Health Benefits of Pumpkin

With October’s arrival comes the seasonal debut of the nourishing winter squash: pumpkin, a nutrient-dense treat that delights the palate whether savory or sweet.

Looking across cultures, the health benefits of pumpkin are profusely documented. In Chinese medicine, pumpkin is believed to regulate blood sugar (which, from a western perspective is confirmed by its low glycemic load). Eastern traditions also classify the squash as beneficial for those with bronchial asthma, likely due to pumpkin’s hearty dose of vitamin A, a micronutrient that supports the development and differentiation of white blood cells, essential to the immune response.

While vitamin A is most commonly linked to vision health, it does play a significant role in immunity, growth and development, as well as red blood cell production. As a fat-soluble vitamin, vitamin A is best absorbed when consumed with fat (meaning that cooking pumpkin with coconut or olive oil is encouraged to maximize bioavailability).

Vitamin A is nutritionally classified in two main forms. Animal sources of vitamin A (such as liver, cod liver oil, eggs, butter, and milk) contain retinol and retinyl esters, also known as preformed vitamin A. Plant sources (typically red, orange, and yellow fruits or vegetables) contain provitamin A carotenoids which can be converted to retinol. When comparing the bioavailability of these two forms, as little as 5% of provitamin A carotenoids are absorbed by the body, while up to 90% of preformed vitamin A can be absorbed.

According to Cronometer, a half-cup of canned pumpkin contains 817% of the Recommend Dietary Allowance (RDA) of vitamin A. This half-cup serving also boasts 22% RDA for vitamin K (think: coagulation, bone health), 15% RDA for copper (think: iron metabolism), and 10% RDA for potassium (think: muscle contraction). It is important to note that RDAs should be interpreted as minimum recommendations, meaning that you should meet (preferably exceed) these daily recommendations to avoid nutritional diseases of deficiency. In the case of pumpkin, exceeding the RDA by 717%, for example, poses no risk of toxicity to the body because the source is plant-derived. The same, however, cannot be said for vitamin A derived from animal sources, which, if over-consumed either through food or supplementation, can lead to hypervitaminosis A, categorized by blurry vision, dizziness, nausea, and bone pain.

Besides its impressive nutrient density, pumpkin is a good source of fiber, is packed with antioxidants to minimize free radical damage in the body, and has relatively low caloric value.

Indulgence is just around the corner with fast-approaching Halloween, and these 4 seasonal recipes will surely satisfy your sweet tooth.

Pumpkin Spice Crepes:

Mini Pumpkin Cheesecakes:

Pumpkin Chocolate Bars:

Pumpkin Pie:

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