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Monday, January 10, 2011

Tip: Pumpkins: They’re not just for Jack-o-Lanterns

Before I talk about pumpkins, I want to report my latest news. Up to this point, I have only done water aerobics and swimming for exercise, besides my casual walks with my dog several times a day, but two friends of mine signed up at the same gym where I swim, and we all met there Friday for a workout. While Cheryl read a book and walked on the treadmill, Roger and I tried out a variety of machines, something I haven’t done since I was in my thirties, and the machines have definitely gotten more intense since then. He and I rode recumbent bikes for a few “laps,” then tried some various walking machines—I don’t know all the technical terms—but some put too much strain on my “bad” knee. I put the term in quotation marks, because I never accepted that it wouldn’t heal. It took me more than a year, but with determination and physical therapy, I overcame its stiffness, pain, and limitations fairly well, but not totally. Anyway, after a not-too-intense workout, he and I changed into swimsuits and swam a few laps together. While we soaked in the hot tub, we made promises to work out more often. Of the three of us, Cheryl has been the best, walking at least an hour on a treadmill regularly for years.

Two days later, yesterday, I went back to the gym without my friends and rode even longer on the recumbent bicycle and tried out even more machines. I was thrilled to see that I was able to use the machines for knee curls, when seven months ago, I couldn’t even lean my easy chair back, because closing it up had been too painful for my knees. I love to see such progress. I worked out more intensely than before and then went to the pool and worked out with water aerobics and lap swimming again. I have begun a new, more intense routine, and I can feel the results in my muscles today. It’s a great feeling.

Best of all, though, was that while I was stretching in my cool down from swimming, I was able to touch my knee to my nose, something I haven’t been able to do in more than a decade. My flexibility is returning, whereas I thought it would go downhill for the remainder of my life. I really am reversing the aging process!

Now on to pumpkins, my subject for today.

After Halloween, I found a church-run pumpkin patch that was practically giving away its leftover pumpkins. I garnered three of the plump gourds, about six to eight pounds apiece, gave one to my sister, and took two home. Pumpkins keep for a long time, so I didn’t worry about having two at one time.

I stored one of my pumpkins in a cool, dry place and baked the other one. It couldn’t have been simpler to cook. I put it on a cookie sheet, poked a few holes through the skin with a fork, and baked it at 300 degrees until it felt soft, which took about three hours. By cooking it slowly, I ensured I wouldn’t burn it. It’s also okay—and faster—to cut up the pumpkin and boil it on the stove, but doing so requires a large, strong knife and a strong person to wield the knife, plus the pumpkin soaks up the water and releases its vitamins, so I opted for the slower, easier, tastier, healthier way. Once the pumpkin was soft, I let it cool and then cut it and removed the seeds. The seeds also have great food value, if you toast them. I put the seeds and stringy bits in my compost heap, though. I had enough pumpkin to deal with.

When you have six or more pounds of one vegetable, you have to be inventive. First I cut one half of the pumpkin into strips and froze it for later. With the other half, I found many ways to use cooked pumpkin, and they have all been delicious. I did not want to make anything sweet, such as pumpkin pie, because I’m avoiding sugar, so the first night I cut away the skin from some of the cooked pumpkin, added a little salt and butter, and chowed down. Delicious.

Another night I chunked up some pumpkin, put it in a blender with chicken stock, and blended it into a soup. I warmed it up, added a little pat of butter and a good squirt of lime juice, and ate the soup with a side salad. I ate the remainder of the soup for lunch the next day. Again, out of this world.

One time I sautéed chunks of cooked pumpkin flesh with olive oil, onion powder, and garlic salt and ate it as a side dish with a pork chop. It took me more than a week to eat half a cooked pumpkin, and I still have more in the freezer. I will find many other ways to eat it, as well.

Here’s the best part: During the week I ate pumpkin several times a day, I lost more weight than usual, so I looked up pumpkins and found out why. One full cup of cooked pumpkin has only forty-nine calories. Forty-nine calories! My pumpkin soup must have had only about fifty calories, and it made a filling, delicious lunch by itself and dinner with a side salad.

I did a little more research and learned a bunch of interesting information about pumpkins. One cup of cooked pumpkin has the following:

Calcium - 37 mg
Carbohydrate - 12 gm
Dietary Fiber - 3 gm
Folate - 21 mcg
Iron - 1.4 mg
Magnesium - 22 mg
Niacin - 1 mg
Potassium - 564 mg
Protein - 2 grams
Selenium - 0.50 mg
Vitamin A - 2650 IU
Vitamin C - 12 mg
Vitamin E - 3 mg
Zinc - 1 mg

Pumpkin is rich in carotenoids, known for keeping our immune systems strong and healthy. Beta-carotene, also found in pumpkin, is a powerful antioxidant as well as an anti-inflammatory agent. It helps prevent cholesterol buildup in arteries, thus reducing the chance of stroke. Because pumpkin is rich in alpha-carotene, it is believed to slow the process of aging and prevent cataract formation. Pumpkins can reduce the risk of macular degeneration, a serious eye problem that usually results in blindness. My mother had it and was legally blind for many years.

The high amount of fiber in pumpkin helps with bowel health. Loaded with potassium, pumpkin is associated with lowering the risk of hypertension, too. The zinc in pumpkins boosts the immune system and improves bone density.

I didn’t choose to eat pumpkin because of any of those things, though. I just knew that it cost little and would taste good, and it does. Well, in truth it doesn’t have much flavor on its own, but add some spices, and it becomes tasty. It certainly doesn’t need to be baked into a pie with sugar and whipped cream to make it taste good. It’s easy on the budget, and it’s great for people who want to lose weight.

I need to pull the other half of that pumpkin out of the freezer now, to give my weight loss a boost, because I can see the needle on the scale went down a little, but I did not lose a full pound this week.

Starting weight: 245
Weight last week: 195
Goal weight for this week: 194
Actual weight this week: 195
Total pounds lost: 50
Goal weight for next week: 194
Goal weight: 150
Mini goal: 190 by February 28

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