As Thanksgiving approaches, dinner tables across the United States will feature the pumpkin in everything from soups to cocktails to desserts. In addition to its taste, this versatile fruit is low in calories, high in fiber, and offers a wide range of health benefits.
“We usually think of pumpkin only around the holidays,” said Erin Morse, RD, RDN, CNSC, chief clinical dietitian for University of California, Los Angeles, Health. “The many health benefits associated with it make it worth including in your diet year-round.”
Full of vitamins A and C, potassium, and iron, every edible part of the pumpkin – including the flowers, leaves, meat, seeds, and oil – provides a boost to the immune system, making the pumpkin a great way to fight the common cold. In addition to boosting the immune system, a one-cup serving of pumpkin contains 200% of the recommended daily allowance of vitamin A, keeping eyesight sharp and helping to prevent cataracts and lower the risk of macular degeneration.
Pumpkins also provide a rich source of beta-carotene. “Studies have shown that people who eat a diet rich in beta-carotene may have a reduced risk of breast and prostate cancer,” adds Ms. Morse. “Beta-carotene supplements don’t appear to provide the same cancer-fighting benefits.”
Pumpkin puree may also aid with weight loss. At 8 grams of fiber per canned cup, pumpkin contains more fiber than 2 slices of whole-grain brain. “Foods that are high in fiber slow your digestion and make you feel full longer,” said Ms. Morse. “Plus, canned pumpkin is about 90% water, so it helps keep you hydrated.”
Last but not least, pumpkin seeds – also known as pepitas – are high in protein and packed with minerals including magnesium, helping with heart health and aiding proper bowel function.
Morse also offers a word of caution to pumpkin aficionados: be sure to buy the real thing. “When selecting canned pumpkin, read the ingredients and aim for no preservatives, sugar, or additives. Look for labels that state ‘100% pumpkin,’ and, when possible, choose organic.” The same advice holds true for pumpkin-flavored drinks: “I would pass on them. They don’t carry the same health benefits, and they’re loaded with sugar, fat, and calories.”
- Pumpkin – Nature’s superstar, not just during the holidays, but year-round [news release]. Santa Monica, CA: University of California Los Angeles, UCLA Health Sciences; November 19, 2015. http://newswise.com/articles/view/643645/; Accessed November 24, 2015.