Pumpkin - a protective food

of cancer, emphysema and diabetic complications

Dr Cristina Campean
Steaua Divina Naturist Centre, Bucharest

The pumpkins we eat with such relish in autumn come from wild species native to Guatemala and Mexico. Although they've been cultivated here for nearly 7000 years, they were originally bred for their highly nutritious seeds, with early varieties having little or bitter flesh. Over time their cultivation spread to the Americas and varieties with sweet and tasty flesh emerged, very good for baking. It was Christopher Columbus who brought the New World pumpkin to Europe.

Today the most important producers of pumpkin are China, Japan, Romania, Turkey, Italy, Egypt and Argentina.

The ripe pumpkin, which is harvested in autumn, is the ripe fruit of any Cucurbita species (usually C. maxima or C. moschata). There are many varieties of pumpkin, in different shapes and colours. Some are used for food, others only ornamentally or for various other traditional purposes.

The baking pumpkin has a thick rind that makes it suitable for long storage, with some types lasting up to 6 months.

Few people know, however, that pumpkin is an excellent source of vitamin A (in the form of beta-carotene and alpha-carotene) as well as other carotenoids (especially lutein and beta-cryptoxanthin), is a very good source of vitamin C, potassium, dietary fibre, manganese and folate and a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B1, copper, vitamins B6, B3, B5 and tryptophan.

Thus, 100 g of pumpkin flesh provides about 71% of the daily requirement of vitamin A. So, especially in winter, pumpkin can be an excellent source of this vitamin especially as other fresh vegetables and fruits are not so available at this time of year. Epidemiological studies have shown that a diet rich in vitamin A and carotenoids is associated with a lower incidence of cancer, atherosclerosis, cataracts and macular degeneration and confers very effective antioxidant protection.

A diet rich in vitamin A protects against the development of pulmonary emphysema especially in smokers or those exposed to second-hand smoke, a study from Kansas State University shows.

Beta-carotene is a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, which is why it protects against diabetes complications and even regulates blood sugar. Recent research even shows how carotenoid intake is inversely proportional to insulin resistance and hyperglycaemia.

Eating foods rich in beta-cryptoxanthin, an orange-red carotenoid found in high amounts in pumpkin, corn, papaya, red bell peppers, tangerines, oranges and peaches significantly lowers the risk of lung cancer, according to a study published in September 2003 in the journal "Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention" conducted on 63257 adults in Shanghai over 8 years, during which time 482 new cases of lung cancer were diagnosed. People in this study who had a diet rich in foods containing beta-cryptoxanthin had a 27% lower risk of developing lung cancer than the rest of the people in the study. Even smokers who ate foods containing beta-cryptoxanthin had a 37% lower risk of developing lung cancer than smokers who ate predominantly other foods.

Pumpkin also reduces the risk of colon cancer due to its high dietary fibre content, which protects the lining of the colon from the action of carcinogens, and its high vitamin A content, which provides good local and general antioxidant protection.

An article published on 10 January 2003 in the journal "Cancer Letters" shows that cucurbitacins present in various cucurbitaceous species, including pumpkin, have an inhibitory effect on colon cancer, breast cancer, lung cancer and cancers of the central nervous system.

This scientific evidence invites us to consume as much as possible this food, which has become traditional for the Romanian autumn.

Enjoy your meal and ... good health


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