Pumpkin Power

Pumpkin Power

It’s October and you know what that means: pumpkins. From coffee to muffins to candles, pumpkins are popping up everywhere this fall season. While I don’t suggest loading up on pumpkin pie and lattes, pumpkins benefit several areas of health. Pumpkin is rich in eye-nourishing carotenoids, and pumpkin seeds are one of nature’s best sources of the essential mineral zinc.

Health Benefits of Pumpkin Seeds

Pumpkin seeds are also a boon for prostate health. They contain phytonutrients called cucurbitacins, which help slow the growth of the prostate. They do so by inhibiting the transformation of testosterone into dihydrotestosterone, the hormone that fuels benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH, or age-related enlargement of the prostate), which is a common cause of urinary problems in older men. The high zinc levels in pumpkin seeds also promote bone and eye health. In addition, they are loaded with omega-6 essential fatty acids and other nutrients.

I recommend eating a small handful of whole or coarsely ground pumpkin seeds daily (the equivalent of 10-20 g). They can be eaten alone as snacks or used to top your favorite salads. You’ll find them in your health food store or you can prepare them yourself after you’ve scooped out your Halloween pumpkin. Here’s an easy how-to:

Roasting Pumpkin Seeds

Scoop seeds from the inside of a pumpkin, rinse well, and remove pulp. (Soaking the pumpkin seeds in water for an hour or two may make this step easier.)

Spread them evenly on a paper bag or wax paper and dry for several hours or overnight.

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

Place pumpkin seeds on an ungreased cookie sheet and lightly sprinkle with your favorite seasonings, if desired. (I like a little seasoned salt and pepper.)

Bake for about 20 minutes or until golden brown. To avoid burning, stir or shake gently every 10 minutes during baking.

Cool and store in an airtight container. Pumpkin seeds are one of the few foods that actually increase in nutritional value as they age.

Here’s another tasty way to reap your Halloween pumpkin’s benefits:

Curried Pumpkin Soup
Serves 4

1½ tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons curry powder
4 cups low-sodium chicken stock
1 29-ounce can pumpkin or 3½ cups cooked pureed pumpkin
½ cup evaporated skim milk
Salt or salt substitute and pepper to taste

Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add flour and curry powder, and stir with a wire whisk until smooth. Continue stirring over medium to low heat for about a minute, stirring all the while, as mixture begins to thicken. Continue stirring as you slowly pour in the chicken stock, and cook until thickened. Stir in pumpkin and evaporated milk, and season with salt and pepper. Continue stirring until smooth and hot.

Serve in a pumpkin shell, if desired. To prepare pumpkin “tureen,” preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cut the top off a five- to six-pound gourd, scrape out the pumpkin seeds, and rinse with water. Replace top and roast for 45 minutes, until pumpkin is slightly softened. Pour soup into pumpkin and serve.

Pumpkin Benefits Recap

Garfield cartoonist Jim Davis once quipped, “Vegetables are a must on a diet. I suggest carrot cake, zucchini bread, and pumpkin pie.” But as you can see, the health benefits of pumpkin—and pumpkin seeds—are no laughing matter.

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