Have a healthy Halloween

With Halloween upon us, you are likely to see a carved pumpkin in the window of every other house you walk past. Although this has become the most common use of pumpkins over the years, there are alternative benefits to this thick-shelled, orange plant. Biomedical sciences student, Cansel Hashim, is here to tell us all about the health benefits of pumpkins and how to best make use of them all year round, not just during Halloween season…

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For us mancunians, autumn comes with a whole lot of deadlines, assessments, lectures… and a significant amount of rain! Very often we are so focused on ticking off the next task on our ‘to-do’ list and getting things done that we easily overlook the small things that can make big differences in our lives. This is exactly what happened to me a few days ago when I was waiting in the queue in the local supermarket rushing to pay for my lunch and get back to the library. I saw the small pile of pumpkins near the main entrance. They have been there for a while now and I had, in fact, seen them before. However, this was the first time that I actually paid attention to how vivid and eye-catching they were, each with a unique shape and size, and how beautifully they were arranged.

There are many reasons why I love autumn, and pumpkins are definitely one of them! So… today’s post is dedicated to exploring this delightful fruit. Where does it come from and how does it relate to Halloween? What health benefits does it have? How can we make the most of the pumpkin season?

ORIGIN

In Ireland in the 19th century, it was a common practice to hollow out and use vegetables like turnips, potatoes and beets to make lanterns. In some parts of Ireland and the Scottish Highlands, people carved grotesque faces and used those lanterns on Halloween, believing that they represented spirits and supernatural beings. Yet others believed in their ability to ward off evil spirits. Immigrants from these places brought these traditions to North America, and shortly after they found that a better alternative for making lanterns exists – using the big round orange pumpkins.

These aesthetically pleasing plants are, of course, much more than lanterns and decorations. Pumpkins and squash are also highly nutrient-dense foods with a long list of health benefits.

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HEALTH BENEFITS

Excellent source of beta-carotene

Beta-carotene is the precursor protein of vitamin A, i.e. our bodies use beta-carotene to synthesise vitamin A which supports our immune system and bone health, protects our eyes, reduces risk of acne, and promotes healthy growth and reproduction. Recent studies have even demonstrated that consuming higher amounts of vitamin A in the form of beta-carotene is co-related with decreased risks of cervical, lung and bladder cancers (Zhang et al., 2012; Yu et al., 2015; Tang et al., 2014). If cooking pumpkin is not for you, keep in mind that the canned version contains significantly higher amounts of beta-carotene than its fresh counterpart.

High in fibre

Dietary fibre refers to all substances that we obtain from food which cannot be fully digested and absorbed by the body. These substances have important roles in normalizing bowel movements and maintaining bowel health, lowering low-density, aka ‘bad’ cholesterol, and controlling blood sugar levels. Statistics show that in the UK the majority of the population consume only up to 2/3rd of the recommended daily fibre intake which may be co-related to the increasing rates of obesity.

Don’t panic! You can significantly increase your daily dietary fibre intake by consuming only 100 grams of canned pumpkin, butternut squash, or simply adding pumpkin seeds to your soup and oatmeal.

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Rich in minerals

Along with the big number of macro and micronutrients they contain, pumpkins are also packed with a wide range of minerals. Adding one cup (245 g) of butternut squash to your diet provides about 15% of your daily requirement of magnesium, 18% of potassium and 5 % of calcium.

The list goes on and on, therefore discussing all health benefits of this superfood is beyond the scope of this article. However, I can assure you that your body will love you for consuming a portion of pumpkin or butternut squash every now and then.

The perfect recipe

With all that mind, check out my favourite pumpkin-related meal that will fill your tummy and warm your soul – Creamy butternut squash soup topped with seed mix and croutons:

Prep: 20 min, Cook: 40 min, Ready in: One hour

  1. Heat one tbsp of butter in a large pot over a medium heat. Cook and stir one medium chopped onion in the butter until tender.
  2. Mix two small carrots and 500g of squash into the pot. Pour in vegetable stock (or four bouillon cubes), season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Bring to boil, reduce heat, and simmer until vegetables are tender.
  3. In a blender or food processor, puree the soup mix until smooth. Return to the pot, and stir in one pack of crème fraiche. Heat through, but do not boil.

Preparing the croutons:

  1. Cut one piece of whole-meal bread, or tortilla wrap into cubes/piece
  2. Drizzle with olive oil, and season with salt, pepper and thyme
  3. Roast them slightly in the oven (for 10 min in 180 C)

Serve warm with a dash of nutmeg and topped with some mixed seeds and croutons… enjoy!

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To read more from Cansel, check out her health and wellbeing at university tips here


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