Pumpkin Power

October 1, 2013

By Anna Varriano

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Fall is such an amazing time of year. The colours are gorgeous, the air is crisp, the days can still be warm while the nights are cool and great for sleeping, and there is an abundance of beautiful, fresh, local produce, including one of my very favourites, pumpkins.

A Powerhouse of Nutrition

Pumpkins are loaded with health-boosting nutrients, and they are so versatile, you’re bound to find a way to use them that will satisfy even the pickiest taste buds! Pumpkin flesh can be served roasted, steamed, mashed (I love it with coconut oil and cinnamon…yum!), and added to stews, soups, custards, pies and other baking.

Pumpkin flesh is a great source of carotenoids, including beta-carotene, zeaxanthin, and lutein. The body can convert beta-carotene into vitamin A, which is essential for proper growth and healing, while zeaxanthin and lutein support eye-health, including decreasing the risk of macular degeneration.

Research shows that the amazing antioxidants in pumpkin are associated with the prevention of premature aging as well as many diseases, including cardiovascular disease and cancer.

Pumpkin flesh is also a great source of fibre, and folklore often cites it as one of the top foods for bowel health. Eating a ½ cup of cooked pumpkin (or other squash) daily has been known to provide relief from constipation. Interestingly, many pet health experts recommend adding a tablespoon or so of cooked and mashed pumpkin into a pet’s food in order to promote digestive health (especially to assist with the passing of hair balls in cats).

Save the Seeds!

Pumpkin seeds are a great source of minerals, especially zinc, which is commonly associated with promoting prostate health. They are also high in the amino acid tryptophan, which is important in the production of serotonin, often referred to as our ‘happy hormone’. Pumpkin seeds can be enjoyed raw (pepitas) or roasted. Enjoy them on their own as a snack, or add them to soups, salads, baking, and trail mixes.

To roast pumpkin seeds, after you’ve scooped them out of the pumpkin (any variety), remove as much of the stringy flesh as possible, and then wipe the seeds with a paper towel. Spread them out in a single layer on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper, and sprinkle them with your favourite seasoning. Roast for 15 to 20 minutes in a 150-170F oven. It’s important to keep the temperature at 170F or less in order to preserve the delicate oils in the seed which can be denatured at higher temperatures.

What Kind of Pumpkin is Best?

There are numerous varieties of pumpkins. The ones that we typically buy to carve into jack-o-lanterns for Halloween are not recommended for cooking/eating. They are specifically bred to have tough, thick skins, and fibrous flesh, in order to withstand the rigors of being carved.

The varieties recommended for cooking typically have thin skin, are less fibrous, have finer and sweeter flesh, and will not be watery when cooked. Two of my favourite varieties for cooking are sugar pie and kabocha (a Japanese pumpkin/squash).

When you buy a local, freshly harvested pumpkin, you should be able to keep it for up to 3 months, provided you store it properly – in a cool spot out of direct sunlight.

My Favourite Pumpkin Recipe

I love making soups in the fall, and this pumpkin soup recipe is one of my favourites. It is easy to make, and you can spice it up to suit your taste. If you opt to make your own chicken stock (which I highly recommend), you can find that recipe here. Enjoy!

Here’s a great link for just about everything you’ve ever wanted to know about pumpkins.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Anna

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