Good gourd! These surprising health benefits of pumpkin will inspire you to add more of it to your menu.
The Many Health Benefits of Pumpkin
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Far too often relegated to Halloween doorstep décor and coffee drink marketing device, pumpkin and all its health benefits deserve more. (Psst...there's actually only a tiny amount of pumpkin in the PSL.) Pumpkin calories clock in at just 49 per cup of purée, plus that serving sneaks in 3 grams of fiber, 1 gram of protein, and a whopping 250 percent of your daily value of vitamin A. Together this puts it on top the ranks of one of fall's six most nutritious foods.
Enjoy it sliced fresh, then roasted, boiled, or steamed—or open a can of pumpkin purée. "Just make sure you purchase pure pumpkin purée rather than canned pumpkin pie; there is a big difference. It's naturally sweet and can add a nice complexity to sweet and savory dishes," says Jenna A. Werner, R.D., creator of Happy Slim Healthy, then you'll be off, running and well on your way to enjoying all of these incredible pumpkin benefits. (Related: These Pumpkin Spice-Flavored Foods and Drinks Will Get You Majorly Excited for Fall)
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Pumpkin Helps Digestion
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"Pumpkins are a good source of fiber, which helps keep you feeling full and promotes healthy digestion," says Werner.
The health benefits of pumpkin's fiber don't stop there: All those stomach-satisfying powers also lower your risk for obesity, all while increasing nutrient absorption, according to research published in the journal Nutrients. It also slows absorption of the carbohydrates, including natural sugars, so you don't experience the blood sugar highs and lows of, say, a handful of gummy bears.
Plus like many hydrating fruits and vegetables, pumpkin is mostly made of water (about 90 percent)—a helpful bonus that supports normal bowel movements. Think more regular digestion; fewer stomach grumbles.
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Pumpkin Regulates Blood Pressure
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Your heart loves pumpkin as much as your taste buds do. "Pumpkin contains potassium and antioxidants, which contribute to good heart health," says Werner.
While the pumpkin purée nutrition facts panel lists only a half gram of fat, there are more oils in the seeds. That healthy pumpkin seed oil helps prevent high blood pressure—and can lower already-high levels, according to the Journal of Medicinal Food.
Don't stress about how to add more pumpkin to your diet. (That stress is bad for your blood pressure, don't you know?) Here, Werner and Bonnie Taub-Dix, R.D.N., a dietitian based in New York City, and author of Read It Before You Eat It: Taking You from Label to Table, share some wise ways to get your pumpkin nutrition fix:
- Add pumpkin to smoothies.
- Purée pumpkin into soups.
- Mix pumpkin into overnight oats or oatmeal bowls.
- Stir pumpkin into plain yogurt and top with cinnamon.
- Whisk pumpkin into cheesy pasta sauces.
- Incorporate pumpkin into this pumpkin bread with avocado, dark chocolate chips, and almonds.
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Pumpkin Reduces Cancer Risk
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A magical combo platter of vitamins A and C, iron, and more nutrients make pumpkin natural armor against cancer cells. In particular, the health benefits of pumpkin decrease risk for prostate, breast, and colon cancers, according to previous research. Consuming the antioxidants found in foods like pumpkin, corn, and beans leads to less oxidative stress, a major factor in decreasing cancer risk.
And once again, the fiber may play a role here, says Taub-Dix. Consuming more soluble fiber has been linked to lower risk of mouth, colon and stomach cancers, too. (P.S. Don't toss out the pumpkin seeds either: 5 Reasons to Eat Toasted Pumpkin Seeds)
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Pumpkin Combats Diabetes
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When you enjoy it unadorned (aka no fancy stuff, just the squash), pumpkin calories are quite low. Since following a low-cal diet (and losing weight, if necessary) is key to keeping type 2 diabetes in check, that makes pumpkin a wise choice. "Seek out canned pumpkin without added sugar and you can enjoy it all year," says Taub-Dix.
The phenolic phytochemicals in this superfruit have been shown to control blood sugar levels, and in turn, lower the risk for diabetes. (Related: What Are These Phytonutrients Everyone Keeps Talking About?)
"Boosting fiber consumption can help maintain blood sugar levels, too, which can aid in weight loss and help manage diabetes," says Werner.
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Pumpkin Improves Immunity
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Feel the sniffles coming on? Start your day by flipping a stack of pumpkin flapjacks.
"The vitamin C in pumpkin is great for your immune system, especially in cold weather," says Werner.
Peptides in pumpkin seeds may also have antimicrobial effects.
Beta-carotene is converted into vitamin A in the body—and is found in spades in pumpkin. That boosts the "natural killer" cells that fight diseases including ear, bladder, and kidney infections, reports The Journal of Nutrition.
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Pumpkin Improves Eye Health
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This stellar winter squash is a real vision-booster. "Pumpkin is rich in carotenoids, which can be converted to vitamin A, important for keeping your skin and eyes healthy," says Taub-Dix.
The carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin, in particular, are beneficial in the battle against cataracts.
You've heard all about the sight advantages of carrots, right? Well the health benefits of pumpkin trump the same size serving of the root veggie: Half a cup of pumpkin contains more than 1,000 milligrams of vitamin A, while a half cup of cooked carrots has about 700 milligrams. (This is just another reason you should eat colorful foods.)
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Pumpkin Boosts Muscle Function
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"As a good source of potassium, a nutrient the majority of us don't get enough of, pumpkin can improve muscle function," says Taub-Dix.
Pumpkin seeds are a strong source of muscle-building amino acids and muscle-relaxing magnesium.
Bonus pumpkin benefit: This filling squash could also potentially help you lose weight.
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