Whether you prefer pumpkin pie or pumpkin carving, there are many benefits to this big orange vegetable: Carving pumpkins comes from a centuries old Irish tradition and myth about a devious man named ‘Stingy Jack.’ The name ‘Jack o’ lantern’ (Jack of the lantern) refers to the carved out turnips, beets, potatoes and eventually pumpkins that were lit with a lighted piece of coal, or candle, to ward off Jack and any other bad spirits from peoples’ homes.

Apart from warding off spirits, there are plenty of other benefits to pumpkin carving this season. Firstly, its fun: Being creative in a fun activity with family and friends is sure to give your brain a boost in oxytocin, dopamine and serotonin – feel good hormones and neurotransmitters that will help you feel good and sleep better.

Secondly, as a food source, pumpkin is high in the antioxidant nutrient, beta-carotene.  So are other orange foods like carrots, sweet potato, apricots and cantaloupe melon.  Antioxidants help to fight the effects of oxidation in the brain and body (that’s the same process that turns iron into rust.) In the brain, oxidative stress has been linked to cognitive decline and the eventual onset of Alzheimer’s disease. In studies, beta-carotene, along with vitamins C and E, have all been shown to be low in those individuals with Alzheimer’s.

Consuming beta-carotene throughout life may help to protect the brain against such mental decline. One study showed that men who took high dose beta-carotene supplements had better memory and less cognitive decline than their peers taking a placebo. “Long-term beta-carotene had the effect of delaying changes in their memory by about a year,” says the associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School who led the study. *

So enjoy your pumpkins this season, knowing all the brain boosting benefits!

 Grodstein, F. et al. “A Randomized Trial of Beta Carotene Supplementation and Cognitive Function in Men: The Physicians; Health Study II.” Archives of Internal Medicine, Volume 167, Number 20, pages 2184-2190.