Great Pumpkin! (Hold the Pie)

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Great Pumpkin! (Hold the Pie)

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Halloween is coming and there are pumpkins everywhere. The largest one grown this year weighed in at more than 1,800 pounds! Did you know that most of the pumpkins grown in the U.S. are used for Jack o’ Lanterns? That’s a shame because this vibrant fruit (Yes! fruit) is a nutritional treasure-trove, too good to be relegated to a Halloween decoration or – for most people – a wedge of pie served only at Thanksgiving.

Clearly, we like the taste. USA Today once reported on a pumpkin craze that started with pumpkin yogurts, ciders and cream cheeses. There’s also Pumpkin Spice M&Ms, Pumpkin Pop-Tarts, Pumpkin Pringles, Pumpkin Pie ice cream. In other words, there is plenty of pumpkin flavored sugar and salt to be had. You can even get pumpkin flavored vodka. I am not making this up.

Forget the fads. It’s time to reconsider pumpkin and see it for the amazingly healthy – and Brain Warrior friendly – food it is. It’s color is the tip-off to pumpkin’s potent health benefits. Pigments called carotenoids are responsible for the distinctive orange color and pumpkin’s nutritional muscle. Carotenoids, also found in dark green leafy veggies, act as antioxidants to protect cells against the damage caused by free-radicals, which can lead to heart disease, cancer and many other diseases. Here’s a real-world example of what we’ve been learning about the influence carotenoids wield on health: a study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute concluded that women with higher blood levels of multiple carotenoids may have a lower risk of developing breast cancer. We also have evidence that carotenoids may help protect skin from the damaging effects of sunlight.

The Eyes Have It

Two other carotenoids present in pumpkins, Lutein and Zeaxanthin, help protect the eyes against damage from free radicals, cataract formation and age-related macular degeneration. Doesn’t that suggest that the old wives’ tales about how good carrots are for the eyes is more than myth? (Carrots give you plenty of carotenoids, too.)

Here’s more good nutritional news: a cup of cooked pumpkin contains a mere 49 calories plus three grams of fiber, which helps stabilize blood sugar and can help lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. Fiber is also key to digestive health – it improves bowel function and reduces the risk of colon cancer.

When buying pumpkins, look for ones that are firm, heavy, brightly colored, and free from blemishes. Those that are dull-colored and have shriveled skin, soft spots, cuts, or breaks are past their prime, so pass them by. You can steam pumpkins the way you do winter squash – peeled, cut into two inch cubes and cooked until fork tender, about 30 minutes. Then, serve it up with a dash of nutmeg.

I’m a big pumpkin fan. You should be, too. Try my Pumpkin Protein Bars. They’ll make you forget about pie.

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