9 Impressive Health Benefits of Pumpkin

Pumpkin is a type of winter squash that belongs to the Cucurbitaceae family. It’s native to North America and particularly popular around Thanksgiving and Halloween. In the US, pumpkin typically refers to Cucurbita pepo, an orange type of winter squash. In other regions, such as Australia, pumpkin may refer to any type of winter squash. While commonly viewed as a vegetable, pumpkin is scientifically a fruit, as it contains seeds. That said, it’s nutritionally more similar to vegetables than fruits. Beyond its delicious taste, pumpkin is nutritious and linked to many health benefits. Here are 9 impressive nutrition and health benefits of pumpkin:
  1. Highly Nutritious and Particularly Rich in Vitamin A

Pumpkin has an impressive nutrient profile.
One cup of cooked pumpkin (245 grams) contains:
  • Calories: 49
  • Fat: 0.2 grams
  • Protein: 2 grams
  • Carbs: 12 grams
  • Fiber: 3 grams
  • Vitamin A: 245% of the Reference Daily Intake (RDI)
  • Vitamin C: 19% of the RDI
  • Potassium: 16% of the RDI
  • Copper: 11% of the RDI
  • Manganese: 11% of the RDI
  • Vitamin B2: 11% of the RDI
  • Vitamin E: 10% of the RDI
  • Iron: 8% of the RDI
  • Small amounts of magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, folate and several B vitamins.

Besides being packed with vitamins and minerals, pumpkin is also relatively low in calories, as it’s 94% water. It’s also very high in beta-carotene, a carotenoid that your body turns into vitamin A. Moreover, pumpkin seeds are edible, nutritious and linked to numerous health benefits.

  1. High Antioxidant Content May Reduce Your Risk of Chronic Diseases

Free radicals are molecules produced by your body’s metabolic process. Though highly unstable, they have useful roles, such as destroying harmful bacteria. However, excessive free radicals in your body create a state called oxidative stress, which has been linked to chronic illnesses, including heart disease and cancer. Pumpkins contain antioxidants, such as alpha-carotene, beta-carotene and beta-cryptoxanthin. These can neutralize free radicals, stopping them from damaging your cells. Test-tube and animal studies have shown that these antioxidants protect skin against sun damage and lower the risk of cancer, eye diseases and other conditions. However, keep in mind that more human-based research is needed to make
health recommendations.

  1. Packs Vitamins That May Boost Immunity

Pumpkin is loaded with nutrients that can boost your immune system. For one, it’s high in beta-carotene, which your body turns into vitamin A. Studies show that vitamin A can strengthen your immune system and help fight infections. Conversely, people with a vitamin A deficiency can have a weaker immune system. Pumpkin is also high in vitamin C, which has been shown to increase white blood cell production, help immune cells work more effectively and make wounds heal faster. Aside from the two vitamins mentioned above, pumpkin is also a good source of vitamin E, iron and folate — all of which have been shown to aid the immune system as well.

  1. Vitamin A, Lutein and Zeaxanthin May Protect Your Eyesight

It’s quite common for eyesight to diminish with age. Fortunately, eating the right nutrients can lower your risk of sight loss. Pumpkin is plentiful in nutrients that have been linked to strong eyesight as your body ages. For instance, its beta-carotene content provides your body with necessary vitamin A. Research shows that vitamin A deficiency is a very common cause of blindness. In an analysis of 22 studies, scientists discovered that people with higher intakes of beta-carotene had a significantly lower risk of cataracts, a common cause of blindness. Pumpkin is also one of the best sources of lutein and zeaxanthin, two compounds linked to lower risks of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and cataracts. Additionally, it contains good amounts of vitamins C and E, which function as antioxidants and may prevent free radicals from damaging your eye cells.

  1. Nutrient Density and Low Calorie Count May Promote Weight Loss

Pumpkin is considered a nutrient-dense food. That means it’s incredibly low in calories despite being packed with nutrients. In fact, pumpkin clocks in at under 50 calories per cup (245 grams) and consists of about 94%of water. Simply put, pumpkin is a weight-loss friendly food because you can consume more of it than other carb sources — such as rice and potatoes — but still take in fewer calories. What’s more, pumpkin is a good source of fiber, which can help curb your appetite.

