Jack-o-lanterns more than just fun

Oct. 31, 2011 at 6:44 PM

SANTA MONICA, Calif., Oct. 31 (UPI) -- Long before the pilgrims arrived from Europe, American Indians enjoyed pumpkin, a food full of antioxidants and vitamin A, a food expert says.

Phil Lempert, a food industry analyst, trend watcher and creator of the Web site supermarketguru.com, said seeds from related plants date back to 5000 B.C., but the gourd-like squash native to America began to be used as jack-o-lanterns in the late 1800s when the Halloween pumpkin craze took off.

When choosing a pumpkin for cooking or baking, look for fruit heavy for their size with a hard shell -- just the opposite of the ideal ornamental pumpkin, Lempert said.

The pumpkin is botanically classified as a fruit, but nutritionists consider it a vegetable for culinary purposes and it is most-often served as a side dish or in soups, breads and pies.

The carotenoids that give pumpkins their signature orange color are powerful antioxidants that protect health, especially during cold and flu season. Pumpkin also contains vitamin C, potassium, fiber, manganese, folate, omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins and copper.

Roasted pumpkin seeds -- a good source of iron, zinc and essential fatty acids -- are one of the most nutritious and flavorful seeds, but they are the freshest in the fall when pumpkins are in season, Lempert said.

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