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Every year as the month of October rolls around, you will usually see an array of pumpkins used to decorate homes in anticipation of Halloween. Regardless of if they are carved jack-o-lantern style or are used to create a scrumptious pumpkin pie, the pumpkin has so much to offer.

According to Hubpages.com, the pumpkin is a member of the Cucurbita family which also consists of squash and cucumbers. Pumpkins are also considered a fruit due to the fact that it has seeds. In fact its name was even derived from the Greek word “pepon” meaning large melon.

Natives used pumpkins for a variety of functions including healing. Certain tribes used pumpkin seeds to help heal wounds. In addition, pumpkin seed oil was used to treat burns and wounds and was also used as a medicine for kidney support. They were also recommended for removing freckles and curing snake bites. Modern folk healers even believe the pumpkin to be beneficial in ridding the body of intestinal worms and also believe that the ground stem of the pumpkin brewed into a tea may help ease women during their menstrual cycle.

Regardless of if they can truly make freckles disappear or ease cramps, pumpkins do contain a variety of phenomenal nutritional aspects. They are made up of 90 percent water and are antioxidant rich. Here are some of the wonderful antioxidants that pumpkins provide:

Beta Carotene- Indicated by their bright orange color, pumpkins are a great source of the important antioxidant, beta carotene. Research has indicated that diets rich in beta carotene may reduce the risk of developing certain types of cancer and protects against heart disease. It also prevents some degenerative aspects of aging.

Potassium- Studies show people who have a potassium rich diet lower the risk for hypertension. Other potassium rich foods include bananas, broccoli, avocados, pomegranate and many others.

Zinc- Not only is zinc a major boost for your immune system, it also aids in bone density support for people at risk for osteoporosis.

Fiber- Diets rich in fiber may prevent cancer, heart disease and other serious ailments.

Pumpkin seeds have also been linked to a healthy prostate. The protective compounds present within the seed of the pumpkin, called phytosterols, may be responsible for shrinking the prostate. They also contain chemicals that may prevent some transformation of testosterone into dihydrotestosterone (DHT). High levels of DHT are associated with enlarged prostate.

There are also plenty of yummy and healthy options available to you when cooking pumpkins. According to Bellaonline.com, pumpkins have a rich flavor, are highly nutritious and have a long storage capability. If you plan to cook with your pumpkin and not just carve it up for the front porch, choose a “pie pumpkin” or a “sweet pumpkin.” These pumpkins are generally smaller than jack o-lantern pumpkins, their flesh is sweeter and they contain less water. Also choose pumpkins without blemishes or soft spots for the best and healthiest pumpkins.

In addition to pumpkin pie, this versatile fruit can be used in a myriad of other delectable recipes including bread, muffins, soups, stew and side dishes. Pumpkins and most other varieties of winter squash can be used interchangeably in recipes. Use pumpkins in recipes calling for squash or even sweet potatoes.

 

Let's face it, in today's rush-rush world we are always trying to cram as much as possible into our 24-hour day. Sadly, many people are turning to energy drinks and pills to help get them through their long days, when in actuality there are plenty of natural energy boosters that you could rely on to help you stay energized.

Just try these simple all day energy strategies provided by MSNBC to make sure that you wake up feeling refreshed, stay motivated throughout the day and are able to wind down and get a relaxed night of sleep.

Consistent wake-up time: Many people would think that sleeping in would actually give them all-day energy, but it is more harmful than it is helpful. Instead, opt for the same wake-up time everyday and get yourself into some light, whether you get your sunlight by actually going outdoors or just by opening up the blinds.

Reduce your carbs and add in more protein: While carbohydrates will give you that quick burst of energy, eating too many carbohydrates will actually drain you. Opt for getting a healthy mix of carbs and protein to feel more energetic throughout the day. Keep your daily intake of healthy carbs below 150 g. for example: five servings of veggies, two servings of fruit, three servings of whole grain carbs.

Skip your morning cup of Joe: Instead of downing your coffee first thing in the morning, opt for having an afternoon cup of coffee when tiredness typically sets in. Try having a half to one cup of coffee or its caffeine equivalent during the late afternoon when the pressure to sleep is high. Be careful not to do this too late as it may interfere with you being able to fall asleep at night.

