Preventive Maintenance: Pumpkins are not just for Jack-O-Lanterns

by Karen Bowen

As you travel the roads, this is a great time of year to take advantage of the changing scenery. Fall is here, creating forests and fields full of colour. Fall fruits and vegetables are ready to be picked, and pumpkins are waiting to be carved.

Today, imagine you’re home. And there, on the table, is a huge pumpkin with your name on it. It’s time to let your artistic talents run wild.

So, you get out the sharpest knife in the drawer and begin making a Jack-O-Lantern for the front step.

You cut out the top and scoop and scrape out the seeds into a huge, wet, messy pile. Wait! Don’t waste those seeds by throwing them out. You’d be surprised how good they are for you.

Pumpkin seeds are full of nutrition. With less than 150 calories, one ounce contains over nine grams of protein and one gram of fiber. As well, they are full of many minerals, including: calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, zinc, copper, manganese, and selenium. They have vitamins too, like: Vitamins C, A, E and K; thiamin; riboflavin; niacin; B-6; B-12; folate; and folic acid.

Pumpkin seeds are an excellent source of Omega 3 oils, which help control your cholesterol levels and keep your nervous system healthy.

As well, they have been found to reduce the risk of prostate cancer and osteoporosis.

Not only are they good for you, but roasted pumpkin seeds taste great, too. And they’re easy to make.

Just wash/rub them free of the rest of the pumpkin innards, so only the seeds are left. (I rub them between some wet paper towels, so I can throw the paper towels out when I’m done.)

Then, put a little butter or margarine on your hands and rub your palms together until they are lightly coated with the butter/margarine. After that, pick up the seeds and rub them between your palms until they are just coated with the butter/margarine.

Place them on a baking sheet and bake them in the pre-heated oven at 325-350 C for a short time (5-10 minutes) until they are a light golden colour.

Finally, as soon as you take them out of the oven, sprinkle them with salt and let them cool on the pan. Eat them warm, cool, or store them in the fridge for later. They’re an economical, tasty treat.

If you decide to eat your pumpkin instead of carving it, you’ve made a healthy choice, since it’s full of excellent ingredients. With no cholesterol and being low in fat and salt, one cup of pumpkin puree has only 80 calories.

Even though it is 90% water, the remaining 10% is chock-full of goodness, with 2.4 grams of protein, 588 milligrams of potassium, as well as 20% of the RDA (recommended daily allowance) of Vitamin C and 310% RDA of Vitamin A.

It also contains fiber, calcium, magnesium, zinc, selenium, niacin, folate, and Vitamins E and K. (If you’re following the Atkins diet, pumpkin is one of the only fruits allowed in the ‘induction’ stage.)

Pumpkin is full of carotenoids. These have been linked to a many health-promoting qualities.

On top of their antioxidant activity, carotenoids also help keep your eyes healthy. One antioxidant, beta-carotene, converts to Vitamin A in the body, promoting good circulation, a healthy heart, eyes and lungs. The presence of alpha-carotene in pumpkin is a real bonus. Alpha-carotene (interacting with other key nutrients) appears to slow some effects of aging.

Dr. Steven Pratt, as seen on The View and Oprah, called pumpkin one of 14 “SuperFoods” in his best-selling book, SuperFoods Rx: 14 Foods That Will Change Your Life (William Morrow, 2004).

Since pumpkin keeps for six months whole or, for years in a can, you can eat it fresh any time of the year in soups, breads, and pies. (Interestingly, in colonial times pumpkin was originally used in the pie crust, not the filling.) Incredibly, the largest pumpkin pie ever made was over five feet across, weighing more that 350 lbs, and taking 80 lbs of cooked pumpkin, 36 lbs of sugar, 12 dozen eggs and six hours to bake (definitely for a large family.)

However, pumpkins are not just for eating. People in health care have used pumpkin to treat many conditions over the years. In the past, pumpkins were even used to get rid of freckles and to treat snake bites. Currently, many facial and anti-wrinkle creams include pumpkin.

Pumpkin belongs to the family of plants called ‘Cucurbita’ (also including: squash, watermelon, zucchini and cucumbers) and are enjoyed all over the world. They come in all shapes, sizes and colours: white, red, blue and blue-green pumpkins, but these colourful varieties are not very well-known in Canada.

However, no matter what kind of pumpkin you choose, there’s no ‘trick’ to a pumpkin ‘treat.’

Karen Bowen is a professional health and nutrition consultant and she can be reached by e-mail at

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