Article from Lindsay Martin, MS, RDN, LDN
Ah, isn’t Autumn just lovely? It’s one of my favorite times of the year! Crisp air, leaves starting to changel, and pumpkin is a favorite autumn ingredient. But let’s take a deeper look into our favorite autumn flavor and find out more about the health benefits and not just the yummy taste.
So, when you think about pumpkins, what comes to mind? Jack-o’-lanterns? Pumpkin pie? Charlie Brown? Pumpkin spice lattes? Well, there’s more to these orange gourds than Halloween and sugary (but delicious!) desserts and drinks. Pumpkins have numerous health benefits — none of which take center stage in autumn’s most frequent offerings.
Are you skeptical about taking the pumpkin out of the pie (or cup)? These health benefits may change your mind:
Pumpkin is rich in fiber, which slows digestion which keeps you feeling fuller longer. There’s seven grams of fiber in a cup of canned pumpkin. That’s more than what you’d get in two slices of whole-grain bread.
Pumpkin may be filling, but it’s also a low-calorie superstar. Canned pumpkin is nearly 90% water, so besides the fact that it helps keep you hydrated, it has fewer than 50 calories per serving.
Pumpkin’s vibrant orange coloring comes from its ample supply of beta-carotene, which is converted to vitamin A in the body. Vitamin A is essential for eye health and helps the retina absorb and process light. A single cup of pumpkin contains over 200% of most people’s recommended daily intake of vitamin A, making it an outstanding option for optical health.
Pumpkin also contains lutein and zeaxanthin, two antioxidants that are thought to help prevent cataracts and may even slow the development of macular degeneration.
Boost of Immunity
Looking for a way to ward off illness and improve your immune system? Try pumpkin. The large shot of vitamin A the fruit provides helps your body fight infections, viruses, and infectious diseases. Pumpkin oil even helps fight various bacterial and fungal infections. Plus, pumpkin is packed with nearly 20% of the recommended amount of daily vitamin C, which may help you recover from colds faster.
Eating pumpkin can help you look younger (beta-carotene in pumpkin helps protect us from the sun’s wrinkle-causing UV rays), but the pulp also makes a great, all-natural face mask that exfoliates and soothes (see recipe to make your own).
All-Natural Pumpkin Face Mask
- 1/4 cup pureed pumpkin (not pumpkin pie)
- 1 egg
- 1 Tbsp. of honey
- 1 tablespoon of milk. Mix, then apply it, wait for 20 minutes or so and wash it off with warm water.
Lower Cancer Risk
Beta-carotene is great for your eyes and skin, but you know what else it’s good for? Fighting cancer. Research shows people who eat a beta-carotene-rich diet may have a lower risk of some types of cancer, including prostate and lung cancer.
Vitamins A and C are “a kind of cell defense squad. Both are rich in antioxidants, and act as shields for your cells against cancer-causing free radicals.
Could Help Treat Diabetes
In scientific tests, pumpkin has been shown to reduce blood glucose levels, improve glucose tolerance and increase the amount of insulin the body produces. More testing needs to be done before we can say for sure what pumpkin’s benefits for diabetics will be, but if you have diabetes, munching on pumpkin certainly won’t hurt.
You can even add pumpkin to some of your favorite family recipes like chili, hummus and smoothies.
Turkey Chili with Pumpkin
- 1 large yellow onion, diced (about 2 cups)
- 1 medium bell pepper, red, yellow, or orange, diced
- 6 garlic cloves, minced (or 3/4 tsp. garlic powder)
- 1⅓ lbs. ground turkey or chicken, 90 to 93 percent lean
- One 15-oz. can white beans, drained and rinsed
- One 28-oz. can diced tomatoes with liquid
- ¼ cup tomato paste, no salt added
- One 14-oz. can pumpkin puree
- 1 cup reduced-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
- 2 Tbsp chili powder
- 1 Tbsp cocoa powder
- 1½ tsp. ground cinnamon, or 1 Tbsp. pumpkin pie spice
- 2½ tsp. ground cumin
- 1 tsp. kosher salt
- ½ tsp. ground black pepper
- ½ tsp. cayenne pepper (optional)
- 4 cups baby spinach leaves
- Avocado (optional)
- Nonfat plain Greek yogurt (optional)
- Cilantro (optional)
- * Can top your dish with shredded cheese, cilantro, plain Greek yogurt, avocados, and pumpkin seeds
Blend all ingredients together in a crock pot and cook for 4 hours and serve.
- Benefits: turkey swap from beef makes it a leaner choice and cuts back on the saturated (unhealthy fat).
- Beans is a great source of fiber and protein as well as iron.
- Pumpkin is a great source of fiber, Vitamin C, E, A, folate, iron, copper, riboflavin, manganese, and beta carotene- good for fighting cancers, eye, and skin health, as mentioned.
- Greek yogurt instead of sour cream to give more calcium, protein, and a healthier alternative.
- Spices and herbs are great for antioxidants, phytochemicals