The health benefits of a favourite fall staple - Pumpkin
November 8, 2020
When you think of pumpkins, you probably think of holidays, pumpkin carving, pumpkin spice lattes and pumpkin pie. While many of us look forward to these fall and winter traditions, pumpkin can be used in a variety of other ways and has some unexpected health benefits.
What is pumpkin?
In North America, pumpkin usually refers to the orange Cucurbita pepo, a winter squash from the Cucurbitaceae family, while in other places, like Australia, any winter squash may be considered a pumpkin. Pumpkin is a fruit but is more similar to a vegetable.
Rich in nutrients and low in calories
Pumpkin is low in calories but nutrient-dense and just one cup contains (among others) these nutrients:
8% of your Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) of iron
10% of your DRI of vitamin E
11% of your DRI of copper
11% of your DRI of vitamin B2
11% of your DRI of manganese
16% of your DRI of potassium
245% of your DRI of vitamin A
Only 49 calories
3 grams of fiber
Only 0.2 grams of fat
12 grams of carbohydrates
2 grams of protein
Because pumpkin is low in calories and high in fiber, it helps you feel full and can aid in weight loss.
Pumpkin contains several antioxidants like beta-carotene, alpha-carotene and beta-cryptoxanthin.
Antioxidants neutralize free radicals in the body and stop oxidative stress, which can lead to illnesses like cancer and heart disease. Carotenoids may lower the risk of pancreas, breast, throat, lung and stomach cancers. Pumpkin contains zinc as well; while zinc is not an antioxidant, it may help prevent prostate cancer.
Beta-carotene is a provitamin your body uses to make vitamin A, which is an antioxidant that is thought to fight cancer. Beta carotene may protect cells, which boosts immunity and is beneficial for a healthy reproductive system.
Pumpkin also has zeaxanthin and lutein, which may be good for eye health.
Vitamin A helps your vision, especially in low lighting. It aids in the absorption and processing of light by the retina. Zeaxanthin and lutein also help prevent cataracts and macular degeneration.
Carotenoids are a natural sunblock and help prevent sun damage to your skin. Vitamin C, which pumpkin also contains, is needed to make collagen, which keeps your skin healthy.
Immunity boosting compounds
Pumpkin is high in vitamins A and C, which help your immune system, and pumpkin oil fights fungal and bacterial infections.
While bananas are known for their potassium content, pumpkin has more potassium per cup than bananas do. Potassium in your diet helps prevent muscle weakness, inactive reflexes and fatigue.
Reduces blood glucose levels
Studies have shown pumpkin to lower blood glucose and increase glucose tolerance and insulin production. This may be beneficial for diabetics and also for everyone else.
Pumpkin seeds contain tryptophan, which is an amino acid that gets converted into serotonin. Serotonin is important in fighting anxiety and depression and some research suggests most people are deficient in it. Tryptophan can also help you sleep better.
Adding pumpkin to your diet
Pumpkin is a versatile ingredient that is easy to add to your diet in soups, preserves, salads, as a side dish, and in breads and desserts. Pumpkins can be stored in a dark, cool place for up to two months. To prepare healthy meals, stay away from pumpkin pie filling and make sure any canned pumpkin you buy has no other added ingredients like sugar.
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