Are pumpkins healthy? Yes, they are, especially for your eyes. In this article I talk about the the health benefits of pumpkins, as well as its seeds and oil.
Personally, I eat pumpkin almost every day. Well, I love it!
Pumpkins are a genus of herbaceous plants in the Cucurbitaceae family. When we say “pumpkin” we usually mean a common species of pumpkin (Cucurbita pepo), which is cultivated as a food for human consumption.
Pumpkins are believed to originate from North America. Pumpkin is now eaten all over the world and is being cultivated in all continents except Antarctica. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) reports that most pumpkins are being grown in China, India, Russia, the United States and Egypt.
The health benefits of pumpkins
Pumpkins’ vibrant colour – yellow or orange comes from the carotenoids, including beta-cryptoxanthin, alpha- and beta-carotene and zeaxanthin. All these compounds are converted into vitamin A inside the body. It is estimated that 100 g of pumpkin contain about 50% of the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) of vitamin A. Vitamin A, among other functions, is absolutely necessary to maintain healthy skin, eyes and mucous membranes. Vitamin A is fat-soluble, which means that it is absorbed in the presence of fat. Therefore, cooking a pumpkin with oil or another source of dietary fat is a good idea.
Pumpkin has a significant amount of the carotenoid zeaxanthin. This pigment is synthesized in plants and gives them a characteristic orange and yellow colour. The name comes from Zea Mays (a variety of common corn in which zeaxanthin provides the basic yellow pigment) and Hanthos, the Greek word for “yellow”. Zeaxanthin is a major component of pigment in the retina of a human eye. A small amount of zeaxanthin is also contained in the human brain. Zeaxanthin plays an important role in the functioning of the eyes, as it is responsible for central visual acuity (the ability of the eye to discern fine distinctions in the environment).
100 g of pumpkin contain only 26 calories. Therefore, this is a good food choice for those who are watching their figure.
To summarise: there are at least three recognised health benefits of pumpkins: they have a very high amount of vitamin A; they are a good source of zeaxanthin, which is good for eye health; and they are very low in calories which makes it a great food for those who want to maintain a healthy weight.
Pumpkin seeds and pumpkin oil health benefits
Pumpkin seeds are valued for their high protein content (25 g per 100 g) and a significant amount of Omega-6 fatty acids, predominantly Linoleic acid. 100 g of pumpkin seeds contain up to 20 grams of Linoleic acids. For reference: the recommended daily norm of Linoleic acid is 6 grams for men and 4 grams for women. Pumpkin seeds also contain a relatively large amount of some minerals. 100 g of pumpkin seeds provide:
- 150 % recommended daily allowance (RDA) of Manganese
- 135 % RDA of Magnesium
- 85% RDA of Iron
- 70 % RDA of Copper
- 50 % RDA of Zinc
Pumpkin oil has a unique green colour and a distinct nutty, slightly bitter taste. It is rich in fatty acids (Omega-3, Omega-6 and Omega-9), sterols (plant compounds that naturally lower the LDL-cholesterol) and vitamin E. It is a nice alternative to use in small quantities in salads and other cold dishes.
How to eat pumpkins
Pumpkin and pumpkin seeds can be eaten raw. Pumpkins, especially sweet winter varieties, can be stored for a long time, because they contain a lot of sugar (natural preservative) and have a thick skin. The skin of young pumpkins, by the way, is edible. Personally, when I cook young pumpkins, I do not remove the skin. I find it very tasty.
As I said, I love pumpkins. I would have them for breakfast, lunch and dinner. (But variety in nutrition is important, so I eat other foods too). In September pumpkins are the freshest and the sweetest. In September, I add them raw in salads and juice them. Their juice is sweeter and more delicate than carrot juice. Throughout the year I make pumpkin soups and curries and often bake pumpkin in the oven as a side dish. I also make pumpkin lasagne, waffles and fritters. See my Instagram profile for inspiration.