Picking Healthy With the Family: Pumpkins

Boy in pumpkin patch holding pumpkin

Fall is here! To me, fall is about three things: pumpkin spice lattes, leggings with boots, and most importantly, timeless moments spent with my family. I gather up my favorite recipes for things like homemade pumpkin pie, breads, muffins and even pumpkin ravioli! Seasonal recipes are always a favorite within families, yet many people may not know how amazingly healthy and pumpkins are in themselves.

When we visit Blake Farms, we make sure to stop at the pumpkin patch where we select our own pumpkins right from their birth places (although I feel as if the pumpkin is the one who chooses you).

Like apples, pumpkins come in a variety of colors, shapes and sizes. I enjoy growing my own pie pumpkins (the small, round ones) but you can certainly find these at most pumpkin patches, road side stands or cider mills as well. My daughter especially likes the little mini “baby” pumpkins used for decoration, while my boys boast over who found the biggest/most round/coolest looking pumpkin in the patch (and then leave me to do all the carving!).

Nutrition

While pumpkins are fun to decorate and carve, they are also really healthy (no that doesn’t give you an excuse to eat more pumpkin pie!). Almost all parts of the pumpkin are edible, too. In pumpkins, you will find:

  • Carotenoids. One example is beta-carotene, which is responsible for the bright orange color. The body converts this into a form of vitamin A that is beneficial to eyesight, especially in dim light.
  • Vitamin A – It’s good for sight, but also helps regulate and maintain the integrity of skin and mucus membranes. One cup of cooked pumpkin contains more than 200 percent of the RDA.
  • Polyphenols.  Just like in the apples, polyphenols or flavonoids are chemicals found in plants that act as antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents.
  • Vitamin C. A powerful antioxidant.
  • Vitamin E. This antioxidant has properties such as removing free radicals from the body.
  • A variety of B vitamins. Includes folate, niacin, thiamin, pantothenic acid, and B6. They are important for cell metabolism.
  • Minerals. Phosphorus, Potassium, Calcium, and Copper.
  • Dietary fiber. This keeps you full longer and gut healthy. It’s heart healthy and lowers LDL cholesterol.
  • Don’t forget those pumpkin seeds! The seeds also contain nutrients such as dietary fiber, monounsaturated fatty acids, protein, minerals and vitamins. Just 100g of seeds contain 110 percent of the RDA for iron, and also contain tryptophan, an essential amino acid that can help boost your mood by producing serotonin.

Wow! Who knew pumpkins were such a powerhouse of nutrients?

Selecting and Picking Your Pumpkin

As I mentioned before, pumpkins vary in appearance. Colors can range from red to yellow, and green to gray. They are closely related to squash and the names can be used interchangeably. The official “botanical classification” is actually based on the stem. Pumpkins have a more rigid, prickly stem that bends on an angle, while squash have more of a soft, rounded stem that flares where it attaches to the body. Here are some tips for selecting pumpkins at the orchard (or store) and storing them:

  • Look for a solid and attached stem that is dark green in color.
  • Make sure there are no soft spots or wrinkles.
  • Consistent coloring.
  • Listen for a “woody” sound when tapping on them.
  • If you are using your pumpkins as jack-o-lanterns, make sure they sit flat.
  • Never use the stem to pick up your pumpkin. You should always grab it by the body.
  • Pumpkin season ranges from September to November, with peak season in October.
  • Soak your gutted out pumpkin in a bath of ice water before carving. It will keep your pumpkin crisp for much longer when left outside.
  • Cut the bottom of your pumpkin out instead of the top so it stays upright as it gets old, instead of caving in.

Pumpkin Fun Facts

  • They are native to North America, and date back to 7000 and 5500 BC.
  • Antarctica is the only continent unable to grow pumpkins.
  • The biggest producer of pumpkins is the United States. Canada and Mexico are second and third, respectively.
  • There are 1.5 billion pounds of pumpkins grown each year in the United States.
  • Illinois produces the most pumpkins, followed by Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and California.

– Joohi Schrader, is a nutrition and food science major at Wayne State University, a mother of three amazing children, and a certified Square Foot Gardening instructor. She’s also a Parenting Program volunteer.

–––––

Sources:

“Eight Impressive Health Benefits of Pumpkin”. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/09/04/pumpkin-health-benefits_n_1936919.html

National Institutes of Health: U.S. National Library of Medicine. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/

Self Nutrition Data. http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/vegetables-and-vegetable-products/2601/2

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