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Getting the scoop on pumpkins

Did you know that much of what we know about the nutrient content of 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.”

pumpkinreport

This information was, and still is, very important to food manufactures for nutritional labelling, dietitians 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. So there was a need to improve and update the breadth of data, and the AFRC chose the IFR to carry out the analysis.

Pumpkins, along with a range of other vegetables from artichokes to yams, were sourced from up to 12 different outlets in the Norwich area. The report even details how they were bought on the Wednesday and driven to the IFR, on the Norwich Research Park stored overnight. One portion of the veggies were prepared and analysed on Thursday. On the Friday the other portion was cooked and analysed.

After removing seeds and stalks, the pumpkins were “peeled thickly” and the cooked portion was cut into chunks and boiled for 15 minutes. Cooking can reduce the levels of some nutrients, and the IFR researchers found slight drops in some vitamins and minerals. But cooking makes some things more available, and they found cooking almost doubled the amount of beta-carotene.

The trend of updating the data to reflect changes in diets and consumer behaviour continues to this day, and is still overseen at the Institute of Food Research through its Food Databanks group. Food Databanks is funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, the predecessor of the AFRC, as a National Capability, reflecting the importance of the data it compiles for the food industry as well as in healthcare. 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.

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 and minerals. 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.

 

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