The Fall Superfood You Should Be Eating

Three pumpkins of different sizesPumpkins are an age-old tradition of Halloween and iconic symbol of fall. But don’t overlook pumpkins as a source of nutrition. Pumpkins are loaded with vitamin A and fiber, and low in calories.

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Raw pumpkin has only 15 calories per 1/2 cup, and is full of iron, zinc, and fiber. It’s high in vitamin C and beta carotene. Pumpkins are also high in lutein and zeaxanthin, substances that may help prevent the formation of cataracts and reduce the risk of macular degeneration.

Canned pumpkin has a similar nutrient profile with slightly less fiber than fresh, but more bioavailable beta carotene due to heat used in the canning process. And don’t forget the seeds: Pumpkin seeds are a good source of protein and fiber, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper, and manganese.

Following are the ways that pumpkin can benefit your health:

1. Cut Cancer Risk

Like other orange vegetables and fruits, the sweet potato, the carrot and the butternut squash pumpkins boast the antioxidant beta-carotene, which may play a role in cancer prevention, according to the National Cancer Institute. Food sources of beta-carotene seem to help more than a supplement, according to the NIH. And the plant sterols in pumpkin seeds have also been linked to fighting off certain cancers.

2. Reduce Cholesterol

Nuts and seeds, including those of pumpkins, are naturally rich in certain plant-based chemicals called phytosterols that have been shown in studies to reduce LDL or “bad” cholesterol.

3. Sharpen Eyesight

A cup of cooked, mashed pumpkin contains more than 200 percent of your recommended daily intake of vitamin A, which aids vision, particularly in dim light, according to the National Institutes of Health. Pumpkins are also rich in carotenoids, the compounds that give the gourd their bright orange color, including beta-carotene, which the body converts into a form of vitamin A for additional eye protection.

4. Weight Loss

Pumpkin is an often-overlooked source of fiber, but with three grams per one-cup serving and only 49 calories, it can keep you feeling full for longer on fewer calories.

A fiber-rich diet seems to help people eat less, and thereby shed pounds.

5. Pumpkin Seeds Can Boost Your Mood

Pumpkin seeds are rich in the amino acid tryptophan, the famed ingredient in turkey that many think brings on the need for that post-Thanksgiving feast snooze. While experts agree that it’s likely the overeating rather than the tryptophan lulling you to sleep, the amino acid is important in production of serotonin, one of the major players when it comes to our mood. A handful of roasted pumpkin seeds may help your outlook stay bright.

FDA Investigating Monster Energy Drink Death Reports

A man drinking from a metal water bottle
The FDA is investigating reports of five deaths and a nonfatal heart attack in people who drank high-caffeine energy drinks made by the Monster Energy Company.

Meanwhile, a Maryland couple has filed a wrongful death suit against the company, alleging that their product killed their 14-year-old daughter. They say Anais Fournier, 14, collapsed after drinking her second 24-ounce Monster Energy drink in two days. She died six days later.

The reports are not proof that the drinks caused the deaths, but merely signal there might be a problem. Even if the deaths are determined to be caused by caffeine poisoning, the FDA will consider all sources of caffeine before blaming the deaths on the energy drink.

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In addition to caffeine, energy drinks contain other stimulants, including taurine and guarana, a caffeine-containing plant.

Because energy drinks are sold as nutritional supplements, they are not regulated as foods. This means they may exceed the FDA-mandated limit of 71 milligrams of caffeine for a 12-ounce soda.

“FDA continues to evaluate the emerging science on a variety of ingredients, including caffeine,” FDA spokeswoman Shelly Burgess said in an email.

The reports aren’t the first health warnings about energy drinks. Last year, the U.S. Drug Abuse Warning Network reported a tenfold spike in emergency-room visits involving energy drinks. In some 70% of cases involving teens ages 12 to 17, the energy-drink itself — not drugs or alcohol — was the main reason for going to the ER.

Last year, researchers at the University of Miami reviewed the health effects of energy drinks on children, teens, and young adults.

Writing in the journal Pediatrics, they concluded that “energy drinks have no therapeutic benefit” and that “these drinks may put some children at risk for serious adverse health effects.”

These “health effects” include irregular heart rhythms and, in children who may have hidden heart risks, sudden death.

Monster Energy Sued Over Death of Teen

In their lawsuit, Fournier’s parents report that their daughter bought and drank a 24-ounce can of Monster Energy at a local candy store. The next day, she bought another one and drank it, too.

A few hours later, Anais Fournier’s heart stopped. An ambulance took her to the hospital. She was put into an induced coma in an effort to keep her brain alive. But six days later — on Christmas Eve 2011 — she died.

The lawsuit notes that Monster Energy does not list the amount of caffeine in Monster Energy. It estimates that each of the two cans the girl drank contained 240 mg of caffeine. Recommended teen and child doses of caffeine should not exceed 100 mg per day; adults should have no more than 400 mg per day.

The lawsuit claims Monster Energy is a dangerous product, that its maker failed to warn consumers of any risk, and that the company is negligent in marketing the product to teens and young adults.

In a news release, Monster Beverage Corp. states that it stands by the safety of its products. “Monster is saddened by the untimely passing of Anais Fournier, and its sympathies go out to her family. Monster does not believe that its products are in any way responsible for the death of Ms. Fournier and intends to vigorously defend the lawsuit. … Neither the science nor the facts support the allegations that have been made. Monster reiterates that its products are and have always been safe.”

The American Beverage Association, the trade group that represents the soft drink industry, notes that Monster Energy has never been an ABA member.

However, the group notes that energy drinks’ “ingredients and labeling comply with all U.S. FDA requirements.”

The ABA and its members have developed voluntary guidelines for labeling and marketing energy drinks. The guidelines say ABA members that make energy drinks should:

  • Identify on their labels the amount of caffeine from all sources in the beverage.
  • Not promote mixing energy drinks with alcohol or claim that energy drinks counteract the effects of alcohol.
  • Advise on their labels that energy drinks are not intended or recommended for children, pregnant or nursing women, or others sensitive to the effects of caffeine.
  • Not market energy drinks as sports drinks.
  • Not market or sell energy drinks in elementary, middle, or high schools.
  • Not market energy drinks to children.