  1. Antioxidant Content May Lower Your Risk of Cancer

Cancer is a serious illness in which cells grow abnormally. Cancer cells produce free radicals to help them multiply rapidly. Pumpkin is high in carotenoids, which are compounds that can function as antioxidants. This allows them to neutralize free radicals, which may protect against certain cancers. For instance, an analysis of 13 studies showed that people with higher intakes of alpha-carotene and beta-carotene had significantly lower risks of stomach cancers. Similarly, many other human studies have found that individuals with higher intakes of carotenoids have lower risks of throat, pancreas, breast and other cancers. However, scientists aren’t sure if the carotenoids themselves or other factors — such as lifestyle habits of those who consume diets rich in carotenoids — are responsible for these lowered risks.

  1. Potassium, Vitamin C and Fiber May Benefit Heart Health

Pumpkin contains a variety of nutrients that can improve your heart health. It’s high in potassium, vitamin C and fiber, which have been linked to heart benefits. For instance, studies have shown that people with higher potassium intakes appear to have lower blood pressure and a reduced risk of strokes — two risk factors for heart disease. Pumpkin is also high in antioxidants, which may protect “bad” LDL cholesterol from oxidizing.  When LDL cholesterol particles oxidize, they can clump along the walls of blood vessels, which can restrict your vessels and raise your risk of heart disease.

  1. Contains Compounds That Promote Healthy Skin

Pumpkins are loaded with nutrients that are great for your skin. For one, it’s high in carotenoids like beta-carotene, which your body turns into vitamin A. In fact, one cup (245 grams) of cooked pumpkin packs 245% of the RDI for vitamin A. Studies show that carotenoids like beta-carotene can act as a natural sunblock. Once ingested, carotenoids are transported to various organs including your skin. Here, they help protect skin cells against damage from harmful UV rays. Pumpkin is also high in vitamin C, which is essential for healthy skin. Your body needs this vitamin to make collagen, a protein that keeps your skin strong and healthy. Moreover, pumpkins contain lutein, zeaxanthin, vitamin E and many more antioxidants that have been shown to boost your skin’s defenses against UV rays.

  1. Incredibly Versatile and Easy to Add to Your Diet

Pumpkin is delicious, versatile and easy to add to your diet. Its sweet flavor makes it a popular ingredient in dishes like custards, pies and pancakes. However, it works just as well in savory dishes such as roasted vegetables, soups and pastas. Pumpkins have a very tough skin, so it requires some effort to slice. Once you cut it, scoop out the seeds and any stringy parts, then slice the pumpkin into wedges.  

The seeds are also edible and packed with nutrients which offer many other benefits. For instance, pumpkin seeds may improve bladder and heart health. 

Pumpkin is also available pre-cut or canned, giving you flexibility with your recipes and preparation. When buying canned, be sure to read labels carefully, as not all products will be 100% pumpkin and you may want to avoid added ingredients, particularly sugar. The easiest way to eat pumpkin is to season it with salt and pepper and roast it in the oven. Many people also enjoy making it into pumpkin soup, especially during winter.

 

Who Shouldn’t Eat Pumpkin?

Pumpkin is very healthy and considered safe for most. However, some people may experience allergies after eating pumpkin. It’s also considered mildly diuretic, which means eating a lot of pumpkin may induce a “water pill”-like reaction, increasing the amount of water and salt your body expels through urine. This effect may harm people taking certain medicines such as lithium. Diuretics can impair your body’s ability to remove lithium, causing serious side effects. Although pumpkin is healthy, many pumpkin-based junk foods — such as lattés, candies and pie fillings — are loaded with added sugar. They do not offer the same health benefits as consuming the fruit.

The Bottom Line

Rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, pumpkin is incredibly healthy. What’s more, its low calorie content makes it a weight-loss-friendly food. Its nutrients and antioxidants may boost your immune system, protect your eyesight, lower your risk of certain cancers and promote heart and skin health. Pumpkin is very versatile and easy to add to your diet in both sweet and savory dishes. Try incorporating pumpkin into your diet today to reap its health benefits.

 

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