As Halloween approaches, it is only fair to dedicate a nutrivia post to Her Royal Cuteness - the Pumpkin. It's funny how a vegetable can suddenly occupy the world and imagination, trigger our taste buds and suddenly bring back the sweet tooth with the very mention of a pumpkin pie. Indeed we seem to know quite a bit about eating pumpkin, and yet never think of its benefits for our health.
Pumpkin, which really is a fruit in true botanical terms, comes from the Cucurbitaceae family and is related to squashes, cucumbers, melons, watermelons, and luffas. The original of pumpkin is not really know, but the oldest evidence goes back to Mexico where pumpkin-related seeds dating between 7000 and 5500 B.C. were found. Pumpkin played such an important role in a diet of Native Americans that they buried it with the dead to provide them with nourishment during their final journey.
The word "pumpkin" was generated from the Greek "pepon" (πέπων), which means "large melon". The French then changed it to a beautiful and oh-so-very-French pompon, which, once it reached Britain, transformed into pumpion and then, after the vegetable (or fruit...) crossed the ocean, the American colonist renamed it into pumpkin.
Although we tend to think of yellow or orange pumpkins, some species are coloured in all sorts of hues, from dark green and orange-yellow to white, red and even grey. The rich yellow colour is derived from the orange pigments including lutein and alpha- and beta-carotene - a source of vitamin A and powerful antioxidant. Pumpkin also contains good quantities of vitamin C, potassium, manganese, folate, fibre and small quantities of Omega 3 fatty acids, vitamin B1, niacin and B5, copper and amino-acid tryptophan.
The seeds, also known as pepitas, are highly nutrition and a fantastic source of fibre, essential fatty acids and several vitamins and minerals including manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, iron, copper, zinc and vitamin K. Just like the flesh, the seeds are also a source of tryptophan.
WHY SHOULD YOU EAT PUMPKIN & PUMPKIN SEEDS?
* Alpha-carotene found in pumpkin may slow down the aging process, give you beautiful skin, keep your eyes healthy and even reduce risk of cataracts.
* Beta-carotene is a powerful antioxidant and vitamin important for reducing inflammation, symptoms of arthritis and asthma, slow down cholesterol build-up and prevent stroke.
* Pumpkin is also rich in beta-cryptozanthin, an orange red carotenoid that may reduce risk of lung cancer and is also particularly beneficial for smokers and those exposed to cigarette smoke.
* Fiber is essential for healthy digestion, natural detoxification, blood sugar support and keeping you feeling full for longer.
* Tryptophan in pumpkin seeds is an amino-acid required for maintaining levels of niacin and production of "happy hormone" serotonin essential for good sleep and stable mood.
* Zinc found in seeds is needed for over 200 enzymatic reactions in the body, maintaining beautiful skin, reducing inflammation, supporting the immune and nervous systems, healthy metabolism, DNA and RNA synthesis, wound healing, hormonal balance and optimal sense of taste and smell.
HOW TO INCLUDE PUMPKIN IN YOUR DIET?
* Use pumpkin seeds as a snack, add them to your porridge, muesli or sprinkle over salads.
* Make a delicious Pumpkin & Sage soup or roasted pumpkin risotto
* Roast pumpkin pieces with garlic, rosemary and olive oil, then mix with salad leaves, pumpkin seeds and feta cheese with a drizzle of good old balsamic vinegar for a delicious and simple salad.
* Try Pumpkin Biryani, Vegetable curry or Pumpkin, spinach & bean topiaza for a comforting and warm winter dish
* Whip up a Halloumi & Chilli omelette
* And once in a while, have a slice of Classic pumpkin pie, cheesecake (or its healthier version) or Pumpkin mousse.
And if you have a favourite pumpkin recipe - please let me know in comments!
Photo source: Allure Russia September 2014 (photography: Simon Emmett, styling: Anya Ziorova, make-up: Polly Osmond, model: Dalia Gunther)