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    Pumpkin - Thinking Outside the Pie

    iStock-1339982611Few foods evoke a nearly instantaneous vision of autumn more than pumpkins. These orange gourds are practically synonymous with the bounty of a fall harvest. But these welcome sights are good for more than mere decoration and carving Jack-o-lanterns. They deliver a nutritional punch and are versatile enough to work in dishes both sweet and savory. Let’s see what these iconic fruits have to offer—yes, fruits! Although generally considered to be a vegetable, official botanical taxonomy classifies pumpkins as fruit.

    Pumpkins belong to the genus Cucurbita, making them close relatives of other gourds and squash, such as zucchini, acorn squash, Hubbard, kabocha, and butternut squash. Their bright orange color is reflective of their high beta-carotene content and they’re also a good source of vitamins C and E, potassium, riboflavin, and manganese. Pumpkins come in many more colors besides just orange, though. Different cultivars include pumpkins with skin that is tan, white, red-orange, green, blue-green, and varieties that have “warts” or bumpy knobs on the skin. (One such variety is the French pumpkin, Galeux d'Eysines; another is the “knucklehead” pumpkin.)

    Pumpkin’s nutritional punch doesn’t stop at the flesh. Pumpkin seeds (a.k.a. pepitas) pack a hefty wallop, too. They’re rich in vitamin K and several minerals: iron, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, copper, and manganese. One ounce of pumpkin seeds provides about 4 grams of oleic acid, the monounsaturated fatty acid believed to account for some of olive oil’s health promoting effects. (The remaining fats are mostly polyunsaturated linoleic acid and a small amount of saturated fatty acids.)

    Pumpkin seeds also contain D-chiro-inositol, a compound that may be helpful for insulin sensitization in women with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). Pumpkin flesh provides additional phytochemicals that may be beneficial for individuals with diabetes or hypertension: these compounds are believed to inhibit activity of β-glucosidase and α-amylase (enzymes involved in digesting carbohydrates), and angiotensin I-converting enzyme.

    Oil extracted from pumpkin seeds can be used as a garnish or finishing oil in sweet and savory dishes: it has a light, nutty flavor and lends a pleasant green color. (The color may result in part from β-carotene, which is in the seeds as well as the flesh, and also from lutein, which has been detected in the oil.) In addition to looking and tasting good, pumpkin seed oil (PSO) may have beneficial health effects. A study in men with androgenetic alopecia showed that, compared to placebo, taking 400 mg of PSO orally for 24 weeks resulted in increased hair count and hair thickness (although only the increased hair count reached significance). These effects may be due to phytochemicals in PSO that reduce activity of 5α-reductase. This property of PSO has also led to PSO being investigated for therapeutic use in men with benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). PSO does appear to reduce BPH symptoms but it is not as effective as pharmaceutical drugs. (However, it does not induce the side-effects of drugs such as tamsulosin.) Although this was orally administered PSO, this oil is frequently employed in cosmetics used topically. Animal studies show that PSO may be beneficial for wound healing, suggesting it has positive effects on skin, possibly owing to the oil’s antioxidant content, including vitamin E tocopherols.

    Although allergies to various nuts and seeds is common, allergy specifically to pumpkin seeds is rare. It’s not nonexistent, though. There are some reports in the medical literature, and it’s possible to have an anaphylactic reaction to pumpkin seeds when there is no sensitivity to the flesh/fruit.

    It’s a bit mystifying that so many people typically consume pumpkin only during the autumn holidays. Fresh, whole pumpkins may not be available year-round, but canned pumpkin is, and it’s usually inexpensive. (It’s a good idea to stock up when it’s on sale in fall, though! Keep a stash in the pantry or cupboard to use all year long. If you’re watching your sugar intake, just be careful to buy 100% pure pumpkin as opposed to pumpkin pie mix, which is sweetened.)

    Pumpkin fits nicely into a wide array of dietary approaches: vegetarianism and veganism, Paleo, low-carb and keto, low-fat, and more. For people watching their carbohydrate intake, pumpkin is relatively low in carbs and packs some fiber, making unsweetened pumpkin a useful ingredient for desserts as well as main dishes suitable for a low-carb or ketogenic diet.

    Think outside the pie! There’s nothing wrong with good ol’ pumpkin pie on occasion, but this delicious ingredient can be the star of dinner, too, rather than dessert. Recipes abound for pumpkin soups, pumpkin chili, savory pumpkin casserole, and even pumpkin hummus!

    And don’t forget about the seeds. They’re fine for snacking, but you can also get creative and make pumpkin seed pesto. If you prefer to snack on them, though, you can spice things up, literally and figuratively, with spiced maple, sweet curry, or cinnamon toast flavors. (Consider using allulose instead of sugar to reduce the carb content if needed.)

    Related Biotics Research Products:

    Bio-E-Mulsion Forte

    E-Mulsion 200

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