Fall wouldn’t be complete without pumpkins, whether in the form of jack-o-lanterns or yummy desserts and snacks. In fact, pumpkins probably were part of the first Thanksgiving meal, since they were once an important part of the Native American diet. The Pilgrims and Native Americans most likely enjoyed them that first Thanksgiving meal not in the form of pies, but as stewed pumpkins.
They may have unknowingly hit a nutritional gold mine, too, because pumpkins provide an array of nutrients. Pumpkins, like other forms of squash, provide a good source of vitamins B, C, E and K, potassium, dietary fiber, manganese and other nutrients. They’re also rich in antioxidants.
Additionally, provitamin A carotenoids, beta carotenes and alpha carotenes are present in orange-colored foods like the pumpkin. When these golden foods are digested, the nutrients are converted and stored in the liver as retinol, one of the most active forms of vitamin A. Vitamin A, by the way, can protect the body from free radical damage, support healthy skin and reduce the effects of aging. Likewise, vitamin A supports healthy eyes and vision as well as bone, urinary tract, intestinal tract and immune system health.
Even the pumpkin skin has some powerful nutritional components. A study out of South Korean Chosun University noted that proteins in the skin of pumpkins can fight germs and reduce infections, particularly the growth of Candida albicans, a fungus that can negatively affect mucus membranes.
And don’t forget about pumpkin seeds, otherwise known as pepitas. They contain properties that can support healthy inflammation levels. But that’s not all. They also are high in omega-3 fatty acids, zinc and phytosterols which can support healthy levels of cholesterol and support immune system health. Add those to the fact that pumpkin seeds also provide a good source of magnesium, manganese, and phosphorus while being high in protein (seven grams of protein per ounce) and you have some pretty impressive seeds!
While the Pilgrims may have enjoyed the delicious pumpkin, its use only grew—and even paved the way for the much-loved pumpkin pie. During Colonial times, colonists first used pumpkins for the crust of pies, not the filling—but that soon changed. They started the beginnings of the pumpkin pie when they sliced off the pumpkin tops, removed the seeds and filled the pumpkin’s insides with milk, spices and honey—then baked it. Colonists weren’t alone in their use of pumpkins. During colonial times, Native Americans would roast long strips of pumpkin in an open fire and then enjoy the delicacy.
For our modern day times, the pumpkin is still popular. The best pumpkin for baking and cooking, however, is the sugar pumpkin; it is small and sweet, with dark orange-colored flesh and works perfectly in pies, soups, side dishes, muffins, cookies and breads. Field pumpkins, on the other hand, are usually used for jack o' lanterns, but they are often too large and stringy for baking—although they can provide plenty of pumpkin seeds.
The bottom line? No matter how you slice it or eat it this fall, you’ll enjoy the great pumpkin.