Healthy Eating with the Pumpkin
Pumpkins are part of a family called winter squash and its many close relatives include butternut squash, acornsquash and Kabocha. Most of the larger pumpkins you see around you this week are too stringy to be used for cooking so for cooking purposes, buy the smaller pumpkins called Sugar Pumpkins or Jack be Littles.
Pumpkins, as well as other winter squash, will be in season from now till the end of the winter but their best time is October and November. They are actually part of the same family as melons and cucumbers.. who would have thought!!
When buying pumpkins, look for ones that are firm, heavy and have dull (not glossy or soft) rinds. Pumpkins store well for 3-4 weeks if stored in a cool (but not cold) dark place and in a air tight container. Once cut open, eat within a few days its Vitamin C content will start to reduce upon exposure to air.
Always clean pumpkins well under cold running water. If you are going to steam the vegetables, I'd generally advise you peel them first, if you are going to bake you don't necessarily have to. The general advice is to segment the pumpkin first, scooping out all the seeds and then peeling the skin with a potato peeler.
The best way of cooking is to steam the pumpkins (for about 10 mins) or bake them in a little oil. Its always good to cut the pumpkins into 1 inch cubes and go from there (serve as cubes or make into a mash). One of my favourite way of cooking pumpkins is to simply cover in a little peanut oil, chili and pepper and roast in an over - pure delicious!! Another great way of cooking is to slow bake whole by piercing the top with a sharp knife and putting into a low oven (around 170 oc) for 50-60 mins. If you are going to eat the skins of the pumpkin, which is possible after slow baking, then I'd advise you buy organic. If you are simply going to peel and cook, I wouldn't be too worried either way.
Pumpkins are good in terms of healthy eating: A great source of Vitamin A (just like the carrot) and a good source of manganese and Vitamin C. They are a good source of fibre. However, as well as these nutrients, pumpkins are also a great source of phytonutrients. I've mentioned these great nutrients before and the wonderful thing about them is that they don't just give fruits and vegetables their bright range of colours but they also have many health promoting properties for people! Pumpkins contain a good source of carotenoids which are great at mitigating oxidative stress in the body, i.e. they are potent antioxidants. As a result of this range of nutrients they have been linked to improving heart health and interestingly have been linked to improved lung health as well.
Pumpkin also contain the most concentrated form of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) of all vegetables. ALA is known for its anti-inflammatory properties making it even better for heart health.