Pumpkins are like people. Some are big. Some are small. Some are round. Some are tall. And often we spend too much time decorating the outside and forget the value within.

Here is some info on pumpkins, courtesy of the University of Illinois Agricultural Extension Web site, other resources:

n Pumpkins are members of the gourd family that includes watermelon and winter squash. Pumpkins get their name from the Greek word pepon, meaning “large melon.” which the French translated to pomon and the English called pumpion. American colonists later revised the name to pumpkin.

n Pumpkins are the ultimate “Jack o’Nutrients.” One cup of cooked pumpkin (scoop out the seeds from the inside and bake until the flesh is tender) contains respectable amounts of protein, carbohydrate, fiber, calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, zinc, selenium, vitamins A, C, and E,niacin, and folate, all for less than 50 calories.

n The bright orange color is a dead giveaway that pumpkin is loaded with an important antioxidant, beta-carotene. Beta-carotene is one of many “carotenoids” found in bright-orange colored foods like pumpkin, carrots, sweet potatoes and cantaloupe that can lower our risk for developing certain types of cancer and heart disease.

n Beta carotene is converted in our bodies to vitamin A, a nutrient required by our immune system to fight infections.

n You can use pumpkin in any recipe that calls for sweet potato or squash.

n Pumpkin flowers are edible.

n The largest pumpkin ever grown weighed a scary 1,140 pounds. Pumpkins contain no fat. Most of their weight (90 percent) is water.

n The first pumpkin pies were crustless. Early Americans removed the seeds from a whole pumpkin, filled the inside with milk, spices and honey, and baked it in hot ashes. Yummy.

Barbara Quinn is a registered dietitian at the Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula, Calif.

Readers may send her an e-mail at [email protected]

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