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By Karen Alexander

Oncology Wellness Specialist on 11/10/2017

Pumpkins: More Than a Seasonal Treat

The pumpkin originated in Central America over 7,500 years ago, however, those pumpkins are very different than the orange variety we find in stores today. The pumpkin is a member of the cucurbit (gourd) family, along with squash, cucumbers, luffas, watermelons and melons. There are several types of pumpkins; some are used as ornamental pumpkins on Halloween and Thanksgiving, while other varieties are used for cooking. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, from 2001 to 2014, pumpkin production nearly doubled in value, from $75 million to $143 million.

In addition to their importance for the American economy, pumpkins are very significant in American culture. Native Americans were eating pumpkins centuries before the Pilgrims came to America, and when the Pilgrims arrived they adopted pumpkins into their diets. Today, pumpkins are a staple for the fall season, especially Halloween and Thanksgiving celebrations. Every fall, millions of Americans visit pumpkin patches and choose the perfect pumpkin to carve for Halloween.

Thanksgiving is one of the most American of holidays. In September 1789, President George Washington issued a proclamation naming Thursday, November 26, 1789 as a "Day of Public Thanksgiving". Today we celebrate the fourth Thursday in November as the Federal Thanksgiving Day holiday. Pumpkin pie is a staple of the Thanksgiving celebration, and is thought to have occurred when the colonists sliced off the pumpkin top, removed the seeds, and then filled it with milk, spices and honey. The pumpkin was then baked in the hot ashes of a dying fire.

In addition to their long ties to American culture, pumpkins are very nutritious and have some interesting health properties. According to the USDA, one cup of pumpkin pulp provides 50 calories, 2g protein, 12g carbohydrates, and 0g fat. It is very high in vitamin A (87% of the daily requirement) and a good source of copper (25%), vitamin B2 (17%), vitamin C (15%), and vitamin E (13%). Pumpkin seeds are also low in fat and rich in protein. One ounce of pumpkin seeds has 125 calories, 5g of protein, 5g fat, 15g carbohydrates (including 0g of sugar and 5g of fiber), 5 percent of your daily iron needs and 50 percent of your daily magnesium needs. Lastly, pumpkin seed oil is known for been a good source of vitamin E.

Pumpkins have bioactive compounds with many medicinal properties:

Pumpkin Fruit

• Anti-Diabetic Effect: Increases insulin secretion and levels, and may help reduce blood glucose.

• Anti-oxidant Effect: Enhances the body’s antioxidant enzymes (SOD and GSH-Px) and may reduce oxidation markers.

• Anti-Carcinogenic Effect: May inhibit cell tumor growth.

Pumpkin Seeds

• Anti-Carcinogenic Effect: May inhibit cell tumor growth.

Now that we know that pumpkins are good for more than just holiday decoration, it makes sense to take advantage of the pulp and seeds for your cooking. Below are some tips for getting the most out of your pumpkins.

What to do with the seeds:

  • Drying Pumpkin Seeds: Pumpkin seeds can be dried in the sun for 6 hours or longer, in a dehydrator at 115 to 120 degrees for 1 to 2 hours, or in an oven on warm for 3 to 4 hours. Stir them frequently to avoid burning.
  • Roasting Pumpkin Seeds: Toss dried pumpkin seeds with a little oil and salt to taste, and roast in a preheated oven at 250°F for 10 to 15 minutes.
  • Boiling and Roasting Pumpkin Seeds: Boil the seeds in salted water, drain and dry them, and then roast in a 300 degree oven for 30 to 40 minutes, or until golden brown. Stir every 10 minutes.

Note: Store dried and roasted seeds in an airtight container in the refrigerator for no more than 10 to 14 days. For longer storage, place in the freezer.

What to do with the pumpkin pulp:

  • Homemade Pumpkin Puree
  • Pumpkin Butter
  • Pumpkin Spice Oatmeal
  • Pumpkin Sugar Body Scrub
     

Recipe of the Week: Pumpkin Pie Squares
Ingredients
10 medjool dates, pitted and diced (about 1 cup diced)
1½ cups oat flour
2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice (or see notes)
15 oz pureed cooked pumpkin (or 1 can cooked pumpkin)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup unsweetened, unflavored plant milk

Directions
1. Soak the dates in a small bowl with ¾ cup water for at least 15 minutes.
2. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
3. Place flour and pumpkin pie spice in a large bowl. Place the soaked dates, the date soak water, vanilla, and plant milk in a blender and purée until smooth (1 to 2 minutes). Pour the mixture into the bowl of flour and spices, add the pumpkin, and mix with a wooden spoon until incorporated.
4. Scrape the batter into an 8”×8” parchment-lined baking sheet (or use a nonstick silicone baking pan). Cook for 25 to 30 minutes, until lightly browned with some cracks on the top. Let cool at least 10 to 15 minutes before cutting and serving.
5. Storing in the refrigerator overnight will firm up these squares, then you can pack them in a lunch or as a snack.

*Recipe via Forks Over Knives

Enjoy your weekend!

Karen Ambrosio, MSCN, BSND

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