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Food of the week: Pumpkins

Food - By Derrick Oluoch
Pumpkins are highly rich in vitamins and minerals (Shutterstock)

Pumpkins, scientifically referred to as Cucurbita pepo, are nutritious orange vegetables that are highly rich in vitamins and minerals while low on calories.

They belong to the Cucurbita family alongside squash, muskmelons and watermelons. Pumpkins vary in shapes and have a thick, smooth and somewhat ribbed skin with edible seeds at its core.

Generally, pumpkins weigh about 4 to 8Kgs and when cooked present with a mild sweet taste. Pumpkins are monoecious plants – they have both female and male flowers on the same plant and a female flower can be identified by a small ovary at the bottom of its petals.

The best part is that the nutritious package of a pumpkin can also be found in its seeds, leaves and even its juices.

Pumpkins can easily be incorporated into deserts, salads, and soups and can also be used on bread and in baking as a substitute to butter or margarine.

Pumpkins belong to the Cucurbita family alongside squash, muskmelons and watermelons (Shutterstock)

Nutritional component of pumpkins

A cup of cooked, boiled or drained pumpkin, without salt contains (according to FoodData Central):

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  • 1.76g of protein
  • 2.7g of fiber
  • 49kcal calories
  • 0.17g of fat
  • 12g of carbohydrate

Pumpkins are also rich in essential vitamins and minerals which include vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin B-6, riboflavin, potassium, manganese, iron, phosphorous and magnesium among others.

As pumpkins are rich in fiber, it is prudent to note the benefit of fibers - they slow the rate of sugar absorption into the blood, smoothens digestion and promotes regular bowel movements.

They have a mild sweet flavour when cooked (Shutterstock)

Benefits of Pumpkins

Owing to its many uses, pumpkins are beneficial. One of the fantastic benefits of pumpkins is that they are one of the best-known natural source of beta carotene – an organic compound that gives fruits and vegetables their rich yellow/orange hues and in our bodies is responsible for vitamin A (Vitamin A is responsible for good vision and eye health, strong immune system and healthy skin and mucus membranes.)

We look at some of the benefits you should know:

Health benefits of pumpkins

  1. Regulating blood pressure and cardiovascular disease: Research demonstrates that eating pumpkin is good for the heart as the fiber, vitamin C and potassium found in pumpkins supports heart health.
  2. Reducing risk of cancer: Two studies, in 2014 and 2016, suggest that there is a positive relationship between consuming a diet rich in beta carotene and suppression of tumors. Also, beta carotene can also slow development of colon cancer.
  3. Controlling diabetes: Including pumpkins in the diet can help control diabetes and blood sugar levels. According to a study in 2019, pumpkin polysaccharides can bring down blood sugar levels and suggests that the plant extracts can limit type 2 diabetes.
  4. Protection against age-related eye problems: Pumpkins are rich in antioxidants and the like of Vitamin C and beta carotene support eye health thus preventing degenerative eye damage. According to a clinical trial in 2019 by the National Eye Institute, Vitamin E, Vitamin C and beta carotene can reduce risk of age-related macular degeneration.

More benefits of pumpkins

  1. Treating oily and dry skin: A mixture of pumpkin puree, honey and milk can b used as a face mask for exfoliating, nourishing and conditioning the skin. After rinsing off, it is advisable to apply a moisturizer meant for your skin type.
  2. Treating acne: Pumpkins are a good source of B vitamins such as riboflavin, niacin, folate and B6 which help improve circulation which improves cell turnover and renewal and are thus beneficial in treating acne.
  3. Promoting hair growth: Pumpkins have abundant minerals including potassium and zinc which help in maintaining hair health and improving growth. Folate, a B vitamin found in pumpkins, also stimulates hair growth as it improves blood circulation.
The nutritious package of a pumpkin can also be found in its seeds (Shutterstock)

Pumpkin Diets

There are several ways people can eat pumpkin. However, preparing fresh pumpkin at home delivers the most benefits from the vegetable. We have few tips for adding pumpkin to your diet:

  • Preparing homemade pumpkin puree instead of canned pumpkin
  • Using pumpkin puree instead of oil or butter when baking
  • Making pumpkin chocolate yogurt by adding yogurt, honey and cocoa powder to pumpkin puree
  • Juicing raw pumpkin – a drink that has numerous health benefits
  • Pumpkin seeds – pepitas – can be roasted and eaten as snacks
  • Pumpkin seed oil, a byproduct of the pumpkin seeds, can be mixed with other oils and used for cooking, dressing salads.
  • Pumpkin chips are also a healthy alternative to potato fries.
Pumpkin puree can be used instead of oil or butter when baking (Shutterstock)

Storing pumpkins

Pumpkins should be stored in cool, dark, dry and properly ventilated places with a room temperature of about 250C.

Pumpkins can last up to a month uncut and can go up to three months when refrigerated. Cooked pumpkin can also be stored for over 12 months in frozen form.

To increase the shelf life of pumpkins, the skin should be washed in a chlorine solution. This disinfects the skin and discourages formation of molds and rot.

To avoid spoilage, the skin should be dried immediately after cleaning and when any mold is visible, it should be wiped off.

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