Are Pumpkins Only for Decoration and Dessert?

As we go into fall, the leaves begin to change, the last of the summer crops are consumed and we begin to turn to the holidays. With autumn brings the fall crops, bountiful with squash, brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes and pumpkins. When you mention pumpkins, many people think of pumpkin carving, pumpkin pies, or cornucopias. However now, people with diabetes may start to think of pumpkin as a great source of nutrition and a way to control blood sugar. New research is beginning to show that pumpkins may lower the fat and sugar circulating in the blood.

Diabetes, sometimes referred to as diabetes mellitus in the medical community, is a group of metabolic diseases that cause the body to have high levels of blood sugar (also known as blood glucose) from lack of insulin (a hormone that helps glucose metabolize in the cell). As the rate of individuals diagnosed with one of the types of diabetes continues to rise, researchers seek out different ways the excess sugar can enter the cells in the absence of insulin. However, right now the only viable options are medications and/or insulin injections.

What does this have to do with fall and pumpkins? Well, some studies suggest pumpkins may offer an alternative to medications for individuals with diabetes. Pumpkins belong to the family Cucurbitaceae. In studies researchers have used everything from pumpkins pieces, to dried pumpkin extracts, to just the protein components of the family Cucurbitaceae. There is a general consensus among the studies that pumpkins, when consumed, do reduce blood glucose, cholesterol and triglycerides. They have found that insulin has increased in the blood, suggesting that something in the pumpkins is working on the pancreatic cells that secrete insulin. Those cells have been shown to increase in size and in number.
Pumpkins are not being recommended as a solution yet, but adding some pumpkin to the diet may help individuals who have chronic health concerns such as diabetes and high cholesterol. In addition to these benefits, pumpkins are an excellent source of nutrition. They are high in beta-carotene (an important antioxidant), fiber, and potassium, while naturally low in calories and fat.

Some other barriers to these potential health benefits are the ways in which pumpkin is consumed in the American diet. It is mostly consumed in the form of pie or a mash, coated in butter and brown sugar. Unfortunately, the typical preparations of pumpkin are high in calories, fat, and sugar, which tend to outweigh the nutritional benefit of plain pumpkin. So in order to capitalize on the many health and nutritious perks of the ‘orange fall ball', try these recipes to get you started on preparing healthier alternatives this season: Pumpkin Soup, Baked Pumpkin, Pumpkin Pancakes, and Roasted Diced Pumpkin.

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