A source of:
- High fiber
- Low calories
- Vitamin C and E
- Pantothenic acid
If you think of pumpkin only at Halloween, it’s time to update your appreciation of this extraordinary SuperFood. Pumpkins offer a host of health benefits, including their bountiful supply of fiber and various vitamins and minerals; but pumpkin deserves SuperFood status because of its rich and powerful supply of carotenoids. Indeed, think of pumpkin as the queen of the carotenoids. Carotenoids are the deep orange or yellow or red fat-soluable compounds that are present in a variety of plants.
About 600 carotenoids have been identified by scientists and every day, we’re learning more about the contributions these substances make to better health. Carotenoids have a wide variety of biologic functions with an essential role in human health. Two of the carotenoids that are in rich supply in pumpkin—beta-carotene and alpha-carotene—are particularly powerful phytonutrients.
Mouthful for mouthful, pumpkin is the best food source of alpha- and beta-carotene. Their presence in the body has been associated with a reduction in risk for the following diseases:
- Cancer, including lung, breast, prostate, skin, bladder, and colon cancers
- Cardiovascular disease
- Inflammatory conditions, including asthma, osteoarthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis
- Diabetes mellitus
There is evidence that these particular carotenoids may play a beneficial role in reducing the risk of estrogen receptor-negative breast cancer (breast cancer that does not grow in response to either the body’s natural production of, or orally ingested estrogen) by inhibiting the ability of free radicals to induce DNA damage, a crucial step in carncinogenesis.
The most common carotenoids found in human tissue include beta-carotene, lycopene, lutein, zeaxanthin, alpha-carotene, and beta-cryptoxanthin. These carotenoids help to protect us from free radicals, enhance cell-to-cell communication, modulate our immune response, and possibly stimulate the production of naturally occurring detoxification enzymes.
Interestingly, carotenoids protect plants from sun damage and also provide the same protection to us. The primary purpose of carotenoids in the skin is to neutralize the free radicals produced by normal metabolism and exposure to sunlight, and they play a major role in protecting our skin and our eyes from the damaging effects of ultraviolet light.
It’s not only the carotenoids in pumpkin that are working to keep us functioning at our best. It’s the fiber, vitamin C, and potassium as well as folate, omega-3 fatty acids (in pumpkin seeds) and B1, niacin, and pantothenic acid.
Here are some of the major benefits of including pumpkin and its sidekicks in your diet:
There’s ample evidence that consuming carotenoid-rich foods reduces the risk of various types of cancer. In one study, dietary and lifestyle data collected over eight years from 63,257 adults in Shanghai, China, was reviewed and it revealed that those who ate the most beta-cryptoxanthin—an orange-red carotenoid—enjoyed a 27 percent lower risk of developing lung cancer. Another study, combining data from the Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professional Follow-up Study, found a significant risk reduction for lung cancer in subjects with a high intake of lycopene and alpha-carotene.
Carotenoids also seem to lessen the risk of breast cancer. At least one study of premenopausal women reported a significant reduction in breast cancer risk in females with an increased dietary intake of alpha- and beta-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin.
Yet another study found an inverse association between increasing levels of carotenoid intake and bladder cancer risk. This same study also suggests that a high carotenoid intake can have special chemopreventive benefits for those people susceptible to DNA damage.
Pumpkin seems to have a dual ability to fight colon cancer. The rich supply of fiber along with the beta-carotene has an ability to prevent cancer-causing chemicals from attacking colon cells. This is one reason why diets that are high in fiber-rich foods as well as beta-carotene have been found to reduce colon cancer risk.
The carotenoids so richly present in pumpkin play a significant role in preventing cardiovascular disease. The beta-carotene in pumpkin and its sidekicks has powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory abilities. Beta-carotene is able to prevent the oxidized cholesterol and, since oxidized cholesterol is the kind that coats the walls of blood vessels and contributes to the risk of heart disease and stroke, a diet rich in beta-carotene would be expected to promote heart health. Indeed, studies have demonstrated this to be true.
The Pumpkin Sidekicks
The pumpkin sidekicks should not be forgotten. Carrots, butternut squash, sweet potatoes and orange bell peppers are a powerful group of foods that give us opportunities to consume a beneficial amount of the carotenoids often.
*This brief summary contains copyrighted material from SuperFoods HealthStyle by Steven G. Pratt, M.D. and Kathy Matthews. Copyright © 2006 by Steven G. Pratt, M.D. and Kathy Matthews Inc., published by HarperCollins; and from SuperFoods Rx For Pregnancy by Steven Pratt, M.D. Copyright © 2013 by SuperFoods Partners, LLC, published by Wiley. All rights reserved.