I can’t believe we’re near the end of October! I love the changing leaves, the warm fall scents (phthalate and paraben-free of course ;), and the flavors of fall– especially pumpkin. You can’t have Halloween and Thanksgiving without pumpkin! Not only do I love the flavors of pumpkin, but I also love that pumpkin is loaded with health benefits! I’m going to share three of my favorite pumpkin health benefits, along with five unique ways you can incorporate more pumpkin into your cooking and diet this fall, or even year-round.
Reason 1: Amazing Source of Vitamin A
Vitamin A is essential to our health for so many reasons:
- Eye health. Vitamin A helps to support the normal function of the retina. The retina converts light sending signals to our brain to help interpret what we see! A vitamin A deficiency is actually the number one cause of preventable blindness in children.
- Immune health. Vitamin A plays an important role in the immune response because it helps increase the activity of immune system cells.
- Reproductive health, growth, and development. Vitamin A helps the placenta form during pregnancy and plays a role in growing a baby’s tissues in utero. Vitamin A also helps with proper sperm development. Throughout the entire lifespan, vitamin A remains essential for its role in maintaining the integrity of tissues in the body and its role in growing bones and teeth.
Because we know that vitamin A is needed for so many body functions, it’s important to know where to get it! One serving (or one cup) of pumpkin can provide over 200% of your daily vitamin A intake.
The vitamin A in pumpkin comes from beta-carotene, a carotenoid, which gives it its rich, orange color. Carotenoids are compounds that help protect cells from damage. Amazingly, our bodies convert beta-carotene into Vitamin A. In addition to pumpkin, sweet potatoes, carrots, red bell peppers, and even beef liver are all great sources of vitamin A.
Reason 2: Valuable Source of Other Vital Nutrients
Aside from being rich in vitamin A, pumpkin is rich in other essential nutrients like potassium, vitamin C, fiber, and other antioxidants.
- Potassium. Potassium plays an important role in maintaining proper muscle and nerve function, regulating heartbeat, and balancing fluid levels in the body. One cup of cooked pumpkin covers 20% of your daily potassium needs.
- Vitamin C. Pumpkin is also a good source of vitamin C. Vitamin C is known for its role in supporting the immune system. Vitamin C also helps with collagen production for healthy skin and connective tissues and facilitates the absorption of iron from plant-based foods. (P.S.- did you know that if you are low on iron, make sure you are taking vitamin C for better iron absorption!)
- Fiber. Fiber is so important for proper digestive health. It promotes regular bowel movements, helps prevent constipation, and can even help prevent chronic conditions such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes. I love adding fiber to my diet via fruits and vegetables as well as nuts and seeds.
Reason 3: Mental Health Benefits
I love pumpkin seeds because of their versatility, but also their nutritional benefits.They are rich in the amino acid tryptophan, which is an essential building block of serotonin. If you don't have enough tryptophan in your diet or your body has difficulty absorbing and processing it, it can impact your ability to produce serotonin.
Low levels of serotonin are associated with mood disorders like depression, so a deficiency in tryptophan can contribute to imbalances in serotonin levels and affect your emotional well-being. I love eating pumpkin seeds for a boost of tryptophan. This is also why I added pumpkin seed protein to my protein powder, I wanted these mental health benefits!
In addition to my protein powder, I love adding pumpkin seeds to my diet in other ways:
- homemade granola
- baked goods
- trail mix
5 Unique Ways to use Pumpkin in the Kitchen
Aside from the usual (but delicious) pumpkin bread, pancakes, waffles, pumpkin pie and desserts. Here are 5 unique ways you can try incorporating pumpkin for increased nutrients, moisture, and flavor!
1. Pumpkin Chili
You can take your favorite chili recipe and add 1 cup of pumpkin puree! Pumpkin adds smoothness and a little sweetness without drastically changing the flavor. Trust me, it's delicious!
2. Pumpkin Protein Balls
You already know my pumpkin spice protein makes perfectly seasonal protein balls, but did you know that you can add ½ cup of pumpkin puree for more pumpkin and creaminess? I love mixing pumpkin protein with pumpkin puree, almond butter, oats, and chia seeds with a little honey or maple syrup, and a dash of salt, for a perfect pre-workout snack!
3. Pumpkin Gnocchi
Gnocchi is a fun way to get your kids involved in the kitchen and try something new! Gnocchi can be made with simple ingredients like baked potatoes, flour, and now pumpkin! Adding some pumpkin puree to the traditional gnocchi dough makes it pillowy and delicious! I love pairing this with a simple sage and grass-fed butter sauce. Seasonally delicious!
4. Pumpkin Curry
Take a nutrient-rich curry base with coconut milk, spices, vegetables, and broth, and add in some pumpkin! You can add pumpkin puree, or you could even add raw pumpkin pieces to simmer in the sauce for added flavor, texture, and nutrients.
5. Pumpkin Shakes and Smoothie Bowls
Pumpkin puree makes a great addition to shakes or smoothie bowls. I love adding it to protein, but it is also delicious in snickerdoodle, salted caramel, vanilla bean, or chocolate! Top the bowls with some granola and it makes for a perfect protein-based breakfast.
Learning the health benefits of foods inspires me to use them more in my cooking. I love that pumpkin is not only full of health benefits and flavor but also a bit nostalgic, bringing back so many fun memories of fall, Halloween, and Thanksgiving!