The Great Pumpkin: Eight Health Benefits of Your Favorite Fall Super Squash
Since early September, when just the slightest chill began to creep into the morning air, pumpkin spice lattes and baked goods have been making their annual resurgence. But pumpkin is so much more than a flavoring for fall beverages and scented candles, or a canvas for a devilish grin on your front stoop at Halloween.
Next time you go to carve a pumpkin, consider slicing it and roasting, boiling, or steaming it and adding it to both sweet and savory recipes instead of turning it into a Jack-O-Lantern. Those who are less adventurous in the kitchen can simply open a can of pureed pumpkin (NOT pumpkin pie mix, which contains added sugar and spices). Or, the seeds can be toasted and added to salads and baked goods, or enjoyed on their own as a snack.
A true superfood, pumpkin is nutritionally dense and low-calorie. Here are eight reasons you should enjoy this fall favorite all year long.
Pumpkin is Packed with Vitamins and Minerals
One cup of cooked pumpkin has just 50 calories but packs 245% of the RDI of Vitamin A, 19% of Vitamin C, 16% of potassium, and 11% of copper and manganese. It also has three grams of fiber and is made of 94% water, so it makes you feel fuller, longer, and helps with digestion and hydration. Add it to smoothies, soups, baked goods. Puree and mix into overnight oats, oatmeal, or plain vanilla yogurt topped with cinnamon and a drizzle of honey.
Pumpkin is High in Antioxidants
The carotenoids alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, and beta-cryptoxanthin are responsible for the bright orange color of pumpkins, and they are incredibly efficient antioxidants. They can neutralize free radicals, preventing them from damaging your cells and reducing the risk of cancer. Pumpkin is also high in zinc, which has been shown to ward off prostate cancer.
Pumpkin Supports a Healthy Immune System
Pumpkin’s robust levels of Vitamin A lead to an increase in the production of natural killer cells that fight infection. High levels of vitamin C also encourage the growth and function of immune cells and antibody production, specifically the white blood cells lymphocytes and phagocytes, which help protect the body against infection.
Pumpkin Promotes Healthy Eyesight
The carotenoids Lutein and Zeaxanthin are known to protect eyesight by filtering out damaging light wavelengths, and subsequently warding off macular degeneration and cataracts. Vitamin A, in combination with the zinc, copper, and vitamin C also found in pumpkin, can decrease the risk of macular degeneration; Vitamin A deficiency is one of the most common causes of blindness worldwide. Zinc also reduces the risk of macular degeneration and helps to reduce the loss of visual sharpness.
Pumpkin is Good for Your Skin
Carotenoids can act as natural sunblock, boosting your skin’s resistance to sun damage. High intake of vitamin A has been shown to reduce the risk of skin cancer, specifically cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma. Pumpkin is also loaded with alpha-hydroxy acids, or AHAs. When used topically, they naturally and gently exfoliate the skin. Additionally, pumpkin’s zinc and potassium combat redness. Mix pureed pumpkin with honey and apple cider vinegar to make a face mask that will leave your skin glowing.
Pumpkin Promotes Heart Health
The fiber, potassium, and vitamin C found in pumpkin are all good for your heart. One study showed consuming enough potassium may be as beneficial to the heart as decreasing sodium intake. Additionally, the oils from pumpkin seeds are one of the best plant-based sources of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which help to prevent high blood pressure and can lower already-high levels.
Pumpkin Can Lower Blood Sugar Levels
Pumpkin and pumpkin seeds have been shown to reduce blood sugar levels, which is especially important for people with diabetes who struggle to control their blood sugar. Pumpkin seeds contain 37% of the RDI of magnesium per cup; magnesium is vital to many chemical reactions in the body that improve insulin sensitivity and regulate blood sugar.
Pumpkin Seeds Can Help You Sleep
Pumpkin seeds are rich in tryptophan, an amino acid that gets converted to serotonin, which may also explain post-Thanksgiving sleepiness. Serotonin is the “feel-good” neurotransmitter that both improves your mood and helps you to relax and fall asleep; serotonin levels are typically low in those who can’t sleep through the night. Additionally, the high amount of zinc in pumpkin seeds helps the brain convert tryptophan to serotonin. Humans do not make tryptophan, so it must be obtained through diet.