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Superfood Spotlight: The Beautiful, Fabulously Versatile Pumpkin

Not only a beloved symbol of the fall season, the pumpkin has become well- appreciated in recent years for its culinary versatility, from sweet to savory. But did you know the pumpkin offers a variety of health benefits?

Pumpkins are an autumn icon. We pick them. We carve them. We use them as décor. But pumpkins aren’t just seasonal ornaments. Pumpkins are actually one of the most nutrient-dense fruits out there, being low in calories but rich in vitamins, minerals, and fiber.[1-3] What do pumpkins have to offer in the nutrition department?

High in Beta Carotene

Pumpkins are particularly rich in beta carotene, an antioxident and precurser to vitamin A.[4] Beta-carotene is a type of carotenoid that your body converts nto vitamin A.[5,6] Consuming foods high in beta-carotene can neutralize free radicals and stop them from damaging your cells.[7] This can benefit your body in a number of ways, including reducing the risk for certain types of cancer, offering protection against asthma and heart disease, and decreasing the risk of age- related macular degeneration.[2,5]

Boosts Immunity

Pumpkin is also high in vitamins A and C. Vitamin A is an essential nutrient that strengthens your immune system and can help fight infections.[8] Vitamin C, another essential nutrient and a powerful antioxidant, helps control free radicals, which maintain the structural integrity of cells and tissues.[9] This can protect and strengthen your body’s immune system and stimulate the activity of white blood cells. Pumpkins also supply vitamin E and folic acid, both essential for antibody production.[10,11]

Supports Healthy Skin

Vitamins A and C are also crucial in maintaining healthy skin. The retinol in vitamin A, which can be found in numerous beauty products, stimulates production of new skin cells. This allows skin to heal and prevents dryness.[12] Vitamin C aids in building collagen, a fibrous protein that is the main component in connective tissue that can improve skin elasticity and increase blood flow to the skin.13 Both vitamins A and C enhance skin barrier function.11 Pumpkins also contain lutein and zeaxanthin, which can help keep your skin strong and healthy.[8]

Supports Healthy Weight

Pumpkin is considered a nutrient-dense food, meaning that it’s low in calories but high in nutrients. You can consume a greater quantity of pumpkin than some of the
other carb sources—such as breads and potatoes— but still consume less calories, which can promote a feeling of fullness. One cup of cooked pumpkin is less than 50 calories. Furthermore, this type of squash is about 94-percent water.[8]

High in Fiber

A diet high in fiber is associated with a reduced risk of heart disease and obesity.[14] Fiber can help curb your appetite, slow the rate of sugar absoprtion into the blood, and regulate bowel movements. A diet high in fiber can also reduce the risk of colon cancer. Pumpkins are very high in fiber. Whole, roasted pumpkin seeds in their shells contain 5.2g of fiber per serving. One cup of cooked, fresh pumpkin has 3g of fiber, while a serving of canned pumpkin provides 7g of fiber. Avoid canned pumpkin pie mix, which contains a lot of added sugars, and stick to canned pumpkin where pumpkin is the only ingredient.[4,14]

Pumpkins at a Glance1,3,6,15,16

  • Pumpkin is a type of squash that belongs to the Cucurbitaceae family. It’s native to North America and is particularly popular around Thanksgiving and Halloween.
  • Pumpkins have been grown in North America for 5,000 years but are indigenous to the western hemisphere.
  • While commonly viewed as a vegetable, pumpkin is scientifically a fruit, as it contains seeds.
  • Beta-carotene is a powerful antioxidant that gives fruits
    and vegetables, like mangos, sweet potatoes, apricots, and peppers, their distinct, vibrant red- orange color.
  • Pumpkinseeds should be planted between the last week of May and the middle of June. They take between 90 and 120 days to grow and are picked in October when they are a bright orange color.

 

Editor’s Note: Pumpkin seeds are very high in fiber, which means for some people (e.g., those who do not normally consume a lot of daily fiber or those with digestive issues, such as Crohn’s disease), consuming pumpkin seeds may cause gastrointestinal (GI) problems, such as diarrhea, pain, and bloating.17

Sources

  1. Covington C. Fall superfood spotlight: pumpkin. Updated 2 Oct 2013. Meredith Health Group website. https://www.health.com/family/fall-superfood-spotlight-pumpkin. Accessed 3 Sep 2020.
  2. Ware M. What are the health benefits of pumpkins? Medical News Today website. Updated 1 Nov 2019. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/279610. Accessed 3 Sep 2020.
  3. Salehi B, Capanoglu E, Adrar N, et al. Cucurbits plants: a key emphasis to its pharmacological potential. Molecules. 2019;24(10):1854. 
  4. Ware M. What are the health benefits of pumpkins? Updated 1 Nov 2019. Medical News Today website. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/279610. Accessed 3 Sep 2020.
  5. Dar AH, Sofi SA, Rafiq S. Pumpkin the functional and therapeutic ingredient: a review. Int J Food Sci Nutr. 2017;2(6):165-170.
  6. Newman T. All you need to know about beta carotene. 14 Dec 2017. Medical News Today website. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/252758. Accessed October 6, 2020.
  7. Spencer SP, Belkaid Y. Dietary and commensal derived nutrients: shaping mucosal and systemic immunity. Curr Opin Immunol. 2012;24(4):379-84
  8. Raman R. 9 impressive health benefits of pumpkin. Healthline website. Updated 28 Aug 2020. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/pumpkin. 3 Sep 2020.
  9. Bendich A. Physiological role of antioxidants in the immune system. J Dairy Sci. 1993;76(9):2789–2794.
  10. Roy S, Datta S. A comprehensive review of the versatile pumpkin seeds (Cucurbita maxima) as a valuable natural medicine. Int J Curr Res. 2015;7(8):9355-19361.
  11. Maggini S, Wintergerst ES, Beveridge S, Hornig DH. Selected vitamins and trace elements support immune function by strengthening epithelial barriers and cellular and humoral immune responses. Br J Nutr. 2007;98 Suppl 1:S29–35.
  12. Whelan C. The benefits and Llmits of vitamin A for your skin. Healthline website. Updated 20 Aug 2018. https://www.healthline.com/health/vitamin-a-for-skin. Accessed 6 oct 2020.
  13. Wilson DR. Vitamin C: why is it important? Medical News Today website. Updated 10 Apr 2017. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/219352. Accessed 2 Sep 2020.
  14. American Heart Association site. Pumpkin seeds pack a healthy punch.18 Oct 2018.  https://www.heart.org/en/news/2018/10/25/pumpkin-seeds-pack-a-healthy-punch. 27 Oct 2020.
  15. Montesano D, Blasi F, Simonetti MS, et al. Chemical and nutritional characterization of seed oil from Cucurbita maxima L. (var. Berrettina) pumpkin. Foods. 2018;7(3):30. 
  16. History.com site editors. Pumpkin facts. Updated 10 Jun 2019. History.com site. https://www.history.com/topics/halloween/pumpkin-facts. Accessed 6 Oct 2020.
  17. Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation site. What should I eat? https://www.crohnscolitisfoundation.org/diet-and-nutrition/what-should-i-eat . Accessed 29 Oct 2020.  

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