Every year near Halloween you’ll see supermarkets stocked with pumpkins. Most people only ever encounter a pumpkin around Halloween and only ever carve it out to place a lantern inside. To me this is a travesty as the pumpkin is such a super nutritious food and is on the list of low mycotoxin foods to eat.
As a general rule of thumb – brightly coloured fruits and vegetables are generally some of the most nutritious foods you can eat. The orange in pumpkin contains key nutrients called “phytonutrients”. The 3 Phytonutrients in pumpkin: zeaxanthin, lycopene, and beta-carotene are all immune boosters which is great when winter is just around the corner. Beta-carotene (a carotenoid) is a potent antioxidant which mops up free radicals within your body that can cause cancer and heart disease. It is also a precursor to Vitamin A which is essential for vision (the common statement about carrots improving vision stems from its high beta-carotene). The body converts only what is needed to Vitamin A which is far superior to taking supplements of Vitamin A as it can be toxic in high doses.
Eating four portions of beta-carotene rich foods per day has been associated with many benefits including:
- Delaying age-related memory decline,
- Improved skin appearance,
- Lowered cancer risk, and
- Improved cardiovascular health
Pumpkin is also a great source of dietary fibre – so it will keep you fuller for longer too. A cup of cooked pumpkin contains around 3g of fibre, 2g protein and no fat. It also contains vitamin C to help boost immune function, help with skin health and support the nervous system.
The Vitamin E in pumpkin helps with the skin too and can be protective against environmental pollution and UV rays.
Pumpkin seeds are also very nutritious – they are high in omega-6 fatty acids and the amino acid tryptophan which is linked to improved mood and serotonin production. They are great sprinkled on salads and soups.
Recipe for perfect toasted pumpkin seeds (from Sarah Ballis, specialist dietitian at The Harley Street Clinic, of HCA Healthcare UK):
- Scrape the seeds from the pumpkin, pull off the flesh and rinse the seeds under cold water.
- Spread over a baking tray and cover with a little olive oil
- Onto this you can sprinkle garlic, salt, fresh fennel seeds, chilli flakes or cinnamon
- Then roast in the oven at 180 degrees for 10 minutes until golden brown
- Cool and then store in an airtight jar