October 17, 2017

AN APPLE A DAY | Pumpkin Spice and Everything Nice: The Benefits of Incorporating Pumpkins into Your Diet

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With the chilly weather and colorful leaves rolling into the Ithaca area, there’s no doubt that fall season is upon us. And with the fall weather and ambiance comes the obvious pumpkin obsession:  pumpkin muffins, pumpkin pies (who could forget Patty’s delicious pumpkin pies?), and, of course, pumpkin spice lattes. Although most people think the pumpkin is just a symbol of fall seasonal bliss, it provides a lot of relatively unknown health benefits as well.

Ever wondered what makes that pumpkin pie so orange? The beta-Carotene in the pumpkin is what gives it that red-orange color that looks so nice in the fall. Besides contributing to the fall aesthetic, beta-Carotene also provides many much-needed health benefits, including delaying signs of aging and reducing your risk for asthma, prostate cancer, and heart disease. As an antioxidant, beta-Carotene is extremely helpful in maintaining a healthy diet.

Additionally, pumpkin can provide you with some much needed fiber. According to many nutritionists, our average fiber intake should be 25-30 grams a day. Finding the right foods to reach this goal can be difficult, but incorporating pumpkin into your diet can provide a sweet and healthy solution. Just one cup of canned pumpkin can give you as much as 7 grams in fiber. Given that canned pumpkin is relatively easy to incorporate into dishes such as pumpkin pie or a side dish, the fiber content of pumpkins can help many Americans fulfill the average fiber content needed in a healthy diet.

Of course, like any other fruit (no, it’s not a vegetable), pumpkin has a lot of essential vitamins. Among the highest in concentration is Vitamin A, with nearly twice the amount of necessary Vitamin A intake in a daily diet. Vitamin A is especially important to work into your diet because it helps maintain your vision along with healthy skin and teeth. Pumpkin also contains a lot of Vitamin C, at 17% of the amount needed daily, which is especially helpful for students combating the ongoing cold and flu epidemics that are so common during the fall months.

But why stop at the fruit portion of the pumpkin when there are so many seeds that one can eat as well? Generally, nuts and seeds are extremely important to eat because they can improve heart health. Pumpkin seeds provide the same benefits, contributing to lower bad cholesterol (or LDL) levels. Not only that, but pumpkin seeds can also help boost your mood during those stressful cramming sessions. Pumpkin seeds are high in tryptophan, an amino acid that is especially important for the production of serotonin, which can make you happier. The next time you feel upset over all the work you have to do, grab a bowl of pumpkin seeds—or even better, add them to your salad. Then you’ll have no pumpkin left to waste!

With all these fantastic health benefits, pumpkins have much more value than the purely aesthetic, decorative uses most people have for them. Whether you’re a pumpkin lover extraordinaire or indifferent to the pumpkin cheer, make sure to find a way to eat some. Grab that extra piece of pumpkin pie, nosh on some pumpkin seeds, and, perhaps best of all, confidently go buy that pumpkin spice latte. After all, there’s nothing that will *pump up* your fall season more than some extra pumpkin in your life.