You know it’s autumn when pumpkin becomes a part of your seasonal diet, and aside from being a sweet and hearty treat, this vegetable also provides a significant amount of nutrients and potential health benefits. Before you dig into your next squash for pie, juice or the crunchy seeds, it is best to understand all of the nutrients, possible benefits, and methods for preparing and storing pumpkin.
What is a Pumpkin?
Pumpkin is a broad categorization of squash plants, and this cultivar is most commonly known as Cucurbita pepo. Depending on where you are in the world, the term pumpkin may be used to define a specific type of squash, or for all varieties of winter squash. What many people don’t realize is that pumpkins are actually a fruit, since they are the seed-bearing structure of this flowering plant. However, due to the texture and flavor of pumpkins, they are commonly grouped as vegetables.
These particular forms of squash tend to be light to deep orange in color, when mature, and are rounded, with slight ribbing around the exterior. Inside a pumpkin is a hollow area where the fiber, pulp, and seeds are stored, surrounded by a thick, dense outer layer of its flesh, which is often sought after for various culinary preparations, such as pie! While the significance of pumpkins in some parts of the world are linked specifically to or seasons (e.g., autumn, Halloween etc.), these winter squash varieties are important nutritional sources in some parts of the world. This is also one of the most comprehensively used fruits, as the flesh, seeds, and leaves of the fruit are used in different preparations.
There are quite a few different pumpkin types, including Crookneck pumpkin, Field pumpkin, Cucurbita Maxima, Cucurbita Argyrosperma and more than 40 other varieties, all of which share similar characteristics and nutritional profiles.
- Crookneck Pumpkin: This cultivar has smooth or bumpy skin and is normally yellow in color. They rarely form the perfect rounded appearance that people expect from pumpkins and should be harvested when immature for best results.
- Cucurbita Maxima: This species contains more than a dozen individual cultivars, making it one of the most common forms of pumpkin, but many of the varieties are little known by most people.
- Cucurbita Argyrosperma: Also known as the Japanese pie pumpkin, this is a species of winter squash that bears darker-colored pumpkins, with silver and green coloring, and more of an oblong shape.
- Field Pumpkin: This is the “classic” type made famous during Halloween and autumnal celebrations, with a perfectly round, ribbed and orange appearance.
Pumpkin Nutritional Information
Pumpkins are far more than a seasonal treat, as they are packed with nutrients, such as vitamin A, as well as moderate amounts of many other important compounds, including copper, iron, B vitamins, folate, vitamin E, phosphorous and magnesium. In a single cup of this vegetable, there are only 30 calories, which makes it ideal for weight loss diets. There are also several types of polyphenolic antioxidants, low levels of fat, and small amounts of protein and dietary fiber.
Health Benefits of Pumpkin
Pumpkin has been connected to a number of health benefits, such as the ability to reduce cancer, improve vision, protect cardiovascular health, boost immunity, increase fertility, improve bone mineral density, and aid weight loss, among others.
With high levels of vitamin C in every bite, pumpkin is an excellent way to promote the health of the immune system, as it can stimulate the production of white blood cells, which are the body’s first line of defense against infections and foreign pathogens.
Pumpkins are surprisingly low in calories, making them ideal for people who are trying to lose weight. While their dietary fiber content is not as impressive as some other vegetables, they can help suppress your appetite without compromising your daily caloric intake.
With notable amounts of beta-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin, these vegetables are excellent ways to boost vision health, as these antioxidants can slow down the progression of both macular degeneration and cataracts. These squash varieties also have more than 250% of your daily requirements for vitamin A, which is linked to vision health.
The antioxidants found in pumpkins, including the active ingredient cucurbitacin, can help prevent certain types of cancer and reduce oxidative stress throughout the body.
Neural Tube Defects
There is a good amount of folate found in pumpkins, which is a key nutrient in the prevention of neural tube defects; therefore, pregnant women would do well to add a bit of this vegetable to their diet!
There are many ways to use this vegetable in your diet besides pumpkin pie, including the use of pumpkin seed oil, pumpkin seeds, a pumpkin face mask, and in numerous delicious dishes, such as pumpkin soup and pumpkin biscuits.
- Pumpkin face masks are a great way to moisturize and revitalize the skin, while pumpkin seeds are nutrient dense, salty snacks that can be eaten just like popcorn.
- Pumpkin soup makes for a hearty and delicious winter meal, particularly when combined with butternut squash.
- The seed oil can be applied to meals for flavor, as well as to the skin and hair for topical relief of inflammation and the delivery of antioxidant benefits.
How to Store?
Pumpkins can be quite large, meaning that you might not use all of it at the same time, so knowing how to properly store this vegetable is important. In general, they can be stored for up to 3 months, provided you keep them dry and store in a cool place off the ground. For extended storage, and to prevent rot, you can wash the outside of the pumpkin with a mild chlorine solution to protect against fungi and bacterial growth.
The safest place to store this vegetable is on a piece of dry wood or cardboard, kept away from humidity and direct sunlight. Once you slice this squash open and remove the flesh, the pieces can be stored in an airtight container for no more than 2 weeks.