Pumpkins aren't just for Halloween carvings or for making a Thanksgiving Day pie. This hearty vegetable is chock-full of nutrients you can enjoy any time of year. In fact, it is among the top "fall produce picks" from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. While you can use pumpkin for baking and cooking, you can certainly eat it raw to reap the nutritional benefits.
Raw Pumpkin Nutrition
Raw pumpkin is a nutritionally-dense food. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, a 1-cup serving yields just 30 calories and 0.12 grams of fat as well as 1.16 grams of protein and 7.54 grams of carbohydrates. The most prominent nutrient in pumpkin is vitamin A. In fact, the same 1-cup serving has 9,875 international units, and the retinol activity equivalents are 494. This provides more than half of the RAE, or recommended intake recommendations from the University of Florida for men and women over the age of 14, which is 900 and 700 micrograms, respectively. Pumpkin is also a good source of potassium, a mineral that may help reduce the risk of hypertension.
Importance of Vitamin A
Vitamin A is an essential nutrient. As an antioxidant, it helps protect cells from damage as you age. It is also essential for eye health because it helps you see at night. The vitamin A present in pumpkin can also keep your skin healthy and free from dryness. Furthermore, vitamin A can naturally boost your immune system, making it key in year-round cold and flu protection.
Too Much Pumpkin
Vitamin A is the highlight of the pumpkin's nutritional offering. Consuming more than the recommended amount through excessive indulgence in vitamin A-rich foods like pumpkin or carrots can, however, be unwise, leading to a condition called hypervitaminosis A. Taking supplements and multivitamins containing the nutrient may also lead to too much vitamin A. With this vitamin A toxicity, short-term cases can cause jaundice, or yellowing of the eyes and skin. More serious complications include kidney and liver damage. Too much vitamin A can be a serious problem in infants and children because it can delay growth and normal development.
Other Pumpkin Options
Raw pumpkin has a hearty, rich flavor that makes it a good stand-alone snack or side dish. The best way to eat it is to slice the pumpkin into cubes, but you can also eat raw canned pumpkin. However, so you don't tire of it, you can add other ingredients without sabotaging its nutritional value. Sprinkle cinnamon to give it a dessert-like flavor without all of the fat and sugar. You can even add flaxseeds for a crunchy texture. Also, don't forget about the pumpkin seeds: these edible treasures are full of magnesium that help protect nerve and muscle function.