Every fall season, millions of pumpkins reach maturity, just in time for Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. In fact, each year in the United States, over 1.5 billion pounds of pumpkins are grown, making this one of our most popular agricultural crops. At Halloween, countless pumpkins are carved up with grinning faces, as Jack O’ Lanterns. Then at Thanksgiving and Christmas, many pumpkins wind up in pies. Many of these pies are made using the simplest canned food on earth, the product One Pie, whose only ingredient is pumpkin. Talk about natural. Pumpkins are cheap, super-abundant, and appear just when we need them like clockwork every year.
Originating in North America, evidence of pumpkins found in Mexico dates back to 7000 B.C. In other words, people in North America have eaten pumpkins for a long, long time. These orange iconic vegetables have done some serious border-hopping, and are now cultivated on every continent except Antarctica, evidence of global popularity. And beyond their predictable maturity and presence between late October and the beginning of the new year, these members of the squash family offer a wealth of healthy benefits, and deserve their place in the sun for this.
The first tip-off that pumpkins aren’t just for carving and sitting on doorsteps is their color. Outside, they are bright orange. But inside they are orange too, indicating a rich concentration of carotenoids. These are the precursors to Vitamin A. When we eat these orange carotenoids, they provide us with this essential nutrient, which protects all of the membranes of the body. Additionally, the carotenoids are potent antioxidants, additionally protecting cells by reducing damage to them due to dietary and lifestyle factors.
Pumpkins are heavyweights in the fiber department, providing bulk to the intestines. This enhances overall digestion, and greatly improves elimination. For healthy dietary fiber, it’s hard to find a better food than pumpkin. If you have trouble with occasional or ongoing constipation, a healthy serving of pumpkin for dinner may be just what you require to get things moving, no drugs required.
Pepitas, which are the seeds of the pumpkin, are a popular snack, and far healthier than a bag of potato chips. Pepitas are an excellent source of protein, and additionally contain important minerals including zinc, magnesium and copper. Plus, they taste very good. You’ll find pepitas in almost every store that sells foods, from supermarkets to gas stops. Warning: pepitas can be addicting. You might want to eat a lot of them, as many do.
As it turns out, the seeds of pumpkin are also beneficial to the prostate gland. In fact, researchers at Germany’s Bundesforschungsanstaldt -- their Food and Drug Administration -- have found that pumpkin seeds are helpful in controlling BPH, or enlarged prostate, due to their concentration of a group of compounds known as lignans. The zinc in the seeds probably helps as well, as zinc is essential to the health of this important male gland.
The dark green oil derived from pumpkin seeds makes a prostate-healthy salad dressing, and is rich in essential fatty acids. Might as well get your food and your medicine at the same time. Pumpkin seed oil is delicious, one of the best-tasting food oils in the world.
Most people don’t like to talk about intestinal worms, but they are common. In addition to all other benefits gained from this remarkable food, pumpkin seeds are an age-old food for killing and expelling these unwanted GI tract hitch-hikers. And they have science to back this up. This makes them a vermifuge, a worm-killer. Pumpkin seeds combat intestinal worms, from tapeworms and flat worms, to pin worms. These worm-fighting properties appear due to a substance called curcubitacin. Relatives of this compound also found in pumpkins are anti-inflammatory, perhaps explaining the consumption of pumpkin seeds for relieving arthritis pain.
So there you have it. Pumpkins are a superstar food in our midst. All in all, the pumpkin, besides being a much beloved holiday artifact, is a profoundly good-for-you food that deserves its popularity, offering delicious flavor and a plethora of protective properties as well.