Lauren Rabaino

There’s more to look forward to this Halloween than just waltzing around in a ridiculous costume and eating tons of candy, thanks to the surprising health benefits of pumpkins. When we think of pumpkins, it brings to mind jack-o-lanterns, festive decorations and of course, delicious pumpkin pie. This underrated member of the squash family is not a vegetable; it’s actually a fruit and is one of the most nutritionally valuable foods known to man. Pumpkin is truly bursting with vitamins, minerals and fiber. You can tell by its bright color that it’s going to be good for you! Not only is pumpkin loaded with Vitamin A and antioxidant carotenoids, particularly alpha and beta-carotenes, it’s a good source of Vitamins C, K and E, and lots of minerals, including calcium, magnesium, potassium and iron.

The orange color of pumpkins is due to its high amounts of carotenoids, which have great cancer-fighting properties. These carotenoids are what give pumpkins their extraordinary health benefits. The carotenoids found in pumpkin form a synergistic combination different from any other fruit or vegetable. This form of carotenoids found in pumpkins are extremely well-absorbed by the body. The carotenoids concentrate in many tissues of our bodies and protect us from free radicals, help strengthen our immune systems and stimulates certain naturally detoxifying enzymes. In just one cup of pumpkin you get the full 100 percent of your recommended daily dose of Vitamin A.

Pumpkins also contain lutein and ziazanthin, which can help promote eye health and keep macular degeneration from becoming a problem. Vitamin C and potassium are an added health benefit, as well as fiber.

Oh, and did I mention pumpkins are low in calories? With only 83 calories and seven grams of fiber per cup, they offer a lot of vitamins for very few calories. You can get your daily dose of pumpkin in other ways besides eating pumpkin pie. You can make breads, muffins, soups, basically anything. If you’re not into the whole pumpkin thing, you can try one of pumpkin’s healthy sidekicks, such as carrots, butternut squash, sweet potatoes and orange bell peppers.

The seeds are also worth snacking on as well. Pumpkin seeds are loaded with protein, fiber and minerals and seem to have an anti-inflammatory effect; they may even help protect against prostate cancer and osteoporosis. The seeds offer a good amount of iron, zinc and Omega 3 fatty acids. After you carve your pumpkin, spread the seeds on a baking sheet, toss on a little olive oil and salt, and bake until brown. Put them in your salad, your morning bowl of cereal or just eat them plain as a snack.

I found a recipe that offers all the great health advantages of pumpkin in a tasty little cookie. Plus, if you choose to use the whole wheat flour and the oatmeal, you’re increasing your fiber intake, too.

Great Pumpkin Cookies
Low-fat, healthy treats

Ingredients
– 1 cup canned pumpkin
– 1 cup brown sugar (you can use « cup Splenda if you prefer)
– 2 egg whites
– 1/3 cup applesauce
– 3 cups oatmeal
– 1 1/2 cups flour (3/4 cup whole wheat flour, 3/4 cup all-purpose flour)
– 1 tsp baking soda
– 1 teaspoon vanilla
– 1/2 tsp nutmeg
– 1/2 tsp ginger
– 1/2 tsp cinnamon
– 1/2 tsp ground cloves

Preparation
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Mix together the pumpkin, sugar, applesauce, vanilla and eggs.
In a separate bowl, combine the remaining ingredients (flour, spices, baking soda and oatmeal), then add it to the pumpkin mixture, stirring well.
Drop by spoonfuls onto a baking sheet and bake 10-12 minutes.

Sarah Bailey is a nutrition senior, a Mustang Daily nutrition columnist and a member of PULSE. E-mail your questions to her at slbailey@calpoly.edu.

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