different plant species. Here are some other fun facts about pumpkins (compliments of history.com):
- Pumpkins have grown in North America for more than 5000 years.
- Pumpkins grow on every continent except Antarctica.
- The name pumpkin comes from “pompion,” which is a French word meaning “large melon.”
- Pumpkins are a member of the gourd family (Curcubita), which also includes zucchini, cucumbers, cantaloupe, honeydew, and watermelons.
- Pumpkins take 90-120 days to grow from seed. They should be planted in early June to be harvested in October.
Top Nutrients in Pumpkins
Pumpkins are considered by some to be a “superfood”—or a food that is low in calories and rich in nutrients. One cup of pumpkin puree provides 3 grams of protein and 7 grams of fiber with only 8 grams of naturally-occurring sugars and a mere 83 calories.* Pumpkins are a rich source of antioxidants and minerals. Here are some of the top nutrients in pumpkin flesh:
Beta-Carotene. Beta-carotene is a carotenoid that gives pumpkin its orange color. As a powerful antioxidant, beta-carotene protects cells from oxidative damage, supports immune function, and supports eye health. Beta-carotene is also a direct precursor for vitamin A. One cup of pumpkin puree provides 17 mg of beta-carotene and the equivalent of 763% of the daily value of vitamin A.
Vitamin K. Vitamin K is a fat-soluble vitamin that is best known for its important role in blood clotting. Vitamin K is also important for bone health and wound healing. Vitamin K deficiency can cause excessive bleeding and easy bruising. One cup of pumpkin puree provides 39 mcg of vitamin K—or 49% of the daily value.
Iron. Iron is an essential mineral. It is the central component of hemoglobin in red blood cells and important for carrying oxygen to the cells of the body. Because of this, iron deficiency can cause fatigue and anemia. Iron also plays an important role in immune function, concentration, and sleep. One cup of pumpkin puree provides 3.4 grams of iron—or 19% of the recommended daily value.
Magnesium. Magnesium is a mineral that has a calming effect on the nervous and muscular systems. It helps support healthy blood pressure, healthy mood, and healthy bowel habits. Most Americans do not meet the daily recommendation for magnesium intake. One of the most obvious signs of magnesium deficiency is muscle cramps. One cup of pumpkin puree provides 56 mg of magnesium—or 14% of the recommended daily value.
Top Nutrients in Pumpkin Seeds
Most people think about eating the flesh of the pumpkin, but the seeds are also packed with nutrition. One ounce of pumpkin seeds (~85 seeds) packs in 5 grams of protein and zero grams of sugar in a mere 126 calories. Here are some of the top nutrients in pumpkin seeds:
Essential Fatty Acids. Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are essential to support cellular membranes, skin health, brain health, immune health, and more. Pumpkin seeds provide both omega-6 fatty acids (~2400 mg per ounce) and omega-3 fatty acids (~22 mg per ounce).
Magnesium. Like the flesh of the pumpkin, the seeds are also a rich source of magnesium. To support cardiovascular, muscular, digestive, and emotional health—one ounce of pumpkin seeds provides 74 mg of magnesium—or 19% of the daily value.
Zinc. Zinc is a trace mineral that is required for the activity of at least 100 enzymes in the body. It is essential for immune function, growth, and wound healing. It is also a powerful antioxidant. One ounce of pumpkin seeds provides 2.9 mg of zinc—or 19% of the daily value.
Copper. Copper strikes a balance with zinc, so we need to consume both. Like zinc, copper is also a cofactor for many enzymes in the body. Copper supports red blood cell function and cardiovascular health. Copper deficiency can be one cause of anemia. One ounce of pumpkin seeds provides 0.2 mg of copper—or 10% of the daily value.
10 Easy Ways to Enjoy Pumpkins
Pumpkin flesh can be boiled, baked, stewed, or roasted. The seeds can be eaten raw, dehydrated, or roasted. Check out these 10 easy and unique ways to enjoy the nutritional benefits of pumpkins this fall season:
- Pumpkin Smoothie. There’s nothing faster than a smoothie in the morning for breakfast. This smoothie gives all the nutrition of pumpkin puree with a high-quality protein powder and even a boost of cauliflower florets! Here is the recipe for a pumpkin smoothie.
- Pumpkin Pie Parfait. You may like the simple idea of a pumpkin smoothie, but this recipe elevates the blended smoothie to a gourmet level. Mixing in the omega-3-rich chia seeds makes this parfait even more nutrient-dense. Here is the recipe for pumpkin pie parfait.
- Pumpkin Muffins. There really is nothing quite as delicious as pumpkin bread or muffins, but they’re usually laden with sugar and gluten. This recipe uses oat and almond flour and sweetens the mix with coconut sugar. Here is the recipe for gluten-free pumpkin muffins.
- Pumpkin Baked Oatmeal. Looking for a grab-n-go breakfast or after-school snack? These pumpkin baked oatmeal bars are the solution. With pumpkin puree, rolled oats, and almond butter, they are packed with nutrition. You can choose to sweeten with stevia or maple syrup. Here is the recipe for pumpkin baked oatmeal.
- Pumpkin Hummus. Pumpkin puree lends itself easily to blending up into homemade hummus. You’ll get the health benefits of pumpkin along with the protein of garbanzo beans in one easy dip. Here is the recipe for pumpkin hummus.
- Roasted Pumpkin Salad. Want to pack in the nutrition of green leafy vegetables along with all the benefits of pumpkin? This salad features cubed pumpkin tossed over spinach as well as a homemade dressing with a pureed pumpkin base. Here is the recipe for roasted pumpkin salad.
- Pumpkin Black Bean Chili. For a complete meal, this chili provides the protein of black beans with chunks of pumpkin as well as pumpkin puree. Here is the recipe for pumpkin black bean chili.
- Pumpkin Pasta Sauce. Creamy sauce over noodles can be the perfect comfort food, but it doesn’t sit well with people who are sensitive to wheat or dairy. This recipe uses coconut milk instead of cream, and you can pour it over gluten-free noodles. Here is the recipe for vegan creamy pumpkin pasta sauce.
- Pumpkin Pizza. When you make a pizza at home, you can use a gluten-free crust, layer it with pumpkin sauce, and even sprinkle pumpkin seeds on top after it’s cooked. Here is the recipe for pumpkin pizza.
- Pumpkin Spiced Latte. Really just love your #PSL? Chances are that it may not even contain pumpkin. When you have a little extra time on a Saturday, try out this homemade version with real pumpkin puree. Here’s the recipe for pumpkin spiced latte.
Share Your Favorite Pumpkin Recipes!
Share this article on Facebook or Instagram, tag @ntischool, and tell us your favorite way to enjoy pumpkins!
*All nutrition data on pumpkins is referenced from 1 cup of canned pumpkin, without salt, according to nutritiondata.self.com. All nutrition data on pumpkin seeds is referenced from pumpkin and squash seeds, whole, roasted, without salt, according to nutritiondata.self.com.
About the Author
Sarah Cook, ND, is an instructor at the Nutrition Therapy Institute. She is also the owner of ND Pen, providing branding, copywriting, and website design services for integrative healthcare practitioners. Connect with Sarah at www.ndpen.com.
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