Ingredient of the Month: Pumpkin

Pumpkins--they are for so much more than jack-o-lanterns and hayrides (photo: pumpkin patch by liz west/Flickr Creative Commons)

Pumpkins–they are for so much more than jack-o-lanterns and hayrides (photo: pumpkin patch by liz west/Flickr Creative Commons)

It’s the season of pumpkin-spiced everything, as most of us know. But contrary to popular thought, pumpkin spice does not equal pumpkin flavor. Pumpkin spice is actually just a mix of nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, allspice, and ginger. Believe it or not, for those of us who don’t like pumpkin pie, the spice might be the problem.

Many of us have never had pumpkin outside of its traditional American role of pie filling (besides the seeds, of course) and this is where the misconception starts.

If you have never had pumpkin sans pumpkin spice, this month I challenge you to try one savory dish made with it–from ravioli filling to soups, pumpkin is really versatile. And you might be surprised about how much you enjoy it (I’ll be honest–pumpkin curry was my turning point).

Even though pumpkin can be delicious when you dress it up right, I’m challenging you because pumpkin is incredibly nutritious. One cup of pumpkin all mashed up provides nearly 2.5 times the recommended daily value of vitamin A, which is essential to your eyesight. In my organic chem class we just discussed retinal’s part in sight: it literally changes shape when light hits it, causing a cascade of things to happen that result in seeing. Super cool, and retinal comes from either animal sources or from breaking down alpha- or beta-carotene from plant sources.

Pumpkin, being high in those carotenoids, is also great for a pretty, healthy-looking glow, long after that summertime tan wears off. And since carotenoids are important antioxidants (that’s why they fight the AGEs produced when you eat sugar), they keep your skin healthy from the inside out.

But pumpkin isn’t all about the orange stuff–the seeds are good for you, too.

Pumpkin seeds are a good source of tryptophan, one of the nine essential amino acids. Tryptophan is the precursor to serotonin [1] an essential neurotransmitter in mood regulation [1,2]. Basically, you need a certain amount of tryptophan in your diet so that your mood is good.

Pumpkin seeds are also a good source of iron, which is something that many young women don’t have enough of.  According to the CDC, 9% of women between the ages of 12 and 49 are iron deficient.

The best part: if you get one of those whole pumpkins from the store, you get the benefit of the orange flesh the protein-filled seeds! (And pumpkins aren’t even that hard too cook–it just takes a while to roast them.)

Literature Cited

[1] Campbell’s Biology, ed. 9
[2] Hockenbury and Hockenbury’s Discovering Psychology, ed. 5

Do you have a favorite pumpkin recipe? Share it in the comments!


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