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The hidden health benefits of that Hallowe’en pumpkin

publication date: Oct 29, 2009
author/source: Kerry Torrens
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Halloween is fast approaching and many of us will be adorning our doorsteps with those grimacing pumpkin 'faces' but did you realise there was more to the humble pumpkin than just a decorative shell?

Most of us think of pumpkin as a vegetable but it is in fact a vine fruit, being a relative of the melon. Although neither the pumpkin nor its close family member the squash feature on our tables that frequently we’ve actually been cultivating them for many thousands of years. Both of these fruits are rich in slow-releasing carbohydrates and low in saturated fat. They are a powerhouse of nutrients including protective vitamins A, C and E as well as magnesium, calcium, potassium and fibre.

In fact the orange flesh of these fantastic Hallowe'en lanterns supply two important compounds called carotenoids one of which, lutein, is found in the eye where it protects the underlying tissues from damage. It’s easy to appreciate the importance of lutein when you stop to think that the food we eat is our only source of it and that fruits and vegetables are the main contributors. Unlike most orange-yellow fruits, which tend to have lower levels of lutein, the pumpkin and squash supply very respectable quantities making them a useful inclusion for anyone who has concerns about eye health. The second carotenoid beta-carotene, also offers credible protection against illness reducing our risks of hypertension, heart disease and even cancer.

These accolades alone make the pumpkin and squash 'good enough to eat' but the fantastic benefits don’t stop there! They offer the richest fruit source of vitamin E which when combined with vitamin C supplies a potent bug-busting arsenal to keep Autumn colds at bay!

It’s not just the flesh of the fruit that’s so valuable, pumpkin seeds are growing in popularity and for good reason. They contain healthy omega 3 fats which are essential for us all, regardless of our age and phyto-sterols which have proven benefits for lowering cholesterol levels.

Despite these impressive properties there is a word of caution: if you’re prone to skin sensitivities handle  pumpkins with care because a form of contact dermatitis may occur after handling the flesh or pulp of the fruit.

Waste not want not . . .
This year don’t just use the flesh of your pumpkin for soup - try one of these tasty tips:

  • Bake or mash the flesh with some cinnamon or nutmeg and serve as an accompaniment to meat or fish
  • Scoop out the seeds and bake at a low temperature until toasted, enjoy as a snack or sprinkled on salads
  • Cut a squash lengthwise, drizzle with olive oil and add a scattering of fresh rosemary. Roast at 190°C for 45 minutes and enjoy in place of potatoes
  • Add chunks of pumpkin to a curry along with some coconut milk; the two ingredients work well together because the coconut increases the body’s absorption of the all-important carotenoids
  • Cut the top off the pumpkin to make a lid, drizzle with olive oil and bake until soft. Remove from the oven, scoop out the flesh and mash with soft goat’s cheese, some fresh thyme leaves and pinenuts, season, replace the “lid” and bake again for 10-15 minutes.

Kerry Torrens is a practising nutritional therapist. You can contact her via her website


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