Unlocking Pumpkin's Power: 8 Health Benefits

As a fall and Halloween favorite, pumpkin is a classic flavor with numerous health benefits.

woman-carving-pumpkin-in-woodshed-at-her-house
by
Mia Barnes
— Signos
Staff Writer
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Reviewed by

Mia Barnes
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Updated by

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Science-based and reviewed

Published:
April 23, 2024
September 4, 2023
— Updated:

Table of Contents

Pumpkin is a native crop of North America, going back at least 9,000 years. It was an integral part of the Three Sisters growing method of the Indigenous nations.1 Corn, beans, and pumpkin worked symbiotically to improve the production of all three. Each plant was a staple and symbol of life-giving power.

While American society may not hold pumpkin in the same regard today, it’s still a powerhouse ingredient. Its flavor profile goes well with sweet or savory dishes. A heaping dose of antioxidants and fiber tops the list of pumpkin health benefits, helping your eyesight and heart health while keeping you full for longer.

Pumpkin Nutrition Facts

Pumpkin is technically a fruit in the gourd family. It has a high glycemic index but a low glycemic load.2 The gourd is also chock full of vitamins and minerals to improve overall health.

You can eat every part of the plant, so pumpkin nutrition information depends on how you prepare it and which part you work with. People most commonly eat the pumpkin's flesh, which you see in soup, sauce, latte, and pie recipes.

One cup of pumpkin (raw) has:3

  • 1.16 g of protein
  • 0.116 g of fat
  • 7.54 g of carbs
  • 0.58 g of fiber 
  • 3.2 g of sugar
  • 34.4 mg calcium 
  • 0.928 mg of Iron 
  • 13.9 mg of magnesium
  • 394 mg of potassium 
  • 10.4 mg of vitamin C
  • 18.6 µg of folate
  • 3600 µg of beta-carotene (vitamin A)
  • 1.23 mg of vitamin E
  • Glycemic index: 65
  • Glycemic load: 4.5

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8 Surprising Health Benefits of Pumpkin

The health benefits of fresh pumpkins center around its powerhouse of vitamins and minerals. Regular consumption can help improve many aspects of your physical wellness.

  1. Improves Eyesight

Pumpkins are a rich source of beta-carotene and other carotenoids. These essential nutrients protect your retina from overexposure to light, keeping your eyes stronger for longer.4

The vitamins in pumpkin may also prevent developing age-related eye problems. Vitamin C can decrease your risk of cataracts and macular degeneration.5

  1. May Lower the Risk of Dementia and Certain Cancers

Antioxidants like the abundant carotenoids in pumpkin help combat free radicals in your body, which can cause cell damage, leading to certain cancers.6 Dementia is another chronic illness caused at least in part by inflammation and too many free radicals in the brain. A diet rich in antioxidants can help create a healthy balance of cells and potentially lower your risk of developing these conditions.7

  1. Boosts the Immune System

Pumpkin contains healthy amounts of immune-boosting nutrients like iron, vitamin C, vitamin E, and vitamin A in the form of beta-carotene.8 These work together to combat free radicals, strengthen immune cells, and fight infection. While you still need to wash your hands and cover your cough, these vitamins and minerals will protect you from the inside.

  1. Supports Heart Health

Beyond regulating blood pressure, pumpkin contains nutrients with the potential to support your heart health. If you experience hypertension, the gourd could be a helpful ingredient in your toolbox. It has levels of potassium comparable to a banana, which helps your kidneys get rid of excess sodium, lowering your blood pressure.9

Pumpkin is naturally low in sodium, so it won’t contribute to high blood pressure unless you heavily salt your serving. It’s also high in fiber known for its ability to lower bad cholesterol and lower the risk of heart disease.10

  1. May Help With Weight Loss

Foods high in fiber (like pumpkin, which has 0.5 grams of fiber per cup)  can make you feel fuller for longer. You’re less likely to snack between meals or binge. Pumpkin also has a high water content, taking up excess room in your stomach with minimal calories.

Preparation and portion control are essential for weight loss or management. Eating pumpkin pie won’t lower the number on the scale, but oven-roasted pumpkin might.

  1. Helps Skin Health

The antioxidants in pumpkin (i.e., beta-carotene, vitamin C, and vitamin E) protect your skin against the sun’s harmful UV rays. They can also lower inflammation and reduce wrinkles by repairing damaged cells. Regular consumption or application of antioxidants can also improve your skin’s elasticity and hydration.11

  1. Aids in Workout Recovery

When you start an active lifestyle, you quickly learn the importance of pre-and post-workout snacks. Pre-workout foods give you fuel to reach your goals. Afterward, you must repair your muscles and tissues with ingredients high in protein and zinc.12

The protein in pumpkin is the building block of muscle and can help relieve soreness. Exercise depletes your body of zinc, which it needs for muscle regeneration. Pumpkin’s zinc levels are enough to help restore you after an exhausting workout.

  1. Improves Digestion

Pumpkin contains two powerful nutrients that support gut health. Fiber aids in digestion, which will help you maintain regular bowel movements.

