Not Just for Carving: The Pumpkin Panacea
By Chelsea Fisher
The plump pumpkin, along with its winter squash cousins including butternut, acorn, and spaghetti, among others, is a delicious way to get a healing helping of essential nutrients.
The bright orange hue of this fall favorite represents high concentrations of vitamin A, specifically beta-carotene. According to the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR), carotenoids, such as beta-carotene, have been found to help prevent cancer and heart disease. Pumpkins are also a great and good-tasting source of potassium, folate, and fiber.
And save those pumpkin seeds. According to the AICR, pumpkin seeds contain healthy unsaturated fats, as well as plant sterols that could help lower blood pressure.
Though pumpkins can reach 75 lbs. and more, small ones are best for eating—save the giant ones for the Jack O’Lantern contest. Make sure the pumpkin feels heavy for its size, and that the stem is still attached. The skin should be hard and sound hollow when you give it a knock.
Pumpkins can be stored at room temperature for about a month and in the refrigerator for up to three months. Canned pumpkin (not “pumpkin pie” mix) is also a great alternative to dealing with the squash itself, and sometimes even retains more nutrients than fresh pumpkins due to the shipping and storing process. Pumpkin seeds are best if made from a fresh pumpkin (see recipe tips) because packaged kinds are high in sodium.
Puréed canned pumpkin makes using the squash incredibly easy. Many supermarkets now sell ready cubed fresh pumpkin and butternut squash as well. Use butternut squash as a substitute if a decent pumpkin isn’t available.
To cook fresh pumpkin, carefully cut the pumpkin in half and scoop out the seeds and stringy insides with a spoon. Cut into smaller pieces and remove the flesh from the hard rind. Either boil the pieces for about 25 minutes or steam them for 50 minutes.
Pumpkin can be the main ingredient in soups, pies, bread, muffins, or pancakes. Try our Fennel-Scented Squash Soup or our Pumpkin Miso Soup. Pumpkin is also a great soft food to eat if swallowing becomes difficult after chemotherapy treatments. Try our Pumpkin Pie Custard, or simply combine pureed pumpkin with seasoning for taste, or mix it with yogurt and honey for a sweet treat.
To make pumpkin seeds, extract them from the pumpkin, and wipe them off to remove the strings and pulp; it’s best to let them dry out overnight. Place them in a single layer on a baking sheet, and let them roast on low heat about 160-170 degrees for about 15-20 minutes. Use them on top of salads, sautéed vegetables, or toss them with breakfast cereal and granolas for a health boost.