Avoid grazing and eat your meals at consistent times: Believe it or not, your body runs on the food schedule that YOU set. When you skip meals your body suffers by going into shut down mode, like it does when it is time to sleep. Keep your meals consistent and at consistent times to avoid the daily drain. Grazing should be avoided, too, as it leads to overeating and over hunger.

Relieve stress through meditation: Because it may be hard to carve out set times to simply relax and meditate, try to do it when you have a few free minutes throughout your day. Even simply three minutes of mediation can reduce stress hormones that create body tension and constricted blood vessels. Find a quiet spot where you won't be interrupted (even a bathroom if that's your only option), sit down and close your eyes, listen to your breath as you slowly inhale and exhale, and when thoughts intrude imagine that they are like clouds floating in the sky. Practice these techniques and take a few minutes to rejuvenate through relaxation.

Power walk instead of power nap: While it may seem like a short little cat nap will help you through that afternoon slump, a short little power walk will be more beneficial. Because of the way the homeostatic and circadian systems interact, most people feel a lull 17 to 18 hours after they went to bed the previous night. Get out for a brisk walk if you are able to and your body will thank you for it. If you can't get outdoors, sit by a window and bask in the daylight for some quick light energy.

Exercise to music: Exercise may be the most obvious way to increase your energy levels throughout the day, yet many people still avoid it. If you are having trouble getting the motivation to work out, try listening to music before exercising. Studies show that people who listen to music prior to and while working out, feel like they have exerted themselves less than those who don't listen to music while working out.

Wind down before bed: Studies show that very bright light will increase brain activity and the light emitted by a computer monitor late at night can do just that. Watching television is better as most people sit far enough away from a TV to be unaffected by its brightness. Whether you choose to watch a little TV or read a good book, take the time to wind down before catching those zzz's.

 

According to an article on CNN Health a recent study suggests that lack of sleep could throw off a diet.

Research from the University of Chicago showed that dieters who slept for 8.5 hours lost 55 percent more body fat than dieters who slept 5.5 hours. How is this possible? According to the study not having enough sleep could affect a hormone called ghrelin, known to affect appetite and weight. An increase in this hormone level has been shown to make people hungrier and cause higher fat retention.

The study included 10 sedentary nonsmokers, between the ages of 35 to 49 years with a body mass index considered overweight to obese (BMI 25-32), who stayed in what's considered a closed study environment for two weeks. They ate the same diet, consumed multivitamins and performed the same type of work or leisure activities. Six of them were assigned to 8.5 hours of sleep, and four slept 5.5 hours. Those who slept more lost more fat and maintained fat-free body mass.

The dieters who slept less also reported feeling hungrier throughout the course of the study.

Study authors wrote, "Together, these results suggest that the loss of sleep at times of limited food intake amplifies the pattern of ghrelin-associated changes in human hunger, glucose and fat utilization, and energy metabolism.”

Furthermore, according to About.com inadequate sleep amounts can affect you in a myriad of unhealthy ways:

Lack of sleep interferes with the body's ability to metabolize carbohydrates and causes high blood levels of glucose, which leads to higher insulin levels and greater body-fat storage.

Drives down leptin levels, which causes the body to crave carbohydrates.

Reduces levels of growth hormone--a protein that helps regulate the body's proportions of fat and muscle.

Can lead to insulin resistance and contribute to increased risk of diabetes.

Can increase blood pressure.

Can increase the risk of heart disease.

It may be worth your while health-wise to try to pack in as many zzz's as possible.

 

Those people looking to understand what their dietician is talking about when they compare good fats to bad fats will not find these terms on food labels. Instead you will see words like polyunsaturated and Trans fats.

This article will give you a brief explanation of the four types of fats (saturated, monounsaturated, polyunsaturated and Trans fats) and how they affect your body.

Saturated Fats

Saturated fats are the fats that stay solid at room temperature, such as lard, coconut oil and cow butter. Saturated fats are what dieticians consider “bad fats” because they raise your bad cholesterol level, thereby raising your total cholesterol level.

According to Kristensguide.com saturated fats are often found in animal products such as animal flesh, dairy products and eggs and some vegetable products like coconuts and palm oil. People whose diet consists of many foods high in saturated fats typically are at a higher risk of heart attack, stroke and cardiovascular disease.

