If you live in the US, you may regard pumpkins primarily as an ornamental squash, and use them to decorate your home for fall or carve into a jack-o-lantern on Halloween. However, the vast majority of pumpkins are grown not for ornamental use but for eating.
Most pumpkin that is processed is made into canned pumpkin and canned pumpkin pie mix, but you can also purchase fresh “pie” pumpkins and puree the flesh yourself. There is, of course, far more to do with pumpkin than make pumpkin pie.
In fact, recent food trends show that the most popular pumpkin dish – by a landslide – is actually pumpkin curry (coming in at 54 percent of orders compared to just 3 percent for pumpkin pie).1
If you’re looking to try something new for lunch or dinner, and you want to add in the seasonal (and nutrient-rich) flavor of pumpkin, try the warming pumpkin chili with chicken recipe that follows.2 It’s perfect for a cool autumn day.
Did You Know?
- One cup of pumpkin contains more than 200 percent of your recommended daily intake of vitamin A, which is beneficial for your vision and more
- Pumpkin is rich in fiber and contains vitamin C, potassium, riboflavin, copper, and manganese, along with vitamin E, B vitamins, folate, iron, and phosphorus
- Pumpkin has many medicinal properties including anti-diabetic, antioxidant, anti-carcinogenic, and anti-inflammatory effects
- With a wide variety of nutrients ranging from magnesium and manganese to copper, protein, and zinc, pumpkin seeds are also beneficial for your health
- You don’t have to resort to canned pumpkin; it’s easy to make pumpkin puree at home from fresh pie pumpkins
Pumpkin Chili with Chicken Recipe
- 3 Tbsp. olive oil
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 1 green bell pepper, seeded, and chopped
- 1 jalapeño, seeded and finely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 1/2 pounds ground organic, pasture-raised chicken
- 10-12 whole tomatoes, peeled and diced
- 1 1/2 cups fresh pumpkin puree (see below for recipe)
- 2 cups homemade chicken broth
- 1 1/2 Tbsp. chili powder
- 1 Tbsp. cumin
- Salt and pepper
- 1 1/2 cups cooked kidney beans
- 1 1/2 cups cooked white kidney beans
Serving Size: 6
- Warm oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add onion, bell pepper, jalapeño, and garlic; sauté until tender, about 12 minutes. Transfer to a bowl. Add chicken to pot and cook, stirring, until no pink remains, about 8 minutes. Return vegetables to pot.
- Add tomatoes, pumpkin, broth, chili powder, cumin, and 1/2 tsp. salt. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and stir in all beans. Cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, until chili thickens slightly, about 30 minutes. Taste and season with salt and pepper.
(From Healthy Recipes for Your Nutritional Type)
The Impressive Nutrient Power of Pumpkins
Pumpkin, with its bright or deep orange color, is an excellent source of carotenoids, including beta-carotene (which converts into vitamin A in your body). One cup of pumpkin contains more than 200 percent of your recommended daily intake of vitamin A, which is beneficial for your vision3 and more.
As an antioxidant, beta-carotene helps protect your body from disease-causing free radicals while boosting immune function. Further, research shows that people who eat four or more daily servings of beta-carotene-rich foods may lower their risk of heart disease and cancer.4
Pumpkin is also rich in fiber, with three grams in a one-cup serving. Fiber can help control your blood sugar levels, improve skin health, lower hemorrhoid risk, and provide relief from irritable bowel syndrome... along with help you maintain a healthy weight and proper digestion.
Other notable nutrients in pumpkin include vitamin C, potassium, riboflavin, copper, and manganese, along with vitamin E, B vitamins, folate, iron, and phosphorus. Taken together, pumpkin provides a powerful blend of nutrients that work together to synergistically benefit your health. As reported in Nutrition Research Reviews:5
“Pumpkin is one of the well-known edible plants and has substantial medicinal properties due to the presence of unique natural edible substances. It contains several phyto-constituents belonging to the categories of alkaloids, flavonoids, and palmitic, oleic and linoleic acids.
Various important medicinal properties including anti-diabetic, antioxidant, anti-carcinogenic, anti-inflammatory and others have been well documented.”
