As most rural settings are replaced by urbanisation, most traditional practices are disappearing. The same is true with foods, especially in the developing world. When this happens, some of the healthier foods are discarded and classified as food for the poor. Whilst unhealthy refined foods take a higher class in the society. Only generating disease burden and slow death! And among these underrated foods is pumpkin leaves. A healthy vegetable that can transform your diet for the better!
So, what are pumpkin leaves?
Pumpkin leaves are green leafy vegetables that are common in many countries. Most people know pumpkin plants, but they don’t know about the edibility of the leaves. I remember posting about pumpkin leaves on Facebook a few months ago. Some people were surprised that these were delicious vegetable.
Pumpkin leaves have a wild growth and they are cheap to produce. Yeah! Very cheap, because you just need to plant a pumpkin seed and allow it to germinate. And with adequate nutrients from fertilizer, manure or compost, you will have your leaves in a very short time. In addition to that, the pumpkin plant can grow for months without dying. And it always produces fresh leaves to harvest. Remember, only the freshest leaves are edible. Never harvest anything more than 5 leaves from the end of the vine.
Pumpkin leaves are a main component of African cuisine. Many cultures cook the pumpkin leaves together with the tiny fruits and flowers. Together they create a delicious and enticing aroma. Believe me, this combo will make you salivate, it will stimulate the deepest sections of your taste buds!
Also read: 13. Most healthy African spices with amazing medicinal benefits
Why do we need to know more about pumpkin leaves as vegetables?
Africans have paid dearly for abandoning their traditional foods, including vegetables. In abandoning these foods they adopted foreign, processed and super-refined foods that are not good for health. And regular consumption of these foods brings new dietary patterns. These have led to the increased prevalence of diet linked chronic diseases in Africa.
Also read: What encourages unhealthy eating habits?
Also read: Unhealthy eating habits in Africa
These modern foods have not only brought diseases. But they also brought hidden hunger in the form of micronutrient deficiencies. It is known that Africa has one of the highest micronutrient deficiencies in the world. All this increases disease risks and reduces overall health.
So, what can we do?
Only reverting to these traditional and unprocessed foods can alleviate some of these problems. Pumpkin leaves are an essential vegetable that is rich in many nutrients.
Why have people abandoned traditional foods?
This is a good question. We need to understand why people have decided that traditional foods are not good enough.
I have read and talked to people and come to several conclusions.
I have realised that nowadays we see traditional foods as food for poor people. And people see these foods as less classy. This makes traditional foods less popular, common or appealing. And it results in reduced consumption of these foods. Foods that are much healthier than modern super-refined foods.
Also read: Are refined grains any good?
Some people go on to use denigrating terms on traditional foods. This also discourages the consumption of these foods. Because you may be embarrassed when seen by your peers eating these foods. But this doesn’t have to stop you from eating healthily. These people who laugh at you for eating traditional foods have a different life. So, it’s your health on the line, not theirs.
I think writing about nutrition has helped me a lot. As a result, I have become conscious of what I eat. I don’t look at what people think. Or how they react. Because what I eat is for my body so, I do it for me!
Modern foods are usually processed, super refined and tastier. However, they also have a higher health risk. As a result, you must always watch what you eat. And add some traditional foods when you can. Because traditional foods like pumpkin leaves are rich in phytochemicals. And these phytochemicals reduce disease risks and early death.
Nutritional composition of pumpkin leaves
Pumpkin leaves are rich sources of phytochemicals and nutrients. These phytochemicals include flavonoids, anthocyanins, polyphenols and carotenoids.
Note: Phytochemicals are compounds found in plants. These compounds have health benefits to the consumer.
- They have low carbohydrate and fat content.
- The vegetable also has a fair amount of protein.
- Also, the total carbohydrate content is lower but the dietary fibre is higher.
- This is a low glycemic index vegetable. Which makes it reduce post-meal blood sugars spikes.
- This vegetable a small amount of omega fatty acids. However, it has a good omega 3 to omega 6 fatty acid ratio.
- Pumpkin leaves are rich sources of vitamin A, C, E and K. However, most of the vitamin C is destroyed by cooking.
- The vegetables have a low content of B vitamins.
- They are also good sources of the compound choline. And also of the minerals, calcium, magnesium and potassium.
