Pumpkin is a variety of squash that people often think of as a traditional Halloween decoration or a Thanksgiving pie filling. However, the flesh of the pumpkin plant provides a range of health benefits outside of popular festivities.
There are many ways to incorporate pumpkin into desserts, soups, salads, preserves, and even as a substitute for butter.
This Medical News Today Knowledge Center feature is part of a collection of articles on the health benefits of popular foods.
Here, we examine the many benefits of pumpkins, provide a nutritional breakdown, and look at ways to include pumpkin in a healthful diet.
Pumpkin has a range of fantastic benefits, including being one of the best-known sources of beta carotene.
Beta carotene is a powerful antioxidant that gives orange vegetables and fruits their vibrant color. The body converts any ingested beta carotene into vitamin A.
Consuming foods with high volumes of beta carotene may have the following benefits:
- reducing the risk of developing certain types of cancer
- offering protection against asthma and heart disease
- decreasing the risk of age-related macular degeneration
Many studies have suggested that eating more plant foods, such as pumpkin, decreases the risk of obesity and overall mortality. It can also help a person avoid diabetes and heart disease, promote a healthy complexion and hair, increase energy, and a healthy body mass index (BMI).
Research has demonstrated the following health benefits:
Regulating blood pressure
Eating pumpkin is good for the heart. The fiber, potassium, and vitamin C content in pumpkin all support heart health.
High blood pressure is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease (CVD). Typically, reducing sodium intake involves eating meals that contain little or no salt.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Office of Dietary Supplements, consuming more potassium may also reduce the risk of other types of CVD.
More research is necessary to confirm the effects of pumpkin consumption on stroke and CVD risk.
Reducing the risk of cancer
Preventing and controlling diabetes
Including pumpkin in the diet may help people control diabetes and their blood sugar levels.
A 2019 study shows that a combination of two plant extracts, one of which was pumpkin polysaccharides, brought down blood sugar levels in mice.
Although the study did not involve humans, the research shows some potential for these plant compounds to limit type 2 diabetes.
Due to their impact on blood sugar, scientists may be able to rework them into an antidiabetic medication, though further studies are necessary.
Protects against age-related eye problems
Pumpkins contain a wealth of antioxidants. Vitamin C, vitamin E, and beta carotene support eye health and prevent degenerative damage in older adults.
The National Eye Institute conducted a clinical trial in 2019 called the Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS).
The results showed that high doses of vitamin C, vitamin E, and beta carotene had links to a significantly reduced risk of age-related macular degeneration.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture’s FoodData Central database, 1 cup or 245 grams (g) of cooked, boiled, or drained pumpkin, without salt, contains:
- 1.76 g of protein
- 2.7 g of fiber
- 49 calories (kcal)
- 0.17 g of fat
- 0 g of cholesterol
- 12 g of carbohydrate
Pumpkin also provides a range of essential vitamins and minerals, including:
- vitamin A
- vitamin C
- vitamin E
- vitamin B-6
- pantothenic acid
Pumpkins are a fantastic source of fiber. The recommended intake of fiber is between 25 g and 38 g per day for adults.
Fiber slows the rate of sugar absorption into the blood, promotes regular bowel movements, and smooths digestion. A healthful fiber intake can also help reduce the risk of colon cancer.
With nearly 3 g of fiber in I cup of cooked, fresh pumpkin, and more than 7 g in canned pumpkin, adding pumpkin to a daily diet can help a person increase their fiber intake.
There are many ways people can eat more pumpkin. Preparing fresh pumpkin at home will deliver the most benefits for health, but canned pumpkin is also a great choice. Pumpkin retains many of its health benefits in the canning process.
People should steer clear of canned pumpkin pie mix for regular consumption. This is usually next to the canned pumpkin in grocery stores and is often in a similar can. It contains added sugars and syrups.
Canned pumpkin should have only one ingredient, which is pumpkin.
Although the variety of pumpkins that feature in the making of jack-o-lanterns is edible, it is best to cook with sweet or pie pumpkin varieties.
Make sure the pumpkin has a few inches of stem remaining. It should also be hard and heavy for its size. People can store uncut pumpkins in a cool, dark place for up to 2 months.
Here are some simple tips for including pumpkin in a healthful diet:
- 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.
Are other squash plants as healthful as pumpkin?
Yes, in general. Pumpkins are a type of squash, which range from winter squash to summer squash.
Most edible squashes have their own unique properties. However, in general, they all have high fiber content and contain various minerals and vitamins.
Miho Hatanaka, RDN, LD Answers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.