About the only time most people give any thought at all to pumpkins is during the fall. And even then, most pumpkins are only bought for the express purpose of being stabbed with a carving knife and mutilated to resemble some gap-toothed vampire freak. Or, possibly, to be used for pumpkin pie during Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner. Doubtlessly, few people for whom the lowly pumpkin is used for these purposes have ever even given thought to mashing the filling up and using it to stuff ravioli or tortellini.
Did you know that pumpkins are thought to have provided a source of food for the indigenous populations of Central America for almost ten millennia? Did you know that despite the fact that pumpkins were unknown outside the New World until the Catholic mass killers from Spain came to unleash an apocalypse for the express purpose of giving Mel Gibson a brief respite from questions about why he hates Jews so much, our little orange gourd is now grown around the globe? That orange tincture is vitally important when considering the health benefits of the pumpkin.
Like the carrot, the pumpkin is overflowing with beta-carotene; as little as a half-cup can get you 400 times the RDA of Vitamin A. Beta-carotene is an antioxidant and studies indicate a diet high in pumpkin can help stave off some forms of cancer. As if that weren’t enough, pumpkins also contain Vitamin C, so if you’re tired of downing several glasses of orange juice and you’ve got a taste for pumpkin you are in luck. Not only will eating more pumpkin boost your RDA figures for Vitamin A and Vitamin C, but pumpkin is also low in calories; boil a pumpkin and you’ll take in even fewer calories. And as if THAT weren’t enough, pumpkins are also a great source for fiber; so you’ve got that going for you. Of course, if you’re going to be taking that route, avoid the big pumpkins that make great jack o’lanterns and opt for the smaller ones, also known as sugar pumpkins.
Next time Halloween rolls around, don’t toss those seeds you scoop out after carving. As anyone who reads the nutrition information on a package of pumpkin seeds knows, they are bursting with protein and iron. Next time you’re in the mood for a salty treat, buy some of those pre-packaged pumpkin seeds instead of potato chips and you’ll get far more protein out of the bargain, nearly as much as you get from an equal sized bag of peanuts.
Even better, forget that and do it yourself. It’s easy and fun: Stick your hand into the gooey orange guts of a pumpkin and scoop the seeds out, wash them thoroughly and set the aside to dry, then spread them out on a baking sheet covered with a nice sheen of Pam or her generic equivalent and then bake for an hour at 250 degrees -that’s Fahrenheit for our metric cousins. Believe me, you don’t want to make these puppies at 250 degrees Celsius. That’s like, what, 15000 degrees Fahrenheit? The main value of doing it yourself is that you can control the amount of salt or seasoning you want on it, and that mass-manufactured pre-packaged variety are very often fried and not baked, which undermines the whole point of the going to pumpkin seeds for their health benefits.