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xx Wednesday, October 21, 1998

Pumpkin is more than a pretty face

By FRAN BERKOFF -- Toronto Sun

That bright orange carved pumpkin on your window ledge is more than just a pretty face.

It's full of top-notch nutrition and has lots of places in your fall menu. One cup, cooked, has 80 calories, 4 grams of fibre (similar to two slices of whole-wheat bread), more beta-carotene than a carrot, 3.4 mg of iron (almost a quarter of a woman's daily requirement) and 63 mg of calcium.

It's a rich source of potassium important for good blood pressure control. The brilliant orange colour comes from beta-carotene, one of the important members of the carotenoid family. These carotenes are important antioxidants, associated with a decreased risk of cancers including colon, breast, prostate and lung.

And, don't throw out the seeds. They're rich in protein (one ounce contains 7 grams of protein, equivalent to an ounce of meat), iron, B vitamins and heart-healthy vitamin E. When you eat the whole seed, you're also getting lots of fibre. If you bake your own, you'll save on the extra salt and fat added to commercial kinds.

According to the book North American Folk Healing (The Readers' Digest Association Inc., 1998) some people eat pumpkin to help them sleep. This may work if you consume the seeds, which are rich in the amino acid tryptophane, which increases the amount of serotonin in the brain, which in turn acts as a sedative.

Sadly, it's more folklore than truth but you still may notice a sleepy effect if you eat the seeds in large quantities.

Don't be intimidated by a pumpkin's size. It's as simple to cook as squash.

To bake: Slice pumpkin in half. Remove seeds and stringy membranes. Place cut-side down on an oiled baking pan. Bake at 325F until very tender, about 1 hour. Spoon pulp into a food processor and puree. Drain well. A 5-lb. (2.5-kg) pumpkin gives about 31/2 cups puree. Extra puree can be frozen.

Besides being wonderful in your holiday pumpkin pie, it tastes delicious in breads, muffins, pancakes, soup, stews or hearty fall pasta dishes. It's also a great substitute for squash in a vegetable soup or stew. And that slice of pumpkin pie can serve as one of your five fruit and vegetable servings for the day!