Pumpkin leaves are a popular vegetable in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. Whilst pumpkins are native to Mexico and Central America they are regarded as indigenous vegetables to Africa due to their naturalisation. As a result, they have become important components of household food security. Additionally, pumpkin leaves are also known to have several health benefits. Here are some of the health benefits of pumpkin leaves in your diet:
- Provide you with liver-protective properties.
- Good for your bone health.
- Can help you manage blood sugar levels.
- Offers protection against diabetes.
- They have anti-cancer properties.
- They also have protective effects against inflammation and oxidative stress.
Health benefits of pumpkin leaves
1. Pumpkin leaves are highly nutritious
They have a rich mineral profile.
A one-cup portion (39 g) of pumpkin leaves contains:
- Calcium 15 g
- Potassium 170 g
- Phosphorus 41 g
- Iron 0.87 mg
- Folate 14 micrograms
Also eating 71 g of pumpkin leaves provides 3% calcium, 13% iron, 7% sodium and 9% potassium, dietary requirements for adults.
When compared to a cup of lettuce, lettuce has a lower calcium, iron, potassium and phosphorus content. The leaves of the pumpkin plant are excellent sources of potassium. They also have a low sodium content. This potassium-sodium ratio is beneficial to your cardiovascular health.
So eating pumpkin leaves is good for your mineral intake. Therefore, pumpkin leaves can help minimise mineral deficiencies.
Omega fatty acids
Pumpkin leaves also have small but useful omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids content. The fatty acid ratio is good since they have more omega 3 fatty acids than omega 6.
Also read: What makes fats harmful? Healthy fats vs unhealthy fats.
A vitamin bank
Pumpkin leaves are also a good source of vitamin A, vitamin C and magnesium. Studies show that 71 g of pumpkin leaves provide 23% of the dietary value of vitamin A in adults.
Most of the vitamin C may be destroyed during cooking and preparation. The flower of the pumpkin plant is usually cooked with leaves. Pumpkin flowers are a good source of potassium.
In southern Africa, we eat pumpkin leaves as part of a maize-based diet. They are used as a relish. Maize is high energy and low nutrient cereal. Especially if you use dehulled maize meal. Using pumpkin leaves as a relish can boost your diet’s nutritional value.
The diet becomes more healthy if healthy vegetables like pumpkin leaves are taken together with healthy cereals like sadza rezviyo.
2. Higher mineral content than exotic vegetables
The mineral content of pumpkin leaves is higher than that of exotic vegetables such as lettuce and cabbage.
The leaves of the African pumpkin have higher potassium (1320 mg/100 g), calcium (941 mg/ 100 g), Magnesium ( 220 mg/ 100g) and iron (60 mg/ 100 g).
Pumpkin leaves also have a low sodium content. This is healthy since too much dietary sodium is unhealthy.
3. An important medicinal vegetable
Pumpkin leaves are used as an important medicinal component.
In Nigeria, fluted pumpkin leaves are used to treat sudden attacks of convulsions, anaemia and malaria.
Antimalarial effects of pumpkin leaves
Research evidence shows that pumpkin leaves have antimalarial and antiplasmodial effects. This means that they help fight infection by the malaria parasite. And therefore they can help improve the health of malaria patients. You can use pumpkin leaves to boost recovery from malaria.
The antimalarial effects are amplified when you use pumpkin leaves with malaria drugs. In addition, to antimalarial effects, pumpkin leaves can also help treat dandruff.
Blood sugar lowering activities
Some studies also show that pumpkin leaves have blood sugar lowering (hypoglycemic) activities. In one study, the hypoglycemic effect was observed on the second day of administration. The extracts and soups from pumpkin leaves also have hypoglycemic effect.
Antioxidant and brain protection
Eating pumpkin leaves regularly is associated with an increased antioxidant defence mechanism. This is because the vegetable is rich in antioxidant compounds. These can help alleviate oxidative stress and damage in your body. They can also help you deal with toxin-related oxidative damage.
Pumpkin leaves are a good source of vitamin C. This vitamin has potent antioxidant properties. As a result foods rich in vitamin C are beneficial for arthritis, cancer and inflammation. They also contain vitamin E and K. Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that protects cell membranes from oxidative damage.
