Did you know each year about 655,765 tons of pumpkins are produced? Besides being great Halloween decorations and pies for Thanksgiving dinner, pumpkins can play major roles in health promotion. These orange globes are a treasure trove of important vitamins and minerals.
Pumpkin is actually a variety of squash. It is naturally low in calories. Being a dense food, it is rich in vitamins and minerals such as antioxidants, potassium, vitamin C, folate, iron, vitamin A and more! Pumpkin is also a good source of fiber.
Fiber slows the rate of sugar absorption into the blood. This promotes regular bowel movements and improves digestion. It also helps in stopping insulin spikes, making it beneficial to those with high blood sugar issues. Fiber is also an important binding agent for cholesterol. Additionally, many studies have linked adequate fiber intakes to lowering risk factors for developing various cancers.
Additionally, pumpkins contain the antioxidants alpha- carotene, beta-carotene and beta-cryptoxanthin. These antioxidants neutralize free radicals, stopping cellular damage. We hear a lot about free radicals. Free radicals are molecules produced by your body’s metabolic process. They have useful roles, such as destroying harmful bacteria. However, excessive free radicals in the body creates oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is linked to chronic illnesses such as heart disease and cancer.
Another antioxidant, beta-carotene, converts in the body to vitamin A. This gives pumpkin the ability to improve your immunity, as vitamin A is essential for a strong immune system. Keep in mind vitamin A is a fat-soluble nutrient; it builds and is stored in the body. To avoid vitamin A toxicity, choose vitamin A rich foods rather than supplements to improve immunity, skin and protect eye sight.
Likewise, eye sight is benefited by lutein and zeaxanthin. Pumpkin is one of the best food sources of these compounds. Lutein and zeaxanthin help lower risks of cataracts and age-related macular degeneration.
Furthermore, with pumpkin being a nutrient dense food that is low in calories, it can help with weight management. Simply stated, pumpkin can be considered a weight-loss friendly food as you can consume more of it than other carbs (such as rice and potatoes), but still take in fewer calories. A full cup of cooked pumpkin weighs in at only 50 calories.
Additionally, pumpkin is high in potassium. Consuming high potassium foods has been shown to lower blood pressure and reduce risks for strokes. The antioxidants in pumpkin may protect against oxidation of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. When LDL oxidizes, the particles can clump along the walls of vessels. This will raise risks for heart disease.
Adding pumpkin to your diet is easy. It is popular as custards, pies and pancakes. It also works in roasted vegetables, soups and pastas. Try adding pumpkin as a “secret” thickener for your favorite soup or stew.
Please note: Consult your physician if you have chronic kidney disease before consuming large amounts of pumpkin. It is mildly diuretic and can interfere with lithium.
Dr. Dianna Richardson has been serving Jefferson City and the surrounding communities for more than 22 years. She has worked in the field of health and nutrition as a wellness practitioner for more than 30 years. Core to her practice remains use of nutrition to improve health, vitality and quality of life. Richardson holds a doctorate in naturopathy, along with degrees in nutrition and a master’s degree in public health education. She may be found at the Health, Wellness & Nutrition Center, LLC on Dix Road in Jefferson City.
Makes: 6-8 servings
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound ground meat
1 onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 1/2 tablespoon chili powder
1 1/2 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon sea salt
3/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2-15 oz. cans fire-roasted tomatoes, not drained
1-15oz. can black beans, drained
1-15oz. can pumpkin puree
2 1/2 cup chicken broth
In large pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add ground meat and cook, stirring to break into pieces, until browned and cooked through, 8-10 minutes. Set aside to drain.
Add the onion and bell pepper to the pot. Cook over medium, stirring, until softened, 10-12 minutes. Stir in the garlic, cumin, chili powder, 1 teaspoons salt, 3/4 teaspoon pepper and cinnamon. Cook, stirring, for 30 seconds.
Stir in the tomatoes, kidney beans, black beans, pumpkin puree, chicken broth and sausage. Bring to boil over medium-high. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the flavors meld, about 20 minutes
Season the chili with salt and pepper. Serve, garnishing with pumpkin seeds, sour cream, cheese and avocado, if desired.