Pumpkin is a ubiquitous part of the American fall season—which is understandable, considering that it’s indigenous to this part of the world.
This time of year, many people will carve pumpkins for Hallowe’en. But unfortunately, after the outside is carved, most of the time people throw the inside away. And that’s a shame, because the “meat” and seeds of the pumpkin have some great health benefits.
Many Native Americans used pumpkin as both a food and a medicine. The first settlers from Europe added it to their diets and then some of them helped spread it to the rest of the world by returning to their birthplaces in Europe with the seeds.
Pumpkin meat is very high in carotenoids, which are what give pumpkins their orange color. Carotenoids are really good at neutralizing free radicals—nasty molecules that can attack cell membranes and leave the cells vulnerable to damage.
Pumpkins are also high in lutein and zeaxanthin, which scavenge free radicals in the lens of the eye. Therefore, they may help prevent the formation of cataracts and reduce the risk of macular degeneration, a serious eye problem than usually results in blindness.
Besides carotenoids, lutein, and zeaxanthin, which are all antioxidants, pumpkins have a lot of common nutrients, like iron, calcium, zinc, and fiber.
Pumpkin seeds, also called pepitas, are very high in protein: one ounce of seeds provides about seven grams of protein. They also contain copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, and zinc.
The healthiest way to enjoy pumpkin seeds is to eat them raw after soaking and drying them. Once you’ve removed the seeds from your pumpkin, first wash in cool water to remove any pumpkin residue, then soak them in a bowl of purified, salted water for 8 hours to remove any enzyme inhibitors that could upset your stomach.
After soaking, dehydrate the seeds in a dehydrator (or very low oven) at 105 degrees for at least 12 hours. If you wish, you can sprinkle them with some sea salt or cayenne pepper before you dry them to make them extra tasty!
Pumpkin seed oil is high in phytosterols, plant-based fatty acids that are chemically so like cholesterol that they can replace it in the human body—contributing to the reduction of blood cholesterol levels. Pumpkin seed oil is also high in essential fatty acids (EFAs).
EFAs have many benefits, among them the maintenance of healthy blood vessels and nerves and the lubrication of all tissues, including the skin. And as mentioned above, they can help reduce cholesterol levels in the blood.
EFAs are not the only constituents of pumpkin seed oil. This oil also contains vitamin A, which (among other things) helps keep our eyes healthy and stimulates the T-cells of the immune system to help fight off infection. And the oil also has vitamin E, which acts like lutein and zeaxanthin to get rid of free radicals.
So the next time you’re carving a pumpkin and are tempted to just throw out the inside—don’t! Save the flesh and seeds and eat them instead.
And if you’re not into pumpkin carving, don’t pass by those small specimens at the farmer’s market or produce section. Pumpkin is a delicious and nutritious way to enjoy the fall harvest season.
Here is one of my favorite gluten and dairy free ways to help you get the most out of your pumpkins this season.
- Coconut Flour Pumpkin Muffins
- Raw Butternut Squash Cookies
Raw Vegan Pumpkin Cheesecake
This recipe for raw pumpkin cheesecake is vegan, gluten and dairy free to help you get the most out of your pumpkins this season.
- 1/2 cup dates softened, pitted and packed
- 1/2 cup raw honey or maple syrup
- 1/4 cup lemon juice
- 2 cups raw cashews soaked 2 hours, drained
- 1/2 cup young coconut meat about 1 young coconut
- 1 Tbsp. pumpkin pie spice or make it with 1/4 Tbsp. nutmeg, 1/4 Tbsp. cinnamon, 1/4 Tbsp. allspice, 1/4 Tbsp. ground cloves
- 1/2 cup coconut oil warmed to liquid
- 3 ounces Irish Moss OR 4 Tbsp. kudzu OR 2-3 Tbsp. grass-fed gelatin, dissolved into 1/2 cup purified water (Follow package directions for dissolving.)
- In a food processor, process pecans, raisins, cinnamon, and salt until the mixture begins to stick together.
Press the crust mixture evenly in the bottom of an 8-inch spring form pan.
Make the Irish Moss into a gel according to package instructions.
- Process the dates, honey, and lemon juice in a food processor until smooth.
- Add the pumpkin pie spice, cashews and coconut meat and process until completely smooth.
- Add the coconut oil and Irish moss gel and process until well incorporated. (*If you can't find Irish Moss at the health food store, don't worry! You can make the cheesecake without it, but serve it straight from the refrigerator, and keep it cool.)
Pour the filling onto the crust.
- Place the pumpkin and carrot along with the water and lemon juice in a blender and blend until smooth.
- Add the dates and pumpkin pie spice and blend again until smooth.
- Spread the pumpkin topping evenly on top of the filling.
- Chill at least 3 hours before serving.
To use the Irish moss in its dried seaweed form (look for whole, not powdered), rinse it well, soak it in water for about 12 hours until it swells, then boil it thoroughly with the liquid you want to set before you strain it out.
Adapted from Rachel Fracassa
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Photo credit: We Like it Raw