Halloween dinner plans? Pick a pumpkin

BioTechniques News
Annie Coulson

health benefits of pumpkins

Researchers share the health benefits of pumpkins, providing a more environmentally friendly and economical alternative to throwing the unfortunate vegetables away once surplus to your decorative requirements.

This weekend, you may have found yourself lit by candlelight with Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ playing in the background as a group of children slowly spread the entrails of several unfortunate pumpkins across your kitchen. However, as spoonful after spoonful was cleared up and thrown away, you may have been discarding some prime nutrition and an opportunity to double up your delightful new organic decorations with a festive meal.

This comes after researchers from the University of Warwick (UK), led by plant-based nutritionist researcher Josh Gibbs, have shared the numerous health benefits of pumpkins in an attempt to reduce the huge food waste seen every Halloween as pumpkins around the world are carved and discarded.

Firstly, pumpkins are 90% water, giving them a low calorie-to-volume ratio, and making them the ideal vegetable to bulk out a meal and help people to feel full without adding too many extra calories. With an increasing volume of research beginning to demonstrate the benefits of moderate calorie restriction and the maintenance of a healthy body fat percentage on health span, this marks a clear advantage of incorporating pumpkin into your diet.

But the benefits of pumpkins are not just in their low-calorie content. They also contain a number of antioxidants, which help minimize DNA damage and inflammation, therefore protecting against conditions like cancer and cardiovascular disease. Among the antioxidants found in pumpkins is β-carotene, the same molecule responsible for the orange color in carrots, which is particularly desirable as it can be converted into vitamin A.

“Vitamin A,” explained Gibbs, “is essential for eye health. High intake of β-carotene reduces the risk of cataracts and macular degeneration. Vitamin A also improves the immune system and helps to keep your skin healthy.” To maximize your absorption of vitamin A, Gibbs advises consuming pumpkin with a healthy fat such as olive oil, as vitamin A is fat-soluble and so will be better absorbed.

Finally, don’t forget the seeds! “Most of us throw out arguably the most nutritious part of pumpkin – the seeds!” Gibbs lamented. “Pumpkin seeds are an excellent source of fiber, protein, unsaturated fatty acids, minerals like zinc and vitamin E. Regular pumpkin seed consumption has been shown to lower bad cholesterol and is associated with lower risk of breast cancer.” Roasted in the oven or toasted in a small amount of olive oil, pumpkin seeds turn into a crispy flavorsome snack that makes an excellent garnish with which to finish a salad or soup.

So as Halloween comes to pass and you gaze at your temporary lanterns, look to the oven rather than the trash for their final resting place. Your body may thank you for it.

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