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Pumpkin: A Whole Package of Health

Pumpkin Seeds and Shells May Have Healthful Compounds

Thanksgiving and pumpkins go hand-in-hand, but the pumpkin pie of today just loosely resembles the dish of the past. At the first Thanksgiving feast in 1621, the dessert was served as custard inside a hollowed-out whole pumpkin instead of a pie shell. Though you can conveniently buy nutritious pumpkin puree in a can, there could be benefits to going back to our roots and cooking the whole vegetable instead.

Portuguese researchers investigated the nutritional potential of pumpkin shells and seeds, components that are typically thrown away after processing or avoided by shopping for canned. Findings are published in the Journal of Food Science and Technology. Scientists prepared oven-dried and freeze-dried samples of pumpkin shells and seeds and evaluated the antioxidant activity and polyphenol content of the samples. Data showed these by-products are potentially good sources of bioactive compounds that may have health benefits. Pumpkin shells demonstrated particularly high antioxidant activity, which corresponded with a high level of phenolic compounds, suggesting these compounds may have potential to scavenge free radicals in the body. Pumpkin seeds also demonstrated antioxidant activity, yet had a lower correlation with phenolic content, suggesting other compounds may be at play for this benefit.

Though often wasted, vegetable and fruit peels and skins are typically rich sources of nutrients and could offer health benefits if eaten. A previous study we reported on found pumpkin and cucumber peels may have potential to prevent the onset of diabetic symptoms and keep blood glucose steady, likely due to polyphenols in the peels. Research from the Dole Nutrition Institute has found banana peels contain very high amounts of some of the polyphenolic antioxidant molecules found in the flesh.

Preparing and utilizing a whole sugar pumpkin or squash is not as hard as it seems. Preheat the oven to 375°F. After washing the pumpkin, cut the gourd in half and discard the stem and stringy pulp. Scoop out the seeds, rinse and save to the side. In a shallow baking dish, place the pumpkin halves face down and cover with foil. Roast pumpkin for about 1.5 hours or until it is tender.

To make the most of your pumpkin:

  1. Scoop out the soft flesh from the shell to make your own pumpkin puree—one half cup provides nearly 400% of your daily vitamin A and 25% of daily vitamin K needs for just 42 calories.
  2. Use the shell to make crisp pumpkin chips: Cut the shell into chip-sized pieces, sprinkle with paprika and place in a dehydrator overnight at 115°F (or in an oven on low with the door slightly ajar).
  3. Roast the seeds at 375°F for about 45 minutes or until golden brown. Add cinnamon, sea salt, cayenne pepper, or just a touch of olive oil—a tasty snack that packs 37% of your daily magnesium per ounce!

Tired of your usual pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving? Use homemade pumpkin puree and to create our Banana Pumpkin Panna Cotta, a unique spin on Thanksgiving dessert.

Published November 1, 2015

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