If the only thing you have ever done with pumpkin is carve it and fill it with a candle, you are not alone. Many people tend to think of pumpkins as little more than just a Halloween decoration or a Thanksgiving pie filling, but you may want to rethink this plump orange plant.
Pumpkin is an extremely nutrient dense food, meaning it is chock-full of vitamins and minerals but low on calories. There are many creative ways pumpkin can be incorporated into your diet, including desserts, soups, salads, preserves and even as a substitute for butter. Next time pumpkin season comes around, don't carve it, cook it up and eat it!
This MNT Knowledge Center feature is part of a collection of articles on the health benefits of popular foods.
Fast facts on pumpkin
Here are some key points about pumpkin. More detail and supporting information is in the main article.
- Pumpkin is a rich source of vitamin A.
- Pumpkin is one of the best-known sources of the antioxidant beta-carotene.
- The potassium contained within pumpkins can have a positive effect on blood pressure.
- The antioxidants and vitamins contained within pumpkins could prevent degenerative damage to the eyes.
- Canned pumpkin pie mix typically contains added sugars and syrups.
- Conversely, canned pumpkin should just contain pumpkin and no other ingredients.
- Uncut pumpkins should be stored in a cool, dark place for up to 2 months.
- Pumpkin puree or canned pumpkin can be used as a replacement for butter or oil in baking recipes.
Nutritional breakdown of pumpkin
Pumpkin is an extremely nutrient dense food, meaning it is high in vitamins and minerals but low in calories.
According to the USDA National Nutrient database, one cup of pumpkin, cooked, boiled, drained and without salt contains 49 calories, 1.76 grams of protein, 0.17 grams of fat, 0 grams of cholesterol and 12 grams of carbohydrate (including 2.7 grams of fiber and 5.1 grams of sugar).
Consuming one cup of cooked, canned pumpkin would provide well over 100% of your daily needs for vitamin A, 20% of the daily value for vitamin C, 10% or more for vitamin E, riboflavin, potassium, copper and manganese at least 5% for thiamin, B-6, folate, pantothenic acid, niacin, iron, magnesium, and phosphorus.
Of course, using fresh pumpkin and preparing it yourself will give you the most health benefits, but canned pumpkin is also a great choice. Be sure to steer clear of canned pumpkin pie mix, which is usually right next to the canned pumpkin in grocery stores and in a similar can but has added sugars, syrups, etc. Canned pumpkin should have only one ingredient: pumpkin.
Possible health benefits of consuming pumpkin
Consuming fruits and vegetables of all kinds has long been associated with a reduced risk of many lifestyle-related health conditions. Many studies have suggested that increasing consumption of plant foods like pumpkin decreases the risk of obesity and overall mortality, diabetes, heart disease and promotes a healthy complexion and hair, increased energy, overall lower weight.
Pumpkin is one of the best-known sources of beta-carotene, a powerful antioxidant known to give orange vegetables and fruits their vibrant color and which is converted to vitamin A in the body. Consuming foods rich in beta-carotene may reduce the risk of developing certain types of cancer, offer protection against asthma and heart disease, and delay aging and body degeneration.
There are many creative ways pumpkin can be incorporated into your diet, including desserts, soups, salads, preserves and even as a substitute for butter.
Eating pumpkin is good for the heart! The fiber, potassium and vitamin C content in pumpkin all support heart health.
Consuming adequate potassium is almost as important as decreasing sodium intake for treatment of hypertension (high-blood pressure). Other foods that are high in potassium include cantaloupe, pineapple, tomatoes, oranges, spinach and bananas.
Increased potassium intakes are also associated with a reduced risk of stroke, protection against loss of muscle mass, preservation of bone mineral density and reduction in the formation of kidney stones.7
One particular type of cancer where research has shown a positive benefits of a diet rich in beta-carotene is prostate cancer, according to a study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health's Department of Nutrition.5 Beta-carotene has also been shown to have an inverse association with the development of colon cancer in the Japanese population.4
The antioxidants vitamin C, vitamin E and beta-carotene (all of which pumpkin has) have been shown to support eye health and prevent degenerative damage.
A higher intake of all fruits (3 or more servings per day) has also been shown to decrease the risk of and progression of age-related macular degeneration.
For women of child-bearing age, consuming more iron from plant sources such as spinach, beans, pumpkin, tomatoes, and beets appear to promote fertility, according Harvard Medical School's Harvard Health Publications. The vitamin A in pumpkin (consumed as beta-carotene then converted to vitamin A in the body) is also essential during pregnancy and lactation for hormone synthesis.
Plant foods like pumpkins that are high in both vitamin C and beta-carotene offer an immunity boost from their powerful combination of nutrients.
How to incorporate more pumpkin into your diet
Although the jack-o-lantern variety of pumpkins is perfectly edible, look for the sweet or pie pumpkin varieties for cooking, which are smaller and sweeter. Make sure your pumpkin has a few inches of stem left and that it is hard and heavy for its size. Store uncut pumpkins in a cool dark place for up to two months.
- Make your own pumpkin puree instead of buying canned
- Use pumpkin puree or canned pumpkin in place of oil or butter in any baking recipe
- Make a quick treat of pumpkin chocolate yogurt by combining Greek yogurt, pumpkin puree or canned pumpkin, honey, cinnamon and cocoa powder.
Try some of these good-for-you recipes that incorporate pumpkin:
Banana pumpkin power smoothie
Low fat pumpkin bread with cinnamon cream cheese
A healthier pumpkin pie
Green pumpkin pie smoothie
Blueberry pumpkin oat muffins
Savory Italian sausage and pumpkin penne.
Potential health risks of consuming pumpkin
It is the total diet or overall eating pattern that is most important in disease prevention and achieving good health. It is better to eat a diet with a variety than to concentrate on individual foods as the key to good health.
Written by Megan Ware RDN LD