Diet

Six health reasons to eat more pumpkin and pumpkin seeds

Not just for decorating, pumpkins offer many nutritional benefits. Find out how this beta carotene-rich food can help your digestion and learn how to make a simple, two-ingredient pumpkin seed recipe.

Pumpkins and pumpkin seeds

You’d be surprised how nutritious the flesh and seeds of a pumpkin are (Photo iStock).

The first lick of cool air immediately brings pumpkins to mind. Their orange hue is synonymous with fall and their rind simply begs to be carved. But consider that pumpkins are much more than obligatory autumn porch decoration or filling for a thanksgiving pie. Did you know they’re one of the most nutritious foods on the planet?

Six healthy reasons to enjoy pumpkin this fall

1. It’s easy to digest
The flesh of a pumpkin is used to make pies and soups that are healing, soothing and easy to digest. Consider that pumpkin is a type of squash and is one of the first foods introduced to babies because of its ease of digestion. And pumpkin puree is a perfect way to thicken sauces without adding fat and flour.

2. It’s good for heart health
One cup of cooked pumpkin contains 146 percent of the daily-recommended intake of beta carotene, which protects cholesterol from oxidation, which assists in the prevention of heart disease. Beta carotene (aka pro-vitamin A) is a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory nutrient.

3. They offer immune support
Pumpkin seeds are a great vegetarian source of zinc, a critical nutrient for the immune system. Zinc also protects the prostate and stimulates sex drive by ensuring healthy testosterone levels. Men lose 1.5 percent of their testosterone per year after the age of 30, so be sure to feed the man in your life lots of pumpkin seeds!

4. Reduce your inflammation
From 1863 to 1936, the United States Pharmacopoeia listed pumpkin seeds as an official medicine for parasite elimination. Raw pumpkin seeds contain the active ingredient cucurbitacin, which has powerful anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties. Scientists are now drawing a strong link between infection, inflammation and cancer.

5. Maintain your overall health
Pumpkin seeds are a rich source of phytosterols that can balance immune function and reduce prostate problems. Also known as plant sterols, they are structurally similar to cholesterol yet can reduce your blood levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, which is associated with heart disease.

6. They help you buy local
The best part about pumpkins is they are as local as it gets. I was recently asked to create a 100-mile diet menu and realized that there are no pumpkin seeds sold locally, even though I come from “pumpkin central” in Southern Ontario. Collecting your own pumpkin seeds is an easy fun activity (especially for kids). I count myself in that camp and love the feeling of carving a pumpkin and then scooping out the seeds with my hands. Give it a try!

Toasted tamari pumpkin seed recipe
This recipe makes a great snack anytime you have a hankering for something salty and crunchy.

Ingredients
3/4 cup (185 mL) fresh seeds (about the amount that comes out of a medium-sized squash or pumpkin)
1 tbsp (15 mL) tamari soy sauce (wheat-free)

Directions
1. Pick the seeds out of the squash or pumpkin (this is a great activity to do while watching your favourite Iron Chef episode!) and rinse well.

2. Heat a cast iron or titanium pan over medium-high heat. Place seeds in hot pan and dry roast until you hear a popping sound (about 3 to 4 minutes). Stir to avoid burning the seeds.

3. Pour the tamari soy sauce into the hot pan as you remove it from the stove. Making sure to move your hand away quickly to avoid getting a steam burn.

4. Using a wooden spoon, move the seeds around until all the liquid evaporates.

5. Transfer to a bowl and let cool.

Makes 3/4 cup (185 mL).

For more on how to toast the perfect pumpkin seeds click here.

Nutritionist Julie Daniluk hosts the Healthy Gourmet, a reality cooking show that looks at the ongoing battle between taste and nutrition. Her soon to be published first book, Meals That Heal Inflammation, advises on allergy-free foods that both taste great and assist the body in the healing process. For more amazing recipes visit Chatelaine.com’s recipe section.