Pumpkins are widely grown and are very popular – especially in the fall.
Yet, most of the focus is on the flavor, rather than the health benefits of pumpkin.
Don’t get me wrong, there are some amazing recipes out there. But, if you’re going to rely on pumpkin this season, learning the health benefits makes sense.
Health Benefits of Pumpkin
There are many indirect advantages of pumpkin, simply because the vegetable contains important nutrients. Indeed, a plant-rich diet has considerable benefits regardless of the specific plants you choose.
Even so, there are some specific health benefits that pumpkin offers.
Some of the compounds in pumpkin have been specifically associated with the prevention of cancer and there has even been some indication of a role in cancer treatment (1).
One key protein in this role is cucurmosin. Research suggests that the protein can inhibit the proliferation of a specific cell type associated with cancer (2).
Pumpkins have also been linked to fighting cancer as the result of phytoestrogens.
In general, phytoestrogens do not perform an essential role in the body. Nevertheless, they may play a role in combating cancer, specifically in relation to hormone-dependent tumors.
One study considered this role by looking at pumpkin seed extract. The authors found that compounds in pumpkin seeds could be significant in the treatment or prevention of breast cancer (3).
Weight Loss Benefits
Pumpkin is high in fiber but low in calories (4). This helps to make you feel full for longer, which can promote weight loss.
Additionally, pumpkin is relatively low in carbs (even though it isn’t considered a low carb vegetable). This means it can be used by people on a low carb or a ketosis diet, as long as they watch their total carbs.
Indeed, there are many low carb pumpkin recipes to choose from.
You Get Antioxidant Benefits
It’s no secret that antioxidants are good for health. Pumpkin contains a number of these, including beta-carotene, which is a powerful antioxidant.
Can Improve Eyesight
Pumpkin may also promote eyesight – due to the large amounts of vitamin A present (8).
Indeed, seeds from the Cucurbitaceae family (of which pumpkin is a member) have been traditionally used as a treatment for diabetes in Africa (13).
One research study considered the use of a milled seed mixture (sesame, pumpkin and flax seeds) on health outcomes. The authors found that the consumption of the seeds was able to improve glycemic control, decrease triglyceride levels and improve the overall fatty acid profile in patients (16).
Promote Heart Health
Pumpkins contain phytosterols. These have a similar structure to cholesterol and help to reduce levels of LDL cholesterol in the blood (17,18). Research also shows that getting phytosterols from food can be a powerful way to decrease cholesterol levels (19).
May Improve Urinary Tract and Bladder Health
Extract from pumpkin seeds has also been linked to improvements in outcomes for men with lower urinary tract infections.
A randomized controlled trial on the topic used a sample of 1,431 men with related symptoms. Half were given pumpkin seed extract while the rest were given a placebo.
After twelve months, the pumpkin seed group had a clinically relevant increase in quality of life. This shows how pumpkin seed can help in the treatment of urinary tract symptoms (24).
Another study considered the role of pumpkin seed oil in patients with an overactive bladder disorder. 45 participants took part in the study across a period of 12 weeks.
During the study, participants received 10 g of pumpkin seed oil per day. The pumpkin seed oil decreased overactive bladder symptoms (25).
Pumpkin has also been linked to improved sleep because of the amino acid tryptophan. Tryptophan promotes sleep and helps the body to produce serotonin, which helps people to relax and can improve mood (26).
This makes pumpkin a great snack before bed to help you sleep well.
Helps with Parasites
Pumpkin seeds have actually been associated with getting rid of intestinal parasites.
A compound in the seeds helps to paralyze any parasites that you might have. This prevents them from hanging onto the intestine wall – and means that a bowel movement can flush them out.
Pumpkin Nutrition Facts
Vegetables are a powerful source of nutrients and pumpkin is no exception.
The exact nutrient composition varies, as there are many different pumpkin varieties, all with their own properties (28). But, there are similarities as well.
Some of the most significant nutrients and compounds are described below.
Pumpkin is particularly high in vitamin A. A single cup of mashed pumpkin (roughly 245 g) has more than 200% of your daily recommended intake of vitamin A.
Vitamin A is a particularly important nutrient and is associated with improved eye health, as well as in the maintenance of healthy teeth, skin and soft tissue (29).
Fiber is important for helping you to feel full and this can help people who are trying to lose weight. People who eat high fiber diets tend to lose weight faster and eat less overall.
Yet, despite this, the average fiber intake in the United States is less than half of the recommended amount (31). This means that most people need to increase their daily fiber consumption – and pumpkin is a fantastic way of doing just this.
Another important nutrient in pumpkin is potassium.
Often, bananas are referred to as an energy food, partly due to their potassium content.
Potassium helps to balance the electrolytes in the body and helps promote healthy functioning of the muscles. Yet, of the two, a cup of mashed pumpkin contains more potassium (564 mg) than a medium-sized banana (422 mg).
This makes pumpkin a good choice following a workout – such as in a smoothie.
Finally, pumpkin is also a good course of vitamin C and contains close to 20% of the recommended daily value (32).
Pumpkin also contains a range of plant-based compounds, which also offer benefits.
One class is carotenoids. These are pigments that are found in many different plants. There are upwards of 600 different carotenoids and high levels of carotenoid consumption have been linked to protection against some chronic diseases (35) and to improved health outcomes overall (36).
Carotenoids have also been linked to reducing the number of wrinkles in the skin by fighting some of the impacts of aging. This is one reason why carotenoids are included in some cosmetic products (37).
