Pumpkin and Cancer Protection

pumpkins on a fence

With the fall equinox behind us, it is time to start thinking about colorful and delicious autumn foods like pumpkin. This year, get your pumpkin fix from AICR’s recipes to help you make the nutrient and phytochemical rich pumpkin a star in your cancer -protective diet.

These recipes call for the easy to use canned pumpkin, so AICR reached out to the experts to learn more about the origin of those cans of pumpkin. We talked with Illinois Vegetable Growers Association and to Rupp Seeds Inc., a family-owned, seed-selling, company based in Wauseon, OH. to get their insight on the pumpkins that make it onto the grocery shelves and into our pumpkin pies.

“The pumpkins that work best in most food recipes are the ‘[Dickinson] Field’ pumpkins,” said Sheri Fry of Rupp Seed. “They are a type of winter squash [C. maxia], which makes them very closely related to the butternut squash.” She also explained that a Hubbard squash of the same family was also a good pumpkin filler, along with butternut squash. “You get the added benefit of beta carotene,” when it comes to butternut squash, she concluded. All these choices are rich in beta-carotene, and butternut squash is the highest of the three.

Sheri also mentioned briefly how the seeds in the typical “Halloween pumpkin” can be cooked and eaten just like the other seeds from other pumpkin.

Alice Bender, MS, RDN, AICR’s Director of Nutrition Programs also discussed the benefits of pumpkins. “Pumpkin, butternut and other winter squash are a great fall addition to your diet and table. Not only do they offer great fall colors, but pumpkin and squash are rich in vitamins A. The fiber is also good for your gut.” She also recommended that for canned pumpkin, buy pure pumpkin and not the high-sugar pumpkin pie mix.

Knowing the benefits and the facts behind what we are eating, try some of these great pumpkin recipes that are part of an overall diet that can help reduce your risk of cancer. 

Foods that Fight Cancer: Winter Squash

Learn more about selecting, preparing and storing winter squash.

The first one is the delicious Pumpkin Spice Oats. With just five minutes of prep time the night before, you will have an easy grab-and-go breakfast that will keep you satisfied all morning. These hearty, pumpkin spiced oats are packed with fiber, protein and cancer-fighting polyphenols. Whole grains like oats can improve your digestion, aid in weight control and lower your risk for colorectal cancer.

The second recipe is a healthy Cranberry Flax Pumpkin Bread. In this recipe, two of the season’s most loved foods come together in a delicious homemade bread. Pumpkin's potent beta-carotene and cranberries' anthocyanin phytochemicals are blended together with flaxseed's protective omega-3 fats. Flax is also being studied for its lignans, plant compounds that may play a role in protecting against breast cancer.

The last recipe is a fall-inspired Pumpkin Mac and Cheese. If your pumpkin latte consumption is borderline ridiculous, trade it in for a healthier fix. This pumpkin mac and cheese is rich in carotenoids, particularly alpha- and beta-carotene and just one serving provides 100 percent of your daily value of vitamin A. Each serving packs 17 g of protein and 4 g of fiber, yet it actually has fewer calories per serving than the 12 oz. cup (yes, the regular size) of your favorite seasonal coffee beverage.

With these pumpkin and fall-driven recipes, AICR hopes you have a healthy, pumpkin-filled October!

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