Eating for Life: Pumpkin’s superpower helps make any dish healthier

11/19/2013 1:56 PM

11/19/2013 3:13 PM

If Peter really was a pumpkin eater, he was way ahead of his time.

Modern nutrition experts have discovered that pumpkin is tops when it comes to beta carotene, a substance responsible for the vegetable’s orange hue. The human body converts beta carotene into vitamin A, a nutrient essential for keen eyesight and proper growth.

Not surprisingly, pumpkin is making nearly all the “super food” lists. A term that conjures images of pudgy little gourds leaping over trailing vines in a single bound, super foods are actually nutrient-dense fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts and teas that are a rich source of phytonutrients, health-promoting compounds that protect against cancers and promote healthy skin.

Pumpkin keeps company with the likes of olive oil, spinach, oats, walnuts, tomatoes, salmon, sweet potatoes, blueberries, green tea and even dark chocolate. Although there tends to be disagreement on the precise number of super foods that belong on any list — Steven Pratt’s best-selling SuperFoods Rx chooses 14 super foods, Ladies Home Journal focuses on six super foods for the holidays and the folks at Libby’s, perhaps predictably, zero in on just one for its “SuperFoods Sweepstakes” — nearly everyone agrees on the status of pumpkin.

“Those cans of cooked, pureed pumpkin on your pantry shelf probably have more of the healthful phytonutrient called beta carotene than any other food in your cupboard,” according to “Pumpkin Power! Calculating the Carotenoids in a Fall Favorite.” The article appeared in the October 1995 issue of Agricultural Research Magazine. Scientists at the Agricultural Research Service, the USDA’s chief scientific research agency, are still working to figure ways to measure the beta carotene in foods such as pumpkin and come up with a recommended daily amount.

Meanwhile, The Star’s recipe for Pumpkin Brown Rice Pudding includes a healthy dose of calcium and some whole-grain goodness, too. Canned pumpkin is available year round, so there’s no reason to save pumpkin for the holiday season.

Cooking tip:

Brown rice takes about 30 minutes to cook. Don’t let it be a deterrent to adding whole grains to your diet. Set the rice to steam and go on to do other tasks.

Storage tip:

Because brown rice has its germ left intact, brown rice is prone to rancidity and has a shelf life of just six months.

Pump it up: For a nutritious garnish, try pumpkin seeds which have long been used in folk medicine. Shelled pumpkin seeds are known as pepitas.

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