RFTH Pumpkin


Real Foods that Heal
volume 4, #3
December 11, 2008

Pumpkins: they really are Great!

It’s hard to think of any vegetables which conjure up so many happy memories as pumpkins. But those memories probably are attached more to “non-vegetable” uses of our large orange squash. Carving pumpkins at Halloween or dessert of pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving both evoke fond memories of family times together, but there is so much more to the pumpkin. It has really been under-appreciated as a food. Let’s look at little closer, and I think you will see what I mean.

Pumpkins, squashes and gourds are all members of the same plant family, with tremendous variety in size, color, and the hardness of the outer skin. These are native to the Americas and were well known as crops here long before Europeans arrived. The pumpkins are closest to the winter squashes in this family, but are much more interesting in my opinion because of the great variations in size, shape and color of the pumpkins. The vines are also quite energetic; so much so that when I was gardening in Maryland, I had a pumpkin come to maturity in the branches of a cherry tree where the vine had grown up from the nearby garden!

For your health, pumpkin provides more benefit than I have room for in this short bulletin. I am referencing nutrition information on canned pumpkin because the fresh ones are often only seasonally available, but if you can find a good one and cook it, that’s even better. A half cup serving of canned pumpkin provides a whopping 19,000 IU of vitamin A (as natural carotenoids), more than sufficient for a day’s supply. This antioxidant is a powerful scavenger of free radicals (sometimes called reactive oxygen species) in the body. Recall that those free radicals are produced not only from environmental toxin exposure, but also from the natural energy-producing chemistry of all of our cells. We need daily doses of antioxidants to prevent oxidative damage to cells and DNA. Damaged DNA programs cells to malfunction, and is thought to be one of the initiating factors for cancer. This is at least one the reasons why human diets which are high in vegetables and fruits are associated with lower rates of cancer, probably largely in part to the presence of these carotenoids and other antioxidants. Specifically, studies on dietary reduction of breast cancer risk give special importance to the role of carotenoids.

In addition to the vitamin A (carotenoids), that humble half-cup of pumpkin provides generous doses of vitamin E (as alpha tocopherol, another potent antioxidant and good for heart health), and vitamin K (strong bones). And very important for normal blood pressure, it provides calcium, magnesium, and potassium. It is a good source of dietary fiber (the insoluble kind, good for intestinal health).

Now has your appreciation of this old friend expanded? Think of pumpkins as a food you can enjoy in recipes year round for your health; and yes, you can still enjoy the Halloween carvings and the pumpkin pie too! Here’s a good soup recipe you will enjoy.

Simple Pumpkin Soup


Chop a small onion and sauté in a large sauce pan on the stove in 2 tsp olive oil until tender. Add 1/2 cup water, 1 cup unsweetened soy or rice milk (I prefer not to use cow milk), one 8 ounce can of pumpkin puree, 1 cup unsalted vegetable broth, ¾ teaspoon cinnamon, ¼ teaspoon nutmeg, stir well and heat, but do not boil. Add black pepper to taste at the table, and enjoy!

To your health,



Robert Pendergrast, MD



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