Pectin is another useful nutrient in pumpkins. It functions as a prebiotic and feeds your good gut bacteria, aiding digestion and keeping your body healthy.13

pumpkin-pie-with-crust-leafs-on-top-as-decoration

Potential Downsides of Pumpkin Consumption

Despite all the fantastic pumpkin health benefits, you need to practice moderation. Consuming too much of this fruit in a short period can lead to unintended consequences.

Skin Discoloration

Beta-carotene can build up in your system and cause your skin to discolor slightly. You’ll notice an orange hue that gets worse as you eat more. The side effect is relatively harmless and will fade once you limit the amount and give your body time to flush it out.14 Foods like tomatoes and carrots can have the same effect if you eat too many quickly.

Gas and Bloating

The fiber in pumpkin helps regulate your digestive system, getting things moving. However, if you aren’t used to a high-fiber diet, these foods may have unfortunate side effects. You may experience gas, bloating, and digestive discomfort. If that happens, eat smaller portions of high-fiber foods until your body adjusts.

Excess Sugar Consumption

While pumpkin is a rich source of antioxidants and other essential nutrients, it’s only as healthy as the recipe you put it into. Unfortunately, many recipes are loaded with sugar, negating the pumpkin health benefits.

Who Should Avoid Eating Pumpkins?

Pumpkin is a generally safe food. Allergic reactions are rare, and the side effects are almost non-existent. The only people who may want to exercise caution are those new to fiber-rich diets. If you suspect you have an allergy to pumpkin, consult your healthcare provider.

Pumpkins are reasonably high in fiber and could cause intestinal discomfort. If this is you, start with small amounts and work your way up. Begin with a few pumpkin seeds on your salad instead of devouring a bowl of pumpkin soup.

You may be wondering about the dangers for pregnant women eating food rich in vitamin A. An overdose of this nutrient can cause congenital disabilities, so doctors generally advise expectant mothers to steer clear of retinol and products with vitamin A.

However, the beta-carotene that gives pumpkin its beautiful orange color is a precursor to the vitamin. Your body needs to convert it into vitamin A and will only take in and transform the amounts it needs and expel the rest so you don’t overdose.

Is Canned Pumpkin Good for You?

Pumpkin is an enigma in the world of produce. In many ways, canned pumpkin is better for your health than fresh.15 In the canning process, most of the water is pressed out from the pulp, creating a denser pumpkin puree with a higher potency of vitamins and minerals per cup. The fiber content significantly increases as well.

The only caveat in increasing the density is the carbohydrates per serving increase. Any preparation of pumpkin has a high glycemic index. Typically, the saving grace for people watching their blood sugar is the low carb content, which reduces the effects on your blood sugar. Canned pumpkin lacks that balance.

One cup of canned pumpkin has the following:17

  • 2.7 g of protein
  • 0.686 g of fat
  • 19.8 g of carbs
  • 7.1 g of fiber 
  • 8.08 g of sugar
  • 63.7 mg calcium 
  • 3.4 mg of Iron 
  • 56.4 mg of magnesium
  • 505 mg of potassium 
  • 10.3 mg of vitamin C
  • 29.4 µg of folate
  • 17000 µg of beta-carotene (vitamin A)
  • 2.6 mg of vitamin E

6 Healthy Ideas on How to Eat Pumpkin

Pumpkin’s nearly endless flavor profile fits into several cultural cuisines. Even the types of pumpkins can drastically change the taste; smaller ones have a naturally sweeter taste, while bigger ones are stringier and better suited to carving.16 Use these recipe ideas to get you started with pumpkin in a healthy way.

1. Pumpkin Spice Latte

This recipe from The Conscious Plant Kitchen uses only six ingredients. You’ll need pumpkin puree from a can or make your own. You’ll also need your milk of choice, strong coffee, vanilla extract, pumpkin pie spice, and sweetener. Since you want to avoid refined sugar, use a natural sweetener like maple syrup or a sugar-free option like erythritol.

2. Roasted Pumpkin

One of the easiest ways to get pumpkin nutrition is to roast it as a side dish. Cut the flesh into 1” cubes and place on a cookie sheet. Toss with olive oil and your desired seasonings. Cook it in the oven at 435° Fahrenheit for about 30 minutes or until tender. You should turn them halfway through so they roast evenly.

3. Pumpkin Soup

Pumpkin soup is a hearty dish you can enjoy year-round. It has the flavor and texture of comfort food but with blood-sugar-balancing ingredients. This recipe from Healthy Fitness Meals uses fresh produce and spices to create a delightful soup in under an hour.18

bowl-of-pumpkin-soup-in-kitchen-table

4. Pumpkin Yogurt

Greek yogurt is a protein-packed snack with good-for-your-gut probiotics. Although, you have to eat the plain variety to avoid added sugar. Add pumpkin puree and pumpkin pie spice to make your treat taste even better. A small amount of honey or sugar-free syrup will add sweetness.

5. Pumpkin Smoothies

This seven-ingredient smoothie from Ambitious Kitchen encompasses the exquisite tastes of fall.19 You’ll need pumpkin puree, Greek yogurt, a frozen banana, milk of choice, nut butter, vanilla extract, and pumpkin pie spice. You can pack an even more nutritious punch by adding one of the recommended mix-ins like protein powder or chia seeds.