Another important compound is trigonelline. This has been associated with a wide range of health benefits, particularly in relation to diabetes and the central nervous system.
Many of the studies that I talked about earlier showed health benefits from pumpkin seeds or from some of the compounds in the seeds.
The seeds are often wasted and ignored, even though they’re nutritious. They’re also a great snack and a key source of magnesium (39).
Dried pumpkin seeds are a high source of protein, with one cup containing upwards of 33 g of protein. The seeds are also high in vitamin K, riboflavin, folate and thiamin – all of which are relatively uncommon and important nutrients (40).
Likewise, the same serving size of pumpkin seeds contains more than the recommended daily intake for iron, magnesium, phosphorous and manganese (41).
Manganese is another important nutrient. It has a powerful antioxidant role and may help to decrease prostate cancer risk (42).
Plus, pumpkin seeds are high in monounsaturated fats, including oleic acid. This type of fat can decrease the level of bad cholesterol (LDL) in the blood and raise good cholesterol (HDL).
Roasting Pumpkin Seeds
The easiest way to eat pumpkin seeds is roasted – and this is something you can do yourself.
Now, you can buy roasted pumpkin seeds on their own if you want to, but that seems a waste if you are using the rest of the pumpkin anyway. Additionally, most companies tend to majorly over-season their seeds and charge far too much for them.
Another advantage of roasting your own seeds is that you can create a flavor that you find appealing.
The video below shows the various steps involved.
You can follow your own path with seasoning. But, a good place to start is tossing the seeds in olive oil, salt and pepper. This creates a good flavor base, and you can build out from there. The olive oil is particularly important, as it is a healthy oil and stops the seeds from burning when they are in the oven.
The best approach is to pick at least one other flavor to add to the seeds, as salt and pepper aren’t particularly appealing on their own.
One of my favorites is smoked paprika and combinations of chopped herbs also work quite well. The site Serious Eats also has details about interesting flavors you can try for your roasted pumpkin seeds.
However, you can really try just about anything. With some experimenting, you may well find a flavor unique to you that works really well.
Pumpkin Seed Oil
A related area is pumpkin seed oil. This is made by pressing pumpkin seeds that have been roasted and hulled.
The oil can vary from dark green to dark red and has a nutty taste. It is sometimes combined with olive oil or honey to create a salad dressing.
Additionally, pumpkin seed oil is sometimes added to desserts and other dishes.
However, it cannot be effectively used as a cooking oil, as cooking with it destroys the fatty acids present. Some of the key fatty acids present include:
While most studies have focused on pumpkin seeds or pumpkin itself, the oil may offer benefits as well. After all, many of the same compounds are present.
Research has also indicated that the oil has a high amount of carotenoids and fat-soluble vitamins, which are also good for you (46).
How to Use Pumpkin
Most of us use pumpkin either roasted or in pumpkin pie.
However, pumpkin is a versatile ingredient and you can get pumpkin benefits from using it in a wide range of different ways.
In fact, there is a wide range of amazing pumpkin recipes that let you get much more out of pumpkin, regardless of your taste preferences.
For example, many people choose to make pumpkin puree and then store it for a later date. This pumpkin puree is often used as the base for pumpkin pie fillings, but Greatist actually offers a comprehensive list other things that it can be used for.
The site also offers a fantastic list of ways to use leftover pumpkin and I guarantee that you won’t be familiar with all of the methods provided.
Plus, pumpkin puree still offers the beneficial compounds that you find in pumpkin, so it is powerful for health too. The site SF Gate highlights some of those advantages in more detail.
One of my favorite uses is in drinks, such as a protein shake, a cocktail or a smoothie. This is a use most people don’t really think about, but it can work really well.
The taste of pumpkin complements a smoothie perfectly, especially when you add in other spices. You can find some examples below:
Pumpkin Bowls with Lids
A cool use of pumpkins is to create pumpkin soup bowls. You can choose to make small bowls for single servings using mini pumpkins or create a serving bowl using larger pumpkins.
The video below shows how you can do this.
The recipe is for one specific filling but you can do whatever you like. You can also widen the opening, to make the dishes more like soup bowls. There is plenty of room for experimentation and creative flair.
Selection and Storage
Picking a good pumpkin for cooking can seem a little overwhelming because there are so many types.
For cooking, you generally want pumpkins that are sweet with a creamy texture. These are typically small, ideally between four and eight pounds.
Some cooking pumpkin varieties also have obvious names, such as ‘New England Pie Pumpkin’, although other ones may take longer to figure out.
Pumpkins can be stored for three months without much issue while some varieties will store even longer than that.
However, you do need to store them outside. Pumpkins should be stored on a surface that can breathe, like cardboard, straw or wood (as opposed to concrete) and away from direct sunlight.
You can store pumpkins indoors for shorter periods of time, like a few weeks. If so, make sure it isn’t on wood or on the carpet as this can soften the pumpkin. Likewise, placing the pumpkin on a hard surface can make it age faster than it should.
One alternative is to place the pumpkin on a circle of fabric and then on the desired surface.
Pumpkins are fantastic sources of vitamins and nutrients and they offer significant health benefits – yet they are a vegetable that we take for granted far too often.
There are so many different things that you can do with pumpkin and different ways to cook the vegetable that preserve its health benefits.
It really is worth taking the time, getting into the kitchen and finding out about pumpkin benefits first hand.
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