Monounsaturated Fats

Monounsaturated fats have a lower melting temperature than saturated fats, which means that they do not stay solid at room temperature. These types of fats can be found in: canola oil, peanut oil, olive oil, nuts and avocados.

Monounsaturated fats are what dieticians consider the “good fats” that lower bad cholesterol without lowering your levels of good cholesterol. In addition, monounsaturated fats help to prevent against cardiovascular disease.

Polyunsaturated Fats

Polyunsaturated fats, otherwise known as essential fatty acids, are fats that can stay liquid even at lower temperatures. Polyunsaturated fats are found in safflower oil, sunflower oil, corn oil, flaxseed oil, canola oil, soybeans, fish, and fish oil.

Dieticians consider polyunsaturated fats the “good fats” as they lower cholesterol and they help prevent cardiovascular disease by lowering the amount of fat in the blood.

Trans Fats

Trans fats, often called “hydrogenated” are man-made fats that are created during the hydrogenation process. They are usually monosaturated or polyunsaturated fats that have been processed to make them solid at room temperature. These types of fats are unnatural and toxic to your body. Trans fats are abundant in packaged and processed foods. Some of the foods that Trans fats are found in include vegetable shortening, margarine, and some dairy products.

Dieticians consider Trans fats the “bad fats” as they can cause cancer, diabetes, obesity, birth defects, low birth weight babies, and sterility.

How Fats Affect You

Fats are essential to your overall health. Fats provide energy and certain types of vitamins and minerals can only be processed by your body when fats are present. Trying to eliminate fats from your diet can lead to problems like vitamin and mineral deficiencies.

While you cannot eliminate fats completely from your diet, you should be conscious to consume fats in moderation.

Most dieticians will recommend that no more than 10 percent of your daily calories come from saturated fats, with up to 10 percent coming from polyunsaturated fats and up to 15 percent coming from monounsaturated fats. No amount of Trans fats are safe or are recommended on a daily basis.

The best way to keep an eye on your daily fat intake is to be cautious of what you eat and to be a good label reader. This will help you to keep your dietary fats at a healthy level.

 

Now that summer is coming to a close, it's time to enjoy one of the most popular fruits that fall has to offer: squash. While they are commonly thought to be vegetables, botanically speaking squash are actually considered a fruit due to the fact that they have their seeds on the inside.

According to everynutrient.com, the winter squash group includes pumpkin, acorn, butternut and spaghetti squash. Winter squash, like other richly colored vegetables, provide excellent sources of carotenes. The richer the color, the richer the concentration. In addition they are also a good source of vitamins B and C, folic acid, fiber, vitamin B6 and potassium. Studies even show that winter squash exert a protective effect against many cancers.

Summer squashes which include yellow squash and zucchini, have a higher water content, therefore are not as nutrient dense as the winter varieties. But they still provide nutritional benefits including low calorie count, vitamin C, potassium and carotenes.

When it comes to picking out the best squash at the grocery store, thenibble.com says that summer squash are thin-skinned and bruise easily, so look for firm, blemish-free ones with taut skin. The smaller ones are sweeter, tenderer and tend to last in the fridge for about a week before they start to wrinkle.

Winter squash have hard, thick rinds and often may require a hammer to cut one in half. Their thick skin makes them last longer. You can often keep winter squash fresh in cool, dark places for one to three months.

Here are a few storage tips for squash:

Avoid storing squash near apples, avocados or passion fruit, all of which are are natural ripening agents that release ethylene gas. While they are great to throw into a paper bag to aid the ripening process of other fruits like pears, bananas and tomatoes (and to quicken plant flowering), they only discolor and decay zucchini and other dark green squash.

When storing winter squash with woody stems, leave a 4-inch (or longer) stem on the fruit. Fleshy or softer stems, such as those found on banana and hubbard squash, can be cut to one 1 to 2 inches. This helps to retain moisture.

The squash is also very versatile when it comes to using them to cook. While some require cooking others, like zucchini can be prepared in every conceivable way: raw, sautéed, grilled, steamed, boiled, broiled, baked, fried, microwaved or freeze-dried. They can be easily puréed for soups, cakes, pies and quick breads; it also can be spiced and added to rice pilafs, cubed and grilled on skewers, added to stews and made into famous dishes like ratatouille and pumpkin pie. Served alone or as a side dish, the diverse flavors of squash lend itself to any occasion.