They are commonly seen during the trick-or-treat season, when legions of ghosts, demons, and zombies run rampant across America. Pumpkins have for years lit up the porches and entrances of avid Halloween goers homes, an iconic symbol for those who welcome the presence of evil spirits during this entertaining time of year. How many people are aware that pumpkins are a legitimate nutritional powerhouse that should be enjoyed all year long?
A seasonal vegetable, fresh pumpkins are harvested during the fall and are quite difficult to find the rest of the year. Pumpkins are an excellent source of beta-carotene, a natural antioxidant our bodies use to make vitamin A. Known for its role in supporting healthy vision, vitamin A is also important for the body’s cells, skin, and other bodily tissues.
Pumpkins are also good sources of potassium and magnesium and are rich in vitamin K, which the body needs to promote healthy coagulation (blood clotting) so we do not bleed excessively from cuts and scrapes. Vitamin K is also important for the health of our kidneys and bones.
When fresh pumpkins are not available outside Halloween season, canned pumpkin serves as a great alternative that is nutritionally dense and easy to find on grocery store shelves. Most canned foods undergo at least a minimal amount of processing, but canned pumpkin is still packed with valuable nutrients such as vitamin A, potassium, and iron.
During the canned processing phase, pumpkin is smashed, concentrated, and sterilized to prevent bacterial growth. Because it is concentrated, canned pumpkin is higher in calories per serving than its fresh counterpart but is also higher in certain nutrients. These include more iron, calcium, protein, fiber, and vitamin A. In fact, a 1/2 cup of canned pumpkin provides over 300% of the daily value of vitamin A.
Always be sure to check the nutrition facts label to ensure it is pure canned pumpkin or 100% pumpkin. Pay special attention to the ingredients to see if it has any extra added sugar or sodium, for example.
Do not forget about the pepitas, better known as pumpkin seeds, and also available in many grocery stores. These seeds are good sources of iron, zinc, magnesium, and protein. They can be eaten as a snack or added to many dishes, such as serving as a protein source in a homemade salad.
Pumpkin is so full of good-for-you nutrients and antioxidants that it should be enjoyed throughout the year. Just remember, when hearing ‘antioxidants’ think anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, anti-stress, and anti-aging.
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