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A pumpkin a day keeps the witches away

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Autumn is coming closer each day and that means it’s time for everything to be pumpkin. From candles, to decorations, to coffee, ice-cream, cakes, pies and many more — pumpkin is everywhere.

But other than all the delicious spices and beautiful colors that go with pumpkins, is there more to enjoy? Absolutely. When we think of fruits and vegetables that are packed with nutrients, pumpkins may not be one of the first ones to come to mind. But just like some of its other vegetable counterparts, pumpkins contain vitamins A and C. In one cup of cooked pumpkin there is nearly 250% of your daily need of vitamin A. When you think of vitamin A you may think of carrots and good eyesight and those are both correct, but vitamin A is found in other orange vegetables like pumpkins.

Beta-carotene (orange pigment) in the vegetables gets converted into vitamin A in the body. Lutein is another carotenoid found in fruits and vegetables (and pumpkins) that is an antioxidant but it gives produce their bright yellows. Both lutein and beta-carotene contribute to eye health as they are used in the eye for the reactions responsible for vision, especially in darkness. This is why night blindness is attributed to a lack of vitamin A.

Vitamin A and C both help support the immune system since they are antioxidants. Antioxidants are responsible for stopping free radicals from attacking cell membranes in the body. Free radicals are highly reactive compounds in the body that are naturally produced from the everyday reactions that occur in the body. Their high reactivity makes them able to attack cell membranes and injure healthy cells.

Vitamin A and C can essentially disarm the free radicals and keep them from damaging cells. This doesn’t necessarily boost the immune system but rather makes the workload easier for the other cells that are involved in immunity. These vitamins help protect the tissues of the mouth, and intestines as well as the respiratory, genital and urinary tracts. They may help prevent some forms of cancer as well as heart disease by defending the LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) from being oxidized by free radicals.

When oxidized, LDL cholesterol can stick to the walls of blood vessels and increase the risk of heart disease. Essentially, the pigments in pumpkins keep us healthy in many ways from our eyes to our blood vessels to our cells.

While pumpkins are symbolic of fall time, don’t forget that other fruits and vegetables have some of the same benefits and getting a variety of different colored produce is always a great way to keep the witches away.

 

Purdue University dietetic intern Josie Austin submitted this week’s Extension Line column.

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