When it’s pumpkin season, Jack-o’-lanterns and other holiday décor are what’s foremost in most people’s minds.
This year, though, spare a thought for the immense health benefits of these humble vegetables. Well, botanically speaking, they actually are fruits and they do carry plenty of seeds inside. But even these seeds are one step ahead in their health benefits.
Here are seven ways pumpkins can improve your health:
1. Pumpkins are good for your eyes.
Carrots are celebrated as vision enhancers, particularly vision in dim light. The high beta-carotene content of this root vegetable is what gives it this status. But pumpkins are just as rich in beta carotene, as you can see from their bright orange-yellow color.
The beta carotene is a provitamin which gets converted into retinol, a form of vitamin A that is essential for the proper functioning of the eye. While animal sources of this vitamin such as liver and butter are better in terms of direct absorption by the body, there’s no doubt that low calorie, zero cholesterol sources such as pumpkin are better options.
Beta carotene may retard the progression of a degenerative disease called retinitis pigmentosa, too. Since this disease can eventually cause blindness, eating plenty of pumpkins may actually save your vision. Just one cup of pumpkin provides you double the daily requirement of vitamin A.
2. Pumpkins can give you healthy skin.
Retinol, a form of vitamin A, is essential for skin health and keeps it looking younger and wrinkle-free. It also controls the over-activity of the sebaceous glands, a leading cause of acne. In fact, doctors prescribe ointments containing retinoids to treat severe cases of acne as well as psoriasis. Including good plant sources of beta carotene such as pumpkins in your diet may ensure smooth skin, free of blemishes.
Did you know that carotenoids from vegetables can enhance your skin color? Eating plenty of pumpkin dishes this winter may give you a more pleasing tan than all the sun-worship and tanning beds ever did. And it goes without saying that it is infinitely safer, too.
3. Pumpkins help you trim down.
Can you imagine those roly-poly pumpkins making you trimmer? Never mind their size and shape; they are a low-calorie food rich in fiber. Dietary fiber absorbs water in the gastrointestinal tract and swells up. While bulking up the food and making its onward journey easier, it also keeps the appetite down.
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A cup of pumpkin chunks gives you less than 50 calories, while the sweet, meaty stuff fills your tummy and keeps the hunger pangs away for an extended period of time. In those few calories, the pumpkin flesh packs quite a punch, too. The pioneers literally depended on pumpkins for their survival in the early days. They can provide you a host of vitamins and minerals, in addition to carbohydrates, and are a wholesome food. The seeds provide proteins and essential fatty acids.
4. Pumpkins help restore the body’s nutrient balance.
Our body uses up minerals for its physiological function, as the minerals get depleted at a faster rate with strenuous activities such as exercise and games. The aches and pains and muscle fatigue that follows are an appeal for a quick refill. Pumpkins are a tasty and versatile source of essential minerals like magnesium, potassium, calcium and phosphorous.
To absorb these minerals, the body needs some vitamins, too. And guess what? Pumpkins have those. That’s why a tall glass of pumpkin smoothie would make an excellent refueling drink after a bout of vigorous exercise. In fact, pumpkins have more potassium than bananas, the post-workout favorite.
5. Pumpkin may help reduce cancer risk.
Colorful fruits and vegetables are indispensable in a cancer protective diet. Again, the beta carotenes and other carotenoids in pumpkins give them a great advantage. They are powerful antioxidants mopping up the free radicals in the body which are thought to be cancer triggers.
Free radicals are highly reactive ions regularly formed as a byproduct of the body’s normal metabolic activities. Processed foods and environmental pollutants add to this, making the body’s own mechanism of neutralizing these reactants insufficient. That’s where these antioxidants come in. Besides carotenoids, pumpkins also have plenty of vitamin C and vitamin E — two other potent antioxidants.
6. Pumpkins can keep your heart healthy.
Pumpkins are rich in dietary fiber and potassium and are good for your heart, but the greater benefit comes from the tiny pumpkin seeds which contain the celebrated heart-friendly omega-3 fatty acids. These polyunsaturated fats, known as PUFA for short, are essential for brain function, too. The quantity contained in a handful of roasted pumpkin seeds may not be much, but the benefits of these fatty acids come from regular consumption in small amounts.
Besides omga-3 fatty acids, these seeds contain heart-healthy monounsaturated fatty acids, too. Studies conducted with pumpkin seed oil have proven its blood pressure-lowering action. They are a good source of protein and iron, too, which makes them a healthy anytime snack.
7. Pumpkin seeds are sleep enhancers.
In maintaining good health, sleep is as important as nutrition and exercise, if not more. Many diseases, including high blood pressure and depression, stem from lack of proper sleep. Difficulty in falling asleep affects a large percentage of adults, especially older people. Pumpkin seeds contain an amino acid called tryptophan which is known to induce sleep. It is also known to make people less quarrelsome!
Tryptophan is essential for the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter generally considered to be a mood booster. A reduction in serotonin levels causes memory impairment, irritability and depression. The ideal way to increase serotonin levels is to include tryptophan-rich foods in our diet.
That’s plenty of reasons to make the best of this pumpkin season. Dust up all those heirloom cookbooks and immerse yourself in turning out authentic pumpkin delicacies — or rustle up some of your own.
Do you know of other health benefits of pumpkins? Share them in the section below: