Pumpkin is a food enjoyed around the world and in a variety of cuisines, but did you know that pumpkin is a powerful brain food? Pumpkin (and squash) provide a variety of benefits to your nervous system - from fiber, to carotenoids, and minerals - pumpkin offers sweet and savory versatility in the kitchen matched by powerful medicinal compounds not to be overlooked.
That's why I wanted to share this recipe with you. It makes the most of pumpkin as a medicinal food without the added sugar you may typically find in a muffin recipe. In this muffin, pumpkin is paired with feta cheese, rosemary and sage. It is so satisfying, you may be fooled that it is actually medicinal.
Here are a few ways these savory pumpkin muffins are packed with benefits for your brain and nervous system.
Polyphenols: Combating Inflammation
Polyphenols like beta carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin provide pumpkins its vibrant orange are other powerful brain health nutrients. These compounds are particularly important for nervous system health as they offer neuroprotective qualities. They scavenge at free radicals thereby decreasing oxidative stress and neuroinflammation. A growing body of evidence indicates that carotenoids have both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, and can even be considered for treatment of mood disorders like depression.
Magnesium and Zinc: Essential Nerve Nutrients
Pumpkin contains a moderate amount of magnesium, an essential nerve nutrient involved in 80% of the body's functions and plays a vital role in the health of your nervous system. Think of it as the calming mineral. Needed to activate calming receptor (GABA) in the brain and regulates the stress hormone cortisol, acting as a brake for the nervous system. Magnesium deficiency can present as muscle spasms, sleep disturbance, and headache, but it is also being associated with higher levels of stress, anxiety, and depression.
Zinc plays a key role in the creation and regulation of neurotransmitters, including dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin, which are important for mood, memory, and cognitive function. It also acts as an antioxidant by helping to protect the nervous system against oxidative damage. Not to mention pumpkin seeds are some of the best sources of zinc with one ounce providing you with 20% of your daily needs.
Soluble and Insoluble Fiber: The Fiber Factor
All pumpkins and winter squashes provide a hefty dose of both soluble and insoluble fiber making it a star cholesterol-lowering food. Dietary fiber is connected to brain health in several ways, primarily through its influence on the gut microbiome, blood sugar regulation, and overall cardiovascular health. In general, it prevents stagnation and helps to keep things flowing.
Rosemary & Sage: More Brain Power
Rosemary and sage are added to these muffins for a savory, herbaceous flavor that compliments the pumpkin and feta so beautifully. Rosemary contains several polyphenols associated with potential brain health benefit, including rosmarinic and carnosic acids, shown to protect brain cells from oxidative stress and inflammation linked to cognitive decline and neurodegenerative disease, including the reduction of beta amyloid found in Alzheimer's Disease. Like rosemary, sage also contains an array of polyphenols- luteolin, apigenin, kaempferol, and quercetin- that may enhance cognitive activity and protect against neurodegenerative disease.
Feta Cheese: How MCT Fats are Neuroprotective
Double brain bonus in these muffins is the special fats found in the feta cheese. Sheep and goats milk cheese contains higher amounts capric fatty acid, a medium chain triglyceride known for its cognitive benefits. Capric acid offers itself as an alternate source of energy to the brain in the form of ketone bodies when the brain has a hard time using glucose (sugar) for energy. Capric acid has shown to be effective in improving neurological conditions like epilepsy, Alzheimer's disease, and mood disorders.
SAVORY PUMPKIN MUFFINS
WITH FETA, ROSEMARY & SAGE
Makes 12 Muffins
1 cup of almond flour
1 cup of oat flour
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp of fresh rosemary, finely chopped
1 tbsp of sage, finely chopped
1 1/2 cup pumpkin puree
2 large eggs
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup milk (or alternative)
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese, divided
4 oz feta cheese, cut into 1/2" cubes
Preheat your oven to 350ºF. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners and set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk together oat and almond flours, baking powder, salt, rosemary and sage, set aside.
In a separate large bowl, whisk together the pumpkin, olive oil, eggs, and milk. Whisk in the eggs one at a time. Fold the dry ingredients into the wet ones until just combined.
Grate the parmesan cheese and fold 1/4 cup into the batter. Divide the batter evenly between the muffin cups.
Place a feta cube into each muffin center and cover with batter. Sprinkle with the remaining parmesan cheese.
Bake for 38 to 42 minutes for standard muffins, or until a cake tester or small wooden skewer inserted into muffins comes out clean. For mini muffins, check for doneness starting at 32 minutes.
These muffins are best the day they are made or the next day. Warm day-old muffins in the oven at 300ºF for 10 minutes. To freeze, wrap in plastic wrap and store in the freezer for up to 6 months.