For my current dietetic internship rotation, I had to give a quick talk about pumpkin, the “Super Food of the Month” at the facility where I am working. And since it is, indeed, the gorgeous brightly colored season of the squash, I figured why not spread the pumpkin-love over this way to the blog….
When I was a kid I didn’t associate pumpkins with eating. Sure I had seen a pumpkin pie, but being the picky little eater I was… I didn’t try it till I was a teenager. Pumpkins were for carving! I have vivid memories of vigorously scooping the guts out of a pumpkin and slopping them onto the newspaper covered kitchen table beneath my soon-to-be masterpiece. And those gloppy guts were promptly thrown in the garbage when project time was over.
Little did my kid-self know, we were trashing the best part!
I like to think of most whole foods as “superfoods”- each with their own individual vitamin/mineral/fiber/miscellaneous-chemical-compound signature. Each possessing something nutritiously unique. Though from what we know so far, some fruits and vegetables do, indeed, manage to pack a much greater power punch than others.
You’ve probably heard that you should be ‘eating the rainbow.’ And this is good advice. Colorful produce means vitamin & mineral packed produce. And the brighter and more vibrant, the better!
The pumpkin is the iconic, brightly colorful centerpiece of the fall season, and yet, maybe we don’t take the time to deconstruct this awesome orange vegetable for feeding purposes as often as we should.
(And… I hate to break it to you, but that PSL from your neighborhood Starbucks doesn’t count as eating pumpkin).
What makes those pumpkin (and squash) guts so good?
Those fiery orange hues of the pumpkin and its flesh indicate a massive content of carotenoids, a collection of compounds, including some that convert to Vitamin A in the body.
Why is Vitamin A important? It is vital in the maintenance and protection of your skin (your biggest organ, remember) and mucosal membranes that function as internal protection, boosting your infection fighting ability. Vitamin A is also beneficial in protection of your eyes, particularly with regard to the light receptor pigments (with a deficiency, you may experience night-blindness).
And it’s good for your ticker, too! Vitamin A is thought to work in conjunction with other compounds as an antioxidant, helping to protect your cardiovascular cells from damage. Antioxidants help to block the oxidation of LDL cholesterol- oxidized cholesterol can turn into plaque in the blood vessels, eventually leading to heart disease.
The humble pumpkin just happens to contain 80-90% of your daily-recommended intake of Vitamin A in One. Single. Cup. (Superfood might be accurate!).
But it doesn’t stop there… Pumpkin, and squash in general, are great sources of potassium, magnesium, and some B-vitamins (vital for accessing the energy in our food and helping with the building of new cells). And it’s a decent source of fiber, too! (Hey!…a healthy gut by way of pumpkin guts!…)
A few historical tidbits about the great pumpkin…
- The earliest proof of pumpkins appears to be in Central America over 7,500 years ago. Though like most species, they looked a lot different back then- smaller, and tougher.
- Pumpkins were among the first crops to be grown for human consumption in North America! (No wonder pumpkin pie is such a Thanksgiving staple). They were valued as a food that could be preserved easily and eaten through the cold seasons.
So eat your pumpkin! Or your squash! Go ahead… Roast it…
Throw it in some delicious muffins like these from Smitten Kitchen (My print out of this recipe is completely pumpkin stained from overuse).
Toss it in some soup or chili! I have all the ingredients in my fridge right now for this recipe from Love and Lemons (Weekend goals!). I’ll let you know how it turns out on Instagram…
And of course, the seasonal excuses for pumpkin pie are right around the corner!
However you do it, enjoy these versatile, native veggies while it is their season to shine!
Gropper S, Smith J, Groff J. Advanced Nutrition and Human Metabolism. 5th ed. Belmont: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning. 2009. Print.
Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, http://www.eatright.org