Pumpkin has a rich history of varying uses and traditions, from the jack-o-lantern to pumpkin pie to pumpkin spice lattes. But beyond the sugary desserts and Halloween decorations, these vibrant orange autumn fruits (that’s right – fruit, not vegetable!) come with a range of incredible health benefits. Pumpkin has been labeled a ‘superfood’, and that is a pretty fair description for these powerhouses of beta-carotene…
A Brief History About Pumpkin
Pumpkins have been around for many centuries, referenced and recorded over the years around the world. The name originated from the Greek word ‘pepon’, meaning ‘large melon’, which became ‘pompon’ when it was spoken with a French accent. The English then changed it to ‘pumpion’, and that’s how it was pronounced in Shakespeare’s Merry Wives of Windsor. Finally, the American colonists changed it from ‘pumpion’ to ‘pumpkin’, and that is how we have the spelling and pronunciation today.
Pumpkins belong to the Gourd Family (Cucurbitaceae) of fruits, which includes melons and squash. They come under the ‘squash’ category of the Gourd Family, and come in different shapes and sizes, with slightly varying tastes. They include Blue Hokkaido, Cheese, Red Kuri, Rouge Vif d’Etampes, Sugar Pie, and White. There are also a range of Squash varieties, which come with similar health benefits, and can be substituted in pretty much any pumpkin recipe, including Butternut, Acorn, Delicata, Hubbard, Kabocha, Spaghetti, Sweet Dumpling, and Turban.
Pumpkins In The US
The large fruit was used throughout history in the US, with Native Americans drying strips of it and weaving them into mats, as well as roasting strips on an open fire and eating them. According to records, the pumpkin pie originated from colonists slicing off the pumpkin top, removing the seeds, and filling the insides with milk, honey and spices before baking it in hot ashes.
Then there is the jack-o-lantern, which is a popular tradition at Halloween…
Many people around the world associate Halloween with America, but, in fact, it originated in Ireland some 2,000 years ago. All Hallows’ Eve, or Samhain (the Gaelic word for ‘summer’s end’), was a pre-Christian Celtic festival held around 31st of October/1st of November. The exact nature of the festival is not known for sure, but it was an annual event held at the end of the harvest season before the winter months settled in. People would gather their resources and bring animals back from the pastures.
All Hallows’ Eve was also a time to remember the dead, and it is unknown whether these two events intertwined, or which one came first. People believed that during this changeover between summer and winter, or fall and winter as we know it today, the veil between the spirit world and our world was at its thinnest and the two worlds could cross over. They would light bonfires and wear masks so that the ghosts would mistake them for fellow spirits, and they would place bowls of food outside their homes to prevent them from causing any harm or entering their homes. This is thought to be how the tradition of dressing up in costumes and trick-or-treating began.
The tradition of carving pumpkins at Halloween into jack-o-lanterns was brought to America by the Irish, and is thought to have originated from an Irish myth about a man nicknamed ‘Stingy Jack’. But pumpkins didn’t exist in Ireland when the ritual started, and they actually used turnips. It was only when it reached America that the turnip was replaced by the pumpkin.
Nutritional Information (1 Cup, Boiled & Mashed)
Calories – 49
Total Fat – 0g
Cholesterol – 0mg
Sodium – 2mg
Total Carbohydrate – 12g
Dietary Fiber – 3g
Sugars – 2g
Protein – 2g
Vitamin A – 245% of RDI (No, that’s not a typo!)
Vitamin C – 19% of RDI
Vitamin E – 10% of RDI
Calcium – 4% of RDI
Iron – 8% of RDI
Potassium – 16% of RDI
Copper – 11% of RDI
Phosphorus – 7% of RDI
Manganese – 11% of RDI
Riboflavin – 11% of RDI
Folate – 6% of RDI
Magnesium – 6% of RDI
Thiamin – 5% of RDI
Niacin – 5% of RDI
Zinc – 4% of RDI
Health Benefits Of Pumpkin
With their vibrant orange color, pumpkins are loaded with beta-carotene, a provitamin that is converted into vitamin A in the body. Beta-carotene has a range of health benefits, from strengthening immunity to improving eye and heart health. On top of that, pumpkins have a good dose of fiber, a decent hit of protein and lots of vitamins and minerals. Here are some proven health benefits of pumpkin…
1. Pumpkin May Aid Weight Loss
Pumpkins are low calorie and high fiber, making them an excellent ingredient when trying to lose weight. The fiber in pumpkins slows down digestion, keeping you fuller for longer. When boiled in water, or used from a can, pumpkins are nearly 90% water, making them even lower in calories, and keeping you hydrated. Because of their versatility, pureed pumpkin can be used in desserts, like gluten-free, sugar-free brownies, satisfying your sweet tooth, while minimizing your fat, calorie and sugar intake. They can also help you reduce your grain carbohydrate intake during meals, because they are so filling.
2. Pumpkin Can Boost The Immune System
The beta-carotene in pumpkin, which turns into vitamin A in the body, is a powerful immune-boosting nutrient. It helps your body fight infections, viruses and infectious diseases. A cup of pumpkin contains nearly 2.5 times your daily need for vitamin A, as well as 19% of the vitamin C you need, which may help fight off colds faster. According to a 2010 study, vitamin A and D play a significant role in supporting a healthy immune system. Pumpkins are also rich in insoluble fiber, which has been found to stimulate the body’s immune system and help fight infection.
3. Pumpkin Can Improve Eye Health
The huge amount of vitamin A in pumpkin comes into play again here, with its better known benefit – eye health. Again, this comes from the beta-carotene, which is converted into vitamin A in the body. This important nutrient helps the eye retina absorb and process light. On top of that, pumpkins contain lutein and zeaxanthin, which are powerful antioxidants that may help prevent cataracts and slow down development of macular degeneration.
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