By Denise Williams | News & Views
Pumpkins are a popular seasonal decoration this time of year, transforming into Jack-o'-lanterns for Halloween and starring in cornucopia displays around Thanksgiving, but the gourds are best enjoyed as part of a meal or snack – all year 'round. And that’s a tip cardiopulmonary rehab professionals can pass along to their participants.
This nutrient-dense superfood is loaded with vitamins and minerals – but not with fat, salt, sugar or calories. It has numerous benefits for the general public, and even more so for those in the CR/PR patient population. A winter squash, pumpkins are:
- Packed with potassium
- Helps lower blood pressure
- Contributes to reduced risk for stroke and type 2 diabetes
- High in fiber
- Promotes feeling of “fullness” without lots of calories, aiding in weight management
- May help lower blood cholesterol levels
- Can help avert blood sugar spikes after a high-carbohydrate meal
- Curtails the likelihood of developing heart disease
- Rich in beta-carotene
- Reduces inflammation, which in the chronic stages can contribute to diabetes, heart disease and other conditions
- Helps keep heart, lungs, kidneys and other organs healthy
- Excellent source of antioxidants
- Vitamins A and E, plus iron, help ward off cancer – including lung cancer – and other disease
It’s important to emphasize, however, that many commercial offerings, such as pumpkin-spice lattes, don’t even include pumpkin as an actual ingredient. Other decadent treats like pumpkin pie and pumpkin bread, muffins or pancakes may contain the fruit but are also full of sugar and fat, undermining the nutritional value. But with the right preparation – such as roasted or pureed into a soup or smoothie – the gourds are still delicious but incredibly healthy, down to the low-carb seeds that are loaded with zinc, magnesium and other nutrients.
Not only is pumpkin cardio-protective, it’s also good for the eyes (thank you, beta-carotene), the skin (due to its antioxidant properties), the quality of your sleep (compliments of the tryptophan in pumpkin seeds that produces serotonin), bone health (another benefit of potassium and magnesium) and the immune system (owing to high levels of vitamins A, C and E).
With peak pumpkin season already upon us, remind your clients in cardiopulmonary rehab to do their hearts a favor by keeping a little pumpkin in the pantry – and on their plates – not just during the holidays, but as a regular part of their nutritional plan.