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Pumpkin Patch

Did you know that much of what we know about the nutrient content of UK pumpkins was derived from pumpkins bought from Norwich supermarkets, greengrocers and market stalls in 1985?

This was part of a project funded by the Agricultural and Food Research Council to analyse “The Nutritional Composition of Retail Vegetables in the U. K.” The report was commissioned to take into account changes in the availability of vegetables, reflecting “the introduction of new varieties, imports, changes in agronomic practice and harvesting techniques, storage and distribution.” bake_these_pumpkins_in_torontoThis information was, and still is, very important to food manufactures for nutritional labelling, dieticians in preparing balanced diets, and also for guiding policy on national diets.
The report states that many of these vegetables were being introduced following growing customer demand for a wider range of vegetables that hadn’t been available before. Pumpkins, were bought from 12 different outlets in the Norwich area by scientists from the Quadram Institute Bioscience (previously known as the Institute of Food Research). They were tested raw and also cooked, where after removing seeds and stalks, the pumpkins were peeled thickly, cut into chunks and boiled for 15 minutes. Cooking can reduce the levels of some nutrients, and the QIB researchers found slight drops in some vitamins and minerals. But cooking makes some things more available, and they found the amount of beta-carotene almost doubled on cooking.Beta-carotene is one of the fat-soluble carotenoid compounds and is a red-orange pigment that gives some fruits and vegetables a characteristic colour (e.g. carrots which are very high in beta-carotene and other carotenoids). Beta-carotene is also present in green leafy vegetables – if you’re wondering why they are green and not orange, it’s because the green chlorophyll pigment in the leaves masks the orange pigment. Beta-carotene is used by the body to produce vitamin A which is important for growth and development, for the maintenance of the immune system and good vision. You may be thinking that a large dose of pumpkin pie or soup will help you see in the dark but while vitamin A is important for vision, it has only been shown to improve eyesight in people who are very undernourished and are severely deficient in vitamin A. The night vision story is thought to have been part of a world war 2 propaganda story, possibly intended to cover up for the allied forces adaptation of radar technology.
Nutritional information about pumpkins
Pumpkin flesh is 95% water, and almost free from fats, so very low in calories. The flesh contains some fibre and sugars, plus and a fair amount of carotene, which gives it the orange colour, but small amounts of other vitamins, minerals and bioactive compounds. So the flesh makes an ideal base for soups that fill you up, especially if you include a range of vegetables. Pumpkins seeds, however, have a high fat content which is mainly in the form of mono and polyunsaturated fats.The trend of updating the food nutritional data to reflect changes in diets and consumer behaviour continues to this day, and is still overseen at QIB through its FoodDatabanks group who are funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.  Much of this data is presented in “McCance and Widdowson’s The Composition of Foods” which for over 60 years has been the major reference tool for nutritional information on food in the UK. It is this dataset that forms the nutritional information that is compliant with the food labelling regulations.