(NaturalNews) Look again. There's more behind the funny face of that festive winter squash still sitting on your front porch than you might think. When it's not moonlighting as a jack-o-lantern or as a centerpiece for random fall decor, pumpkin is actually an undercover superfood - one that bestows seasonal nourishment and deep healing, from head to toe, on all who partake.
Because of its rich supply of vital nutrients, pumpkin is gaining popularity as a health food. Packed with everything from protein and fiber, to antioxidants and essential vitamins and minerals - including manganese, magnesium, potassium and iron - pumpkin has an answer for almost all that ails you. Blood sugar imbalance? Eat more pumpkin. Bone support? Have some pumpkin pulp. Arthritis? More pumpkin, please! Enlarged prostrate? Try some pumpkin seed oil. Inflammation? There's a pumpkin for that! And the list goes on...
One of pumpkin's main benefits is visible right away, in its clever orange hue. As with sweet potato, carrots and butternut squash, this coloring occurs thanks to the presence of large amounts of carotene. As precursors to vitamin A, alpha-carotene and beta-carotene help to keep our eyes healthy and vision clear (especially in dim lighting) and guard against cataracts and degeneration. More than twice the daily recommended serving of vitamin A can be found in just one cup of cooked, mashed pumpkin. The carotenes, along with the many other antioxidants found in pumpkin, also help in the general maintenance of numerous other bodily functions - from strengthening the immune system, to the prevention of cancer, and cardiovascular disease.
When it comes to overall skin health, the properties of pumpkin are highly effective. It's a good source of vitamin C, which facilitates collagen production, increasing the elasticity of skin while also rendering it "aglow." It also reduces damage (wrinkles and other signs of premature aging) caused by free radicals, as might occur with sun damage or pollution. And pumpkin seeds, especially, contain plenty of beneficial zinc, which may help to regulate the hormones responsible for acne, as well as fatty acids, which support skin repair, increase moisture and improve flexibility.
Detox and weight loss
Simultaneously low in calories (49 per cup) and high in fiber (three grams per cup), pumpkin is a holiday indulgence you can enjoy without the guilt. Diets rich in fiber have been shown to help people lose weight by causing them to feel fuller for longer. And with all that fiber ready and willing to help flush and eliminate toxins from your system, you'd do well not to incite additional blockages. So maybe abandon the traditional pie this year and make your own healthier version of pumpkin dessert. Be creative, avoid processed ingredients if you can, and experiment with alternative or raw ingredients instead. A little cinnamon, perhaps?
Just feel better
Besides improving overall brain function, pumpkin can also help to balance your mood. Its seeds contain large quantities of tryptophan, an amino acid involved in the production of serotonin, our "feel-good" neurotransmitters. You may know tryptophan better by its notorious presence in turkey, which some suspect causes a feeling of such satiation and relaxation that it usually leads to a Thanksgiving Day post-mealtime nap; whereas experts suggest the nap is more likely a result of overeating.
Now don't upset yourself unnecessarily by worrying too much that it's already too late to save the insides of that handsome jack-o-lantern you carved for Halloween. It's actually the smaller pumpkins, sometimes called "pie pumpkins" or "sweet pumpkins," that are really the better choice for cooking. And here's a tip for picking a good one: Be sure to examine the stems. Sweeter pumpkins usually have dried stems, because they stay longer on the vine. And don't forget to save the seeds for roasting... You'll find plenty of advice on the web for tasty, seasonal recipes.