Eating antioxidant-rich foods regularly can help build your body’s antioxidant defence. This can help protect you from oxidation related ailments.
Pumpkin leaves are a good source of choline which helps in neurotransmission. This can be beneficial to your mental and neural health.
Pumpkin leaves can also help improve your brain health.
Iron deficiency anaemia is a common problem especially in women of childbearing age. To alleviate the risks, good sources of iron are needed. These can help prevent iron deficiency in the body.
Pumpkin leaves have a high iron concentration. Taking them in your diet was shown to improve anaemia parameters. Eating pumpkin leaves increases your:
- Packed cell volume
- Haemoglobin concentration
- Red and white blood cell count
Therefore, this vegetable is important in curing anaemia. This is because it helps in quickly improving your haemoglobin concentration during the treatment of anaemia.
In addition, pumpkin leaves are a good source of vitamin C. Dietary vitamin C enhances dietary iron absorption.
Weight management and healthy gut
Most people nowadays prefer to eat foods that have little to no effects on their weight. Pumpkin leaves are one vegetable that is good for your weight. They have a low total carbohydrate content and high fibre content. Using this vegetable as a relish help in keeping your total calorie intake. On the other hand, the high fibre content helps in keeping you full for longer. As a result, it may limit the frequency and size of meals. This is good for weight management.
The high fibre content improves your bowel movements. It also helps in maintaining a healthy gut.
Pumpkin leaves have little to no cholesterol. This means it is a heart-healthy food. So, pumpkin leaves may help you protect your cardiovascular system.
Pumpkin flowers are usually eaten with pumpkin leaves. The flowers have antigenic, antiechymotic, antidermatitic, antiophidian, antipyretic and antitoxin properties.
4. Help in treating protein-energy malnutrition
Pumpkin leaves are a readily available chief plant protein source. This is because they contain more than 12% of their calories in the form of proteins. And in vegetables, this shows that they are a good protein source.
The nutritional value of pumpkin leaves protein is better than that of soybean protein.
Pumpkin leaf protein is a high-quality plant protein. And it is good for vegetarians. Pumpkin leaves are one of the protein-rich vegetables.
5. An excellent vegetable for your bone health
Eating pumpkin leaves improves your bone health. Several studies show that pumpkin leaves can improve peak bone mass. They can also help reduce bone loss. This is because the leaves are sources of several components that improve bone health.
For healthier bones, the rate of bone loss must be equal to that of bone formation. However, when your body calcium levels are low, the rate of bone loss is higher than bone formation. As a result, bone loss occurs and your bone strength is reduced.
Evidence shows that pumpkin leaves can help with improving bone injury recovery, rheumatoid arthritis and osteoporosis. Therefore, this vegetable is good for your bone health.
Pumpkin leaves are a good calcium source. Eating them helps you in maintaining the balance between bone formation and bone loss.
6. Low calorie and low-fat vegetables- health benefits of pumpkin leaves
Pumpkin leaves have a low energy content. This is because they have a low fat and carbohydrate content. As a result, eating vegetables has a minimal effect on your calorie intake. Therefore you can use pumpkin leaves in a weight loss diet. The low sugar content also makes pumpkin leaves good for a diabetic diet.
The low-fat content in pumpkin leaves makes it a heart-healthy vegetable. It also has some fat lowering activities. And fat lowering foods are good in preventing common non-communicable diseases.
In addition, pumpkin leaves enhance lactation in nursing mothers.
Also read: Organic Pumpkin Patch: How to setup
Conclusion on health benefits of pumpkin leaves
Pumpkin leaves are an important healthy vegetable but they are sometimes overlooked. There are many health benefits of pumpkin leaves. They can help provide food security at a household level. And they are a good tool for fighting hidden hunger and micronutrient deficiencies. The best thing about pumpkin leaves is that you can also dry and eat them when they are out of season. Some people keep a few pumpkin plants in their backyard gardens. They will have healthy pumpkin leaves whenever they need them. I love pumpkin leaves, especially in the dry season.