Give Thanks for the Healthful Benefits of Pumpkins

Baked pumpkin on a plate

Thanksgiving is upon us and so begins the baking, stirring, mixing and blending of all things pumpkin. You can put pumpkin in pies, breads, or eat it as a side dish. It’s a comfort food that not only tastes good, but also is good for you.

People diagnosed with cancer, including mesothelioma, can benefit from the vitamins and antioxidants found in pumpkins, which help improve immune function and protect our health.

Pumpkins belong to a larger family of plants called winter squash. These vegetables are especially rich in carotenoids, plant pigments that give many vegetables their red, yellow and orange hues.

Carotenoids in winter squash include:

  • Beta-carotene and alpha-carotene: Our bodies convert these antioxidants into vitamin A. Like all antioxidants, they help protect our cells from damage and are linked to cancer prevention when combined with a healthy diet.
  • Lutein and Zeaxanthin: In addition to cancer prevention, these antioxidants show the strongest protection against eye diseases such as age-related macular degeneration and cataracts.

The nutritional value of winter squash depends on the variety, but they are all excellent sources of vitamins A and C. They also contain dietary fiber, which helps with weight control and acts in several ways to reduce cancer risk.

Selecting the Right Squash

The most common varieties of winter squash you’ll find in the grocery store include acorn, butternut, hubbard and spaghetti squash. There are hundreds of varieties that range in color and size.

When buying pumpkins or other types of squash, inspect the outside and look for a hard rind and no soft spots. Pick the heaviest among those of equal size because these will have the most edible flesh.

Winter squash lasts 2-3 months at room temperature. Unless it’s cut, do not refrigerate because the humidity will spoil it faster. Squash does freeze well though, so you can cut it into smaller pieces to store for later. If you’re buying canned pumpkin, look for the pureed kind with no added sugar.

Preparing Your Squash

Thin-skinned varieties, such as butternut or acorn squash, can be peeled first and roasted. Those with very thick rinds can be more of a challenge to prepare. You can use a heavy chef’s knife to split the larger, thicker varieties of squash down the center.

Place them on a baking tray cut side down and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or longer. When the flesh is soft, it is ready to be spooned out and eaten.

Try using different types of squash when making pies and breads. They work just as wonderfully, if not better than pumpkin. Most people can’t even tell whether pumpkin or squash is used in a pie.

Squash Bread Recipe

Try this recipe for a great way to include squash into your meals this holiday season. It’s great for breakfast, a snack or a light dessert, and it is delicious with a low-fat cream cheese or whipped butter spread.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ¼ cup butter or margarine
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ½ cup honey
  • 1 egg plus 1 egg white
  • 1 ¼ cup pureed cooked winter squash

Directions:

  • Sift together the first six ingredients on a plate and set aside.
  • In a large bowl, mix oil, sugar and honey together until light and fluffy.
  • Beat in egg and egg white. Add squash puree and beat until smooth.
  • Fold in dry ingredients. Turn into a greased 9×5 inch loaf pan.
  • Bake about one hour until golden brown and a wooden skewer inserted in the center comes out clean.
  • Remove from the oven and let stand in pan for 10 minutes.
  • Turn out onto a wire cooling rack or cake plate to cool.
  • Sprinkle with powdered sugar.

For a fun variation of this recipe, you can add a nut topping. You’ll need the following additional ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons melted butter or margarine
  • ½ cup finely chopped pecans or walnuts
  • Powdered sugar for dusting (optional)

After step four in the recipe above, pour melted butter over the top and sprinkle with chopped nuts. Bake as directed, then cool and dust with powdered sugar.

To warm the squash bread, wrap thick slices in a paper towel and microwave for 15 to 20 seconds on high.

  1. MedlinePlus. (2015, June 3). Beta-carotene. Retrieved from https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/natural/999.html
  2. University of Illinois Extension. (n.d.). Winter Squash. Retrieved from https://extension.illinois.edu/veggies/wsquash.cfm
  3. American Institute for Cancer Research. (2009, December 31). Squash. Retrieved from http://www.aicr.org/foods-that-fight-cancer/squash.html#tips

Tejal Parekh is a registered and licensed dietitian in Florida with a master’s in nutrition and dietetics from Georgia State University. She realized her passion more than 10 years ago when she started working with cancer patients. Tejal also is one of the first dietitians in Florida to be board-certified as a specialist in oncology nutrition.

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