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Pumpkin Nutrition Review — What Is It Good For?

Pumpkin is a favorite autumn ingredient. But is it healthy?

As it turns out, pumpkin is very nutritious and low in
calories. Plus, it’s more versatile than you may know. It can
be cooked into savory dishes, as well as sweet ones.

This article reviews the nutritional properties of pumpkin and
its various uses and benefits.

What Is Pumpkin?

Woman Holding a Small Pumpkin

Pumpkin is a type of winter squash that’s in the same plant
family as cucumbers and melons.

It’s technically a
fruit
since it contains seeds. But in terms of nutrition,
it’s more like a vegetable.

Pumpkins are usually round and orange, although the size, shape
and color can vary depending on the variety. They have a thick
outer rind that’s smooth and ribbed, as well as a stem that
connects the pumpkin to its leafy plant.

Inside they are hollow, except for ivory-colored seeds
coated with stringy flesh.

These squash are native to North America and play a big role in
two holidays. They are carved into jack-o’-lanterns for
Halloween and cooked into pies for Thanksgiving dessert in the
US and Canada.

However, they’re also grown around the world in every continent
except Antarctica.

Their seeds, leaves and flesh are all edible, and they feature
in recipes from global cuisines.

Bottom Line: Pumpkin is a type of winter
squash that’s technically a fruit, but it has the nutritional
profile of a vegetable.

Different Varieties

There are many different varieties of pumpkins, including:

  • Jack-o’-lantern: Usually a large variety
    that’s used for carving.
  • Pie pumpkins: A smaller, sweeter variety.
  • Miniature: These are both decorative and
    edible.
  • White: Some can be cooked with, while others
    are better for decoration or carving.
  • Giant: Mostly grown for contests.
    Technically edible, but less flavorful than smaller
    varieties.

Most of the pumpkin that’s sold in the US is canned.

Interestingly, the variety of pumpkin that’s most typically
canned looks more similar to a butternut squash than a
jack-o’-lantern.

The distinction between pumpkin and other types of squash can
be a bit fuzzy, as there are many different but closely related
varieties.

Bottom Line: Pumpkin comes in many
varieties, although the most common varieties are the large
ones used for carving jack-o’-lanterns and smaller, sweeter
pie pumpkins.

Nutrition Facts

Slice of Pumpkin

Pumpkin is an incredibly nutritious food.

It is nutrient-dense, meaning it has lots of vitamins and
minerals and relatively few calories.

One cup of cooked pumpkin provides (1):

  • Calories: 49
  • Carbs: 12 grams
  • Fiber: 3 grams
  • Protein: 2 grams
  • Vitamin K: 49% of the RDI
  • Vitamin C: 19% of the RDI
  • Potassium: 16% of the RDI
  • Copper, manganese and riboflavin: 11% of the
    RDI
  • Vitamin E: 10% of the RDI
  • Iron: 8% of the RDI
  • Folate: 6% of the RDI
  • Niacin, pantothenic acid, vitamin B6 and
    thiamin:
    5% of the RDI

It’s also exceptionally high in beta-carotene, a powerful
antioxidant.

Beta-carotene is a type of carotenoid that turns into vitamin A
in the body.

Bottom Line: Pumpkins are loaded with a
variety of nutrients, including fiber, vitamins, minerals and
antioxidants.

Major Health Benefits

Three Types of Pumpkin

Most of a pumpkin’s health benefits come from its micronutrient
content and the fact that it’s a fiber-filled, low-carb fruit.

While there aren’t many studies on pumpkin specifically, it is
high in several nutrients that have established health
benefits.

Immunity

Pumpkin gives you a hefty dose of beta-carotene, which is
partially converted into vitamin A. Vitamin A can help your
body fight off infections (2, 3, 4).

Recent research has shown that vitamin A is particularly
important for strengthening the intestinal lining, making it
more resistant to infections (5).

Other micronutrients in pumpkin also help promote immunity,
including vitamins C and E, iron and folate
(6).

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Eye Health

There are a couple of ways in which pumpkin is good for your
eyes.

First, it’s rich in beta-carotene, which helps keep your vision
sharp by helping the retina absorb light.

Second, the combination of other vitamins and minerals in
pumpkin may protect against age-related macular degeneration.

One study found that people with age-related macular
degeneration could slow its progression by taking a supplement
containing zinc, vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene and copper
(7).

While that study used a supplement, you can find all of these
nutrients in pumpkin, although in smaller amounts.

Healthy Skin

The antioxidants found in pumpkin are important for
skin health
. These include beta-carotene and vitamins C and
E.

Beta-carotene, in particular, may protect your skin from the
sun’s damaging UV rays (8, 9).

Eating foods with beta-carotene can also help improve the
appearance and texture of skin.

Heart Health

Eating fruits and vegetables is generally heart-healthy. What’s
more, pumpkin has specific nutrients that are good for heart
health.

The fiber,
vitamin C and potassium found in it can help improve blood
pressure and cholesterol levels.

Metabolic Syndrome

Eating foods rich in beta-carotene, such as pumpkin, may help
lower your risk of metabolic syndrome (10).

Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of symptoms associated with
abdominal obesity. These include high blood pressure, poor
blood sugar control and elevated triglyceride levels — factors
that raise your risk of heart disease and diabetes.

Bottom Line: Most of the health benefits of
pumpkin relate to its micronutrients, including beta-carotene
and vitamin A.

Ways to Eat Pumpkin

Soup, Bread and Pumpkin Seeds

Pumpkin is popular in pancakes, custards and muffins, but it
also works well in savory dishes.

You can cook it into a soup or roast it with other vegetables.
Canned pumpkin can be combined with coconut milk
and spices to make a creamy curry base.

You can also eat other parts of the pumpkin plant. Its seeds
are roasted for a crunchy snack, while its flowers are often
battered and fried.

But don’t bother cooking that jack-o’-lantern. The large
pumpkins used for carving have a stringy texture and less
flavor than pie pumpkins. Plus, for food safety reasons, you
don’t want to eat something that has been cut open and sitting
around.

Bottom Line: There are many ways to enjoy
pumpkin. For the healthiest versions, try using it in savory
dishes like soup or as a roasted vegetable.

What to Watch out For

Pumpkin is safe for most people to eat but could cause issues
for those taking certain medications. Additionally, avoid
pumpkin-flavored junk food.

Drug Interactions

Pumpkin is mildly diuretic and could be a problem for people
who take certain medications, especially lithium.

If you were to eat a lot of pumpkin, it could make it harder
for your body to clear lithium, which could lead to
drug-related side effects.

Pumpkin-Flavored Junk Food

Just because something has pumpkin in its name, that doesn’t
mean it’s healthy.

Drinking pumpkin spice lattes, for instance, doesn’t have any
of the health benefits of eating an actual pumpkin.

And while pumpkin baked goods like pie and quick bread may
offer some extra vitamins, minerals and fiber, they also give
you lots of
sugar
and refined
carbs
.

Bottom Line: Pumpkin is generally a healthy
food with no negative consequences if eaten in moderation.
But steer clear of pumpkin-flavored junk foods.

Take Home Message

Pumpkin is an incredibly healthy vegetable that’s rich in
fiber, vitamins and minerals.

However, to get the most benefits from pumpkin, you should eat
it as a vegetable — not a dessert.

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