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Carve out nutrients from colorful pumpkin.

The Folklore. Pumpkins carved into jack-o'-lantern faces mark a tradition traced to the Irish holiday Samhain--literally summer's end. Scary faces were carved into turnips and other root vegetables to frighten away demons and evil spirits. Irish settlers in the U.S. found pumpkins an easier medium for the seasonal ritual, now known, of course, as Halloween.

It's been said the original pumpkin "pie" was made by slicing off the top of the pumpkin, removing the seeds, filling the cavity with milk, spices and honey and then baking it directly in hot ashes.

The Facts. Botanically a fruit, pumpkin is a squash (Curcubita), closely related to muskmelons and cucumbers. Connecticut Field is the variety commonly grown for jack-o'-lanterns for its bright orange color and classic round shape, whereas the Small Sugar New England Pie variety is smaller and sweeter to suit culinary uses like pie. One cup of cooked pumpkin yields only 49 calories but has a fair amount of fiber and nutrients, making it a filling and highly nutritious staple to add to your dinner plate. Pumpkin gets its bright orange hue from the carotenoid beta-carotene and is also packed with lutein, another carotenoid. Pumpkin seeds make a delicious roasted snack, providing protein and a wealth of minerals, especially magnesium, zinc, copper, manganese, potassium and iron.

The Findings. Though its anticancer potential has been called into question, beta-carotene in foods may well help protect against cataracts, promote lung health and boost the immune system. It also signals the presence of other phytonutrients like lutein, which is thought to protect against the eye disorder macular degeneration. The body converts the beta-carotene in pumpkin to vitamin A, important for proper functioning of eyes and the immune system. But too much vitamin A is harmful, so getting it from foods like pumpkin is best, because your body only makes as much of the vitamin as it needs. Pumpkin seeds provide phytosterols that may help lower blood cholesterol and contain oil with some evidence of benefit against prostate cancer.

The Finer Points. Choose a firm pumpkin with no soft spots or blemishes. Make sure the stem is still intact and at least one to two inches long; removing it hastens a pumpkin's deterioration. Unlike hearty squashes, pumpkins do not hold up well for winter storage, so use within a week or two of purchase.

To prepare fresh pumpkin: Slice off the top then scoop out the seeds and stringy membrane. Cut into smaller sections then steam, boil or bake it. One pound of raw pumpkin yields about one cup of pumpkin puree. But many recipes, like pie, use canned pumpkin, which is concentrated, offering more pronounced flavor and even more beta-carotene.

To roast seeds: Coat a cup of seeds with about a tablespoon of oil, sprinkle with about a half-teaspoon of salt (optional) and your favorite spices. Bake in a single layer for about 45 minutes, stirring or shaking every 10 minutes.

--Catherine Golub, M.S., R.D.

Notable Nutrients

(one cup fresh pumpkin, boiled, mashed)

Calories: 49

Vitamin A: 12,230 IU (245% DV)

Potassium: 564 milligrams (17% DV)

Fiber: 2.7 grams (11% DV)

Beta-carotene: 5,135 micrograms

Lutein & zeaxanthin: 2,484 micrograms

IU = International Units

DV = Daily Value
EN's Own Cinnamon-Raisin
Roasted Pumpkin

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
3 cups cubed flesh from fresh small
  pumpkin
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
1/2 cup of raisins

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Add oil to covered oven-proof dish.
3. In a separate bowl, toss together
   pumpkin, cinnamon and raisin. Add
   to baking dish.
4. Bake for 30 minutes or until tender.

Makes four 3/4-cup servings.

Nutrition Information Per Serving:
111 calories, 21 grams carbohydrates,
14 grams protein, 2.3 grams fat, 4 grams
fiber, 6,334 IU beta-carotene, 1,862 milligrams
lutein & zeaxanthin.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:EN on Foods
Author:Golub, Catherine
Publication:Environmental Nutrition
Article Type:Recipe
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2007
Words:632
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