Dr. Kestner: What do you feed the great pumpkin?

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You may not know this, but right here in Murfreesboro there is an undercover laboratory of sorts developing what could one day be the world’s largest pumpkin.

A fellow I know, I’ll call him “Pumpkin Pete,” has been working on this project for a while. I am using the fictional name of Pumpkin Pete for a reason. The competition to grow the plumpest pumpkin is fierce. There are growers competing from all across the country, and success secrets are guarded closely. For this story I agreed to not reveal his name nor disclose any details about the location of this clandestine horticultural project. The actual site is secured and camouflaged by its surroundings. At first it appears to be a normal family suburban home. Only careful investigation would reveal the covert activity being carried out there.

To further obscure the true purpose of the facility, Pete even houses his family on site. His two young sons don’t yet understand why they are not allowed to invite friends over to play without first being subjected to a background check. Pete wants his little pumpkin eaters to have friends, but knows he can’t afford to get sloppy about security at this critical stage of development.

Pete’s wife has mixed views of the project. She supports her husband’s ambitions and efforts, but she grows tired of telling the boys that Daddy can’t play right now, he is doing “field research.” (She’s also glad to not be mentioned by name.)

Pete began with a purchase of a few seeds from an elite pumpkin lineage. Just as the most successful race horses in history have been bred from champion genetic lines, so it will be with the great pumpkin. Intense effort has gone into manipulating the factors that may be influential in the development of the gigantic gourd. A site was selected for its ratio of sun to shade, drainage and soil conditions. A first-class irrigation system has been installed. It is a one-of-kind design engineered specifically for the needs of the future record breaker.

Pumpkin Pete has spent hours researching the selection of soil nutrients for his pumpkin. Not just any backyard dirt for this big fellow. Pete has researched the special requirements of normal pumpkins as well as those of humongous pumpkins. It turns out that certain soil nutrients are required to sustain a continual period of growth and maintain healthy immune systems to stave off disease. And don’t forget the importance of color. Specific nutrients can even affect a pumpkin’s “blush.”

Let’s all wish Pete a lot of luck. He has a way to go; the current record is 1,689 pounds!

Discussing all the attention given to the diet of the potentially prodigious pumpkin leads me to a question about the diet of all those “little punkins” out there. I’m talking about infant formula.

Research has repeatedly demonstrated the superiority of human breast milk over formula, but there are many moms that must rely on infant formula for a number of reasons. To learn more about the best products for infant feeding, I began to do a little label reading.

I saw two or three products that promoted themselves as being “most like breast milk.” The front of the label proclaimed two or three key nutrients that sounded important. When I turned to the back of the label and read the entire list, the first two ingredients listed (and therefore the most abundant), were powdered milk and corn syrup. That’s the best there is? That’s what this company considers closest to breast milk … corn syrup?

As I read more labels, I found various combinations of organic or lactose-free powdered cow’s milk, soy powder and a few other sources of protein, all with corn syrup listed as the second ingredient.

Is a steady diet consisting solely of powdered protein blended with corn syrup a healthy choice for infants? The explanation will require a whole column and will appear in a few weeks.

While you are waiting for that column and Pumpkin Pete persists in his efforts to procure the pumpkin prize, I hope you enjoy a happy and safe Halloween with your family.

Dr. Mark Kestner
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