Photo: Jonathan Kemnitz
Photo: Jonathan Kemnitz

Fall Superfoods | The Health Benefits of Pumpkins

Words by Rebecca Parsons

With Halloween just around the corner, pumpkins seem to be everywhere. From carved masterpieces proudly displayed on front porches, to pumpkin-infused coffee drinks at your local java shop, it’s tough to escape the over-sized orange squash. But before you scoff at this cliché fall favorite, you may want to give it a second chance.

This superfood may be low in calories, but is packed with vitamins, minerals and nutrients that are crucial for replenishing your body after a long paddle session. So heat up some soothing pumpkin soup, add pumpkin puree to your smoothie or oatmeal, whip up some pumpkin protein bars, or simply snack on some roasted pumpkin seeds to reap the benefits of this quintessential autumn food.

Packed with protein

For active paddlers, getting enough protein in their diets is crucial. That’s because protein is vital for muscle growth, repair, and recovery. Additionally, protein is responsible for the production of hemoglobin, which delivers oxygen to the muscles during exercise.

Low and behold, pumpkin seeds are loaded with protein. When compared with nuts such as almonds and walnuts, an average serving size of pumpkin seeds contains 50% more protein. So stash a handful of pumpkin seeds in your pack to refuel during a long paddle or munch on some of these hearty seeds in between workouts to ensure your body gets the protein it needs.

Pumpkins, pups and paddling. A perfect fall day. Photo: Jonathan Kemnitz

Prevents cramps

There’s nothing worse than cramping up while on the water. But the good news is that cramps are easily preventable, as long as you consume enough potassium before your session.

Potassium works alongside sodium to balance the fluids and electrolytes in your body. Breaking it down to a cellular level, potassium is stored within your cells and sodium is stored on the outside. However, due to their different concentration levels, sodium wants to get into your cells and potassium wants out.

When you paddle, more and more potassium finds its way outside the cells, causing your muscles to cramp and your body to feel weak and bloated. To counteract this unpleasant imbalance, consume potassium-rich pumpkin in conjunction with water and your cells will return to normal. That’s because one cup of pumpkin contains 564mg of potassium—100mg more than a banana.

Immune Booster

You can’t paddle if you’re sick in bed, so anything that helps ward off illness is a positive in our book. That includes pumpkin, which is loaded with vitamins and minerals like zinc, which works to fight off colds and infections. In order to make the zinc easier for your body to absorb, try soaking your seeds overnight in warm water.

In addition to the health benefits of the seeds, a serving of pumpkin puree contains 8% of your daily dose of riboflavin–also known as vitamin B2–which is a micronutrient that helps the body fight off bacterial infections. Pumpkin also contains vitamin A which works to promote healthy eyesight, as well as protect the body from infections by keeping the skin and tissues in your stomach, mouth, intestines, respiratory, genital, and urinary tracts healthy.

So don’t just carve your pumpkin this fall, eat it too!

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