The Nutritionist: Trick or Treat?

Pumpkin - Michele L

Everybody likes a treat, whether it’s the ‘Sunday-cake-treat’, the ‘after-work-wine-treat’ or the ‘Friday-I’v- been-good-all-week-treat’. Usually these treats are far from being nutritious - chock full of sugar, salt, nasty fats, and lots of E-numbers.

I think it’s time to stop tricking yourself and treat yourself to the taste of Halloween by adding some pumpkin to your diet. Believe me, it’s so good for you it’s scary.

Derived from 'pepon', the Greek word for 'large melon', pumpkins originated in Central America and have been around for many centuries. The Native Americans used them as both food and medicine, and no wonder, I think. Already looking at their bright colour is a dead giveaway that pumpkins are loaded with antioxidants and contain a range of nutritional benefits.

First on the healthy list is the antioxidant beta-carotene, found in high content in pumpkin meat and responsible for the bright orange colour. Beta-carotene is one of the plant carotenoids and an important precursor to the production of vitamin A in the body. Vitamin A, a fat soluble vitamin, is needed to promote a healthy body tissue, to ward off infections especially in the mucous membrane, and to aid in building of teeth and bones. If you lack vitamin A you could develop night blindness (not very beneficial if you’re actually planning to trick-or-treat). Together with the two other important antioxidants, lutein and zeaxanthin, beta carotene neutralizes free radicals that can attack our cell membranes and leave the cells vulnerable to damage especially in the lens of the eye. Research also indicates that a diet rich in foods containing beta-carotene may reduce the risk of developing certain types of cancer, and offers protection against heart disease.

Pumpkins are also rich in vitamins C, K and E, fibre, and lots of minerals including magnesium, iron and zinc. Iron, of course, is needed by red blood cells. Zinc, as you remember from last week’s column, plays an important role in hundreds of enzymatic reactions which support a healthy immune system and help maintain the sense of smell and taste (very important to enjoy all those treats). And fibre is important for your digestion promoting bowel health.

What about the seeds, you ask?

Pumpkin seeds are especially nutritious and worth latching on to. Loaded with healthful minerals such as magnesium, manganese, iron and zinc, as well as a great source of protein and high in monounsaturated healthy fats, pumpkin seeds are one of the most nutritious and flavourful seeds around. They have an anti-inflammatory effect, and may even help lower cholesterol and protect against prostate cancer and osteoporosis.

Now all you need is the fancy dress costume for cooking up your Halloween treats - of a smashin’ pumpkin!