by Allison Hall
During the Fall season, many college students reach for Pumpkin Spice Lattes as a quick caffeine boost to fuel their studying. It seems like you can find pumpkin-flavored everything at this time of year! By the time winter rolls around most people are tired of pumpkin-inspired treats but there are a few who wish it never ended. Regardless of where you fall on the pumpkin-flavored obsession spectrum, when it comes to the inspiration behind the sensation many people’s knowledge falls short.
Pumpkins are native to America: originating in Central America, they have been growing in North America for around 5,000 years! The growing season for pumpkins begins with planting in late May through mid-June and ends when they are harvested throughout October. Knowing that, it is easy to see why the pumpkin is the cornerstone of the two American Fall holidays: Halloween and Thanksgiving. But there are more uses to pumpkins than just October Jack-o-Lanterns and Thanksgiving dessert!
As an ingredient, pumpkins pack a nutritious punch with relatively few calories. Like carrots, pumpkins are high in vitamin A/beta-carotene, which contributes to their orange color. Additionally, pumpkins contain vitamins C, E, and riboflavin. Likewise potassium, copper, manganese, phosphorus, zinc, and iron are the minerals you’d get from consuming pumpkin.1 Pumpkin seeds are rich in protein and fiber, as well as essential fatty acids and would be a good way for non-fish eaters to get omega-3 in their diet.
You’re not going to get the nutritional benefits of a pumpkin from a flavored coffee and pumpkin pie is a bit rich for everyday meals. It is still important to remember to eat nutritiously while enjoying the pumpkin season. Some of our favorite recipes include Roasted Pumpkin Seeds and Pumpkin-Acorn Squash Soup.
As far as pumpkin by-products go, some interesting research is starting to take off. According to the Journal of Food Science and Technology 2 , the typically-not-consumed pumpkins SHELL could have health benefits because of the antioxidants it contains.
Though I would not start chomping on a pumpkin shell anytime soon – more research and evaluation will be necessary to truly see the potential of pumpkin by-products as bioactive compounds*.
*Bioactive compounds are extra-nutritional constituents in foods that are nonessential but can influence health, like lycopene in tomatoes and anthcyanins in berries.
- Baylor University. “Pumpkin foods may not live up to healthy reputation.” ScienceDaily, 12 October 2015.
- Saavedra et al. Evaluation of the potential of squash pumpkin by-products (seeds and shell) as sources of antioxidant and bioactive compounds. Journal of Food Science and Technology 2015; 52(2):1008-15. doi: 10.1007/s13197-013-1089-5.