Saturday, 8 November 2014

Pumpkins

Halloween is a time when pumpkins become available in the shops and people buy them to carve ornate decorations. However, few consider the nutritional value of the pumpkin during this process. The pumpkin (Cucurbita pepo) is a type of winter squash which means it is part of the Cucurbitaceae family. The pumpkins used for decorations are generally not eaten and it is the smaller varieties such as the small sugar pumpkins that are consumed. Winter squashes are a great source of carotenoids which give them their red, orange and yellow colours. However, they are also rich in vitamin C, folic acid, vitamin B1, vitamin B6, niacin, pantothenic acid, potassium and dietary fibre. The nutty seeds not only have a distinctive taste, but also a distinctive nutritional profile that makes them a great addition to any high quality diet. Native Americans were renowned for eating pumpkin seeds and they also used them in their medicines. It was from the Indians that the English settlers acquired the seeds before introducing them to Europe.
Pumpkin seeds contain high levels of essential fatty acids, zinc and phytosterols that make them an effective nutritional product for maintaining prostate health. It is thought that the phytosterol beta-sitosterol blocks the conversion of testosterone to dihydrotestosterone in humans. As the latter is associated with prostate enlargement, pumpkin seeds may be able to inhibit this process. In fact studies using pumpkin seed oil and isolated beta-sitosterol show they both confer health benefits to the prostate. It is likely that whole seeds have the same effect. The seeds of pumpkins are also rich sources of vitamin A, vitamin B1, vitamin B2, niacin, and also contain protein and monounsaturated fatty acids. Because of the high essential fatty acid content of pumpkin seeds it is important to ensure that they are stored in a cool dry environment and eaten as soon as possible after exposure to air. This prevents the fatty acids turning rancid, a process that can actually initiate disease through the generation of oxidative stress.
RdB

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