The health benefits of the humble pumpkin

Halloween is almost here, which means the supermarkets are stocked high with pumpkins in all shades of orange. Not only are these food items highly ‘grammable, they’re also extremely nutritious.

Yet, year after year the humble pumpkin is so often overlooked, and once carved, discarded along with that year’s fancy dress costume.

We asked some experts about the nutritional value of the squash variety – of which there are plenty – who also shared some of their healthy pumpkin-based recipes for your inspiration.

“Brightly coloured fruits and vegetables are some of the healthiest – the orange colour of the pumpkin contains key phytonutrients like zeaxanthin, lycopene, and beta-carotene which are all immune boosters,” says Rick Hay, nutritional director at Healthista.

And beta-carotene, explains Sarah Ballis, specialist dietitian at The Harley Street Clinic, of HCA Healthcare UK, is where most of the nutritional value of a pumpkin is found. She added: “Like all carotenoids it’s an antioxidant mopping up free radicals to protect against the damage that can cause cancer and heart disease.

“[It] is the precursor of the fat-soluble nutrient vitamin A (Retinol) which is essential for vision and forms a protein in the receptors of the eye that absorbs light,” she went on. “Vitamin A has other important roles in immune function, cell growth and reproduction, but since it is toxic if accumulated in high levels the body very cleverly converts beta-carotene in limited quantities only as much as it needs.”

Eating four portions of beta-carotene rich foods per day has been associated with delaying age-related memory decline, improved skin appearance, lowered cancer risk and improved cardiovascular health, according to Ballis. Other beta-carotene rich foods include carrots, sweet potato, butternut squash and kale.

Pumpkin is around 90 per cent water and a good source of dietary fibre, Ballis explains, so it will keep you fuller for longer too. A cup of cooked pumpkin contains around 50kcal, 3g fibre, 2g protein and no fat.

Hay, who is behind the anti-ageing food & fitness plan, often recommends pumpkin soup as a good weight management meal to his clients as it helps with feelings of fullness and steadies blood sugar levels.

“Pumpkin also contains vitamin C to help boost immune function, help with skin health and support the nervous system,” he added. “The Vitamin E content helps with the skin too and can be protective against environmental pollution and UV rays,” he said.

And don’t forget the seeds, says Ballis, which are high in omega-6 fatty acids and the amino acid tryptophan which is linked to improved mood and serotonin production. She recommends eating them as snacks, sprinkled on salads and soups.

“Oil can also be commercially extracted from the seeds to produce a thick dark green polyunsaturated oil which has a nutty flavour delicious on salads,” she added. “Pumpkin seed oil has been researched as a natural hair growth promoter which may protect against male pattern hair loss through phytosterol (cholesterol like) activity inhibiting hormone activity in the scalp.”

All the more reason to get in on the pumpkin action this year…

Here’s Ballis’ recipe for perfect toasted pumpkin seeds:

  • Scrape the seeds from the pumpkin, pull off the flesh and rinse the seeds
  • Spread over a baking tray and cover with a little olive oil
  • Onto this you can sprinkle garlic, salt, fresh fennel seeds, chilli flakes or cinnamon
  • Then roast in the oven at 180 degrees for 10 minutes until golden brown
  • Cool and then store in an airtight jar

Add Comment