- Pumpkin leaves are excellent sources of potassium and low in sodium. Which makes a good combination.
- They also contain copper, zinc, manganese and selenium.
- Pumpkin leaves have a zero contribution to dietary cholesterol.
Dietary nutrient contribution of pumpkin leaves per 71 g serving
The following data is based on the 2000 calorie reference diet for people aged 4 and older.
- A serving of 71 g pumpkin leaves provides you with
- 23% dietary value of vitamin A to adults.
- 96% of vitamin K
- 7% vitamin B 6
- 6% riboflavin
- 4% folate
- 3% niacin, thiamine and vitamin E
- 1% vitamin C
For minerals, a 71 g pumpkin leaves serving provides you with
- 3% calcium
- 13% iron
- 7% magnesium
- 6% phosphorous
- 9% potassium
- 0 sodium
- 1% zinc
- 5% copper
- 13% manganese
For the micronutrients 71 g of pumpkin leaves gives you:
- 4% protein
- 0% fat
- 8% dietary fibre
- 1% carbohydrates
All this data shows that pumpkin leaves are nutrient-rich vegetable. As it is:
- An excellent source of vitamin K and A.
- The vegetable is also a rich source of iron, manganese, potassium and magnesium.
- They are also high in dietary fibre whilst being low in fat, sodium, carbohydrates and cholesterol.
All this makes pumpkin leaves one of the best vegetables you can eat!
These vegetables can be preserved for later use by boiling and drying. However, the loss of nutrients can be solved by steam blanching and then drying the vegetables.
Nutritional health benefits of pumpkin leaves
These vegetables are rich in essential nutrients which makes them healthy food. They are also low in calories, rich in dietary fibre and have a low glycemic index. This means they have no contribution to weight gain as a vegetable. Therefore they reduce the risks associated with weight gain and excess calories.
Pumpkin leaves are low in dietary fats and cholesterol. This makes them heart-healthy food. In addition, they contain a good omega 3 to omega 6 fatty acid ratio. This makes them good for heart health. Regular consumption can help you improve your heart health. It does this by lowering dietary fat and cholesterol intake.
Also read: 9. Amazing heart healthy foods you should eat
Pumpkin leaves are rich in vitamin A and C. Vitamin A is good for healthy skin, eyesight, healthy hair and immunity. Vitamin C ensures proper wound healing and scar formation. And also ensures healthy skin, teeth and skeletal muscle. Vitamin C is also a powerful antioxidant. This allows it to protect the body from oxidative damage.
Pumpkin leaves are also rich in other healthy vitamins needed for normal health.
The vegetable is a good source of calcium. And calcium is good for your bone health, maintenance of strong bones. It also reduces osteoporosis risks in women. Especially postmenopausal women in their old age. And adequate calcium reduces risks of cardiac failure.
A vegetable rich in iron and proteins
Pumpkin leaves are good sources of iron and protein. Iron is an essential mineral in the body. These vegetables are a healthy natural iron source. Which means they can help boost your dietary intake. This reduces your risks of iron deficiency and associated health consequences.
Proteins can contribute to daily protein intake and reduce risks of protein-energy malnutrition. These vegetables are a fair source of plant protein. And they provide about 5% of the daily protein requirement when cooked per serving.
Sauces made from pumpkin leaves increase the bioavailability of zinc. This enhances the absorption of zinc in the intestines.
Medicinal uses of pumpkin leaves
- Used as treatment for arthritis pains.
- Also used as a blood booster
- They are also used for malaria and dandruff treatment. They are rich sources of iron so they can help replenish haemoglobin.
- The flowers are eaten with the leaves. And together they have antigenic, antidermatitic (counters dermatitis), antipyretic, antitoxin, antiecchymotic (treat bruises) and antiophidian (antivenom) effects.
- They can help in lowering glucose levels, so they reduce the risks of type 2 diabetes.
- The leaves have phenolic compounds which inhibit the carbohydrate digesting enzymes. So they reduce the amount of glucose absorbed in the intestine.
Like them or not, pumpkin leaves are a traditional superfood. This is one of the most nutritious leafy vegetables you can eat. To be frank, even though I eat them regularly, I didn’t even know about all these benefits till I wrote about them. So let’s eat some pumpkin leaves!