Don’t Forget to Eat the Seeds, Too
There are many different varieties of pumpkins, and those grown for use as jack-o-lanterns are specifically made for carving, as their flesh tends to be bland and stringy (if you want a pumpkin with sweet, less stringy flesh, choose a pie pumpkin.) However, even “jack-o-lantern” pumpkins are typically full of seeds that can be roasted or even eaten raw as a nutritious snack.
With a wide variety of nutrients ranging from magnesium and manganese to copper, protein, and zinc, pumpkin seeds are nutritional powerhouses wrapped up in a very small package.
They also contain plant compounds known as phytosterols and free-radical scavenging antioxidants,6 which can give your health an added boost. Some of the many reasons to eat your pumpkin’s seeds (in addition to the flesh) include:
- Heart-healthy magnesium: One-quarter cup of pumpkin seeds contains nearly half of the recommended daily amount of magnesium.
- Zinc for immune support: One ounce of pumpkin seeds contains more than 2 mg of this beneficial mineral. Zinc is important to your body in many ways, including immunity, cell growth and division, sleep, mood, your senses of taste and smell, eye and skin health, insulin regulation, and male sexual function.
- Plant-based omega-3 fats: Raw nuts and seeds, including pumpkin seeds, are one of the best sources of plant-based omega-3s (alpha-linolenic acid or ALA).
- Tryptophan for restful sleep: Pumpkin seeds are a rich source of tryptophan, an amino acid (protein building block) that your body converts into serotonin, which in turn is converted into melatonin, the “sleep hormone.”
- Anti-inflammatory effects: Pumpkin seed oil has been found to exhibit anti-inflammatory effects. One animal study even found it worked as well as the anti-inflammatory drug indomethacin in treating arthritis, but without the side effects.7
- Prostate health: Pumpkin seeds have long been valued as an important natural food for men’s health. This is in part because of their high zinc content, which is important for prostate health (where it is found in the highest concentrations in the body), and also because pumpkin seed extracts and oils may play a role in treating benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH, or enlarged prostate).
- Anti-diabetic effects: Animal studies suggest that pumpkin seeds may help improve insulin regulation and help prevent diabetic complications by decreasing oxidative stress.8
What’s the Best Way to Consume Pumpkin Seeds?
As far as the seeds go, in order to preserve the healthy fats present in the seeds, pumpkin seeds should be eaten raw. If you choose to purchase seeds from a bulk bin, make sure they smell fresh – not musty, spoiled, or stale, which could indicate rancidity or the presence of fungal mycotoxins.
Organic pumpkin seeds are preferred, as they will not be contaminated with pesticides or other harmful chemicals. However, most nuts and seeds have anti-nutrients like phytic acid that can make all the previously discussed important nutrients less bioavailable when you consume them.
So if you plan on consuming seeds or nuts on a regular basis, it would be wise to soak or sprout them. To make them more palatable, you can then dehydrate them in your oven, or better yet and more cost effectively in a dehydrator. If you prefer to eat the seeds roasted, do so yourself so you can control the roasting temperature and time.
Raw pumpkin seeds can be roasted on a low heat setting in your oven (no more than 170°F or 75°C), sprinkled with Himalayan or other natural salt, for about 15-20 minutes.
How to Make Your Own Pumpkin Puree
Most recipes call for canned pumpkin puree, but you can make your own from fresh pumpkins (and avoid potential BPA in the can lining). Choose a pie pumpkin meant for cooking (ideally organic), then wash its exterior. Cut in half lengthwise, remove the seeds (save them for eating) and pulp, and roast it in your oven for about 45 minutes at 350°F.
When it’s done cooking, you’ll be able to simply peel away the skin from the flesh, then toss it in your food processor or blender. The resulting puree can be used fresh or frozen for later use.9 You’ll find it comes in handy for boosting the nutrition, flavor, and “bulk” of many meals. It works well in chili, soups, and stews, as well mixed in with foods you might not expect, like tomato sauce, raw yogurt and kefir, or even hummus.
Sources and References