6. As an Oil Substitute in Baking

Power up your baking with pumpkin health benefits. Swap it in for oil in your favorite recipes using a 1:1 ratio. For example, one tablespoon of oil would become one tablespoon of pumpkin puree. Double-check you’re using pumpkin puree and not pumpkin pie filling, or you’ll unintentionally add extra sugar.

Can You Eat Pumpkin Seeds?

Every part of a pumpkin plant is edible; even the seeds contain high amounts of minerals you’d miss out on if you ate only the flesh.20 Pumpkin seeds are exceptionally high in magnesium and vitamin K.

Like the meat of the pumpkin plant, the seeds are a versatile ingredient. You can use them as a topping for salads, popped into a smoothie, blended into sauces like pesto, or served alone as a snack. The opportunities are nearly endless.

You can eat them raw or roasted, whichever you prefer. The cooking process lowers levels of some essential nutrients but is the most popular way to eat pumpkin seeds.

The process of preparing roasted pumpkin seeds is straightforward. Remove the seeds and guts from your pumpkin. Then, pull the seeds free of the stringy pulp. Rinse under cold water and pat dry to remove any excess moisture. Toss them in your seasonings of choice and bake them at 250°F, stirring occasionally, until golden brown and crispy. 

Learn More About Nutritious Foods and Healthy Habits With Signos’ Expert Advice

Nutrition is a significant factor in your overall wellness. Knowing how to eat pumpkin and other healthy foods and incorporating them into your everyday meals are essential tools. The ingredients and cooking methods you use give you control over your blood sugar, maintaining balance over dips and spikes.

Your doctor or dietician can guide you toward appropriate foods. You can also turn to Signos’ expert resources on the blog. You’ll find nutritional information for various foods and helpful tips for balancing your blood sugar and losing weight. Take our three-minute quiz to see if Signos is the right solution for your needs.

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References

  1. Marsh, E. The Three Sisters of Indigenous American Agriculture. Retrieved June 13, 2023 from https://www.nal.usda.gov/collections/stories/three-sisters 
  2. Glycemic Index Guide Search Results: Pumpkin. Glycemic Index Guide. Retrieved June 13, 2023 from https://glycemic-index.net/pumpkin/ 
  3. Food Data Central Search Results: Pumpkin, raw. FoodData Central. (2019, April 1). Retrieved June 13, 2023 from https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/168448/nutrients 
  4. Johra, F.T., Bepari, A.K., Bristy, A.T., & Reza, H.M. (2020) A Mechanistic Review of β-Carotene, Lutein, and Zeaxanthin in Eye Health and Disease. Antioxidants (Basel), 26;9(11),1046. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33114699/ 
  5. Nofianti, T., Hidayati, N.D., Nirvana, V., Ruswanto, & Yunda, L.R. (2020) Ethanol Extract Activity of Yellow Pumpkin Flesh (Cucurbita Moschata Duch) on the Cataract Formation. The proceedings of the 2nd Bakti Tunas Husada-Health Science International Conference. https://www.atlantis-press.com/proceedings/bth-hsic-19/125941129 
  6. Rowles, J.L. & Erdman, J.W. (2020) Carotenoids and their role in cancer prevention. Biochimica et Biophysica Acta (BBA) - Molecular and Cell Biology of Lipids, 1865(11) https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1388198120300056 
  7. Wang, L., Zhao, T., Zhu, X., & Jiang, Q. (2023) Low blood carotenoid status in dementia and mild cognitive impairment: A systematic review and meta-analysis. BMC Geriatrics, 23(195). https://link.springer.com/article/10.1186/s12877-023-03900-7 
  8. Elmadfa, I., & Meyer, A.L. (2019) The role of the status of selected micronutrients in shaping the immune function. Endocrine, Metabolic & Immune Disorders - Drug Targets, 19(8), 1100-1115. https://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/ben/emiddt/2019/00000019/00000008/art00003 
  9. Chan, Q., Wren, G.M., Lau, C.E, Ebbels, T., & et. al. (2022) Blood pressure interactions with the DASH dietary pattern, sodium, and potassium: The international Study of Macro-/Micronutrients and Blood Pressure (INTERMAP). The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 116(1) 216-229. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0002916522000235 
  10. Soliman, G.A. (2019). Dietary fiber, atherosclerosis, and cardiovascular disease. Nutrients, 11(5) 1155. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6566984/ 
  11. Michalak, M., Pierzak, M., Kręcisz, B., & Suliga, E. (2021) Bioactive compounds for skin health: A review. Nutrients, 13(1), 203. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7827176/ 
  12. Hernández-Camacho, J.D., Vicente-García, C., Parsons, D.S., & Navas-Enamorado, I. (2020) Zinc at the crossroads of exercise and proteiostasis. Redox Biol, 35. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7284914/.
  13. Guo, X., Zhang, X., Ying, X., Ma, A., Li, Z., Liu, H. & Guo, Q. (2023). Fermentation properties and prebiotic potential of different pectins and their corresponding enzymatic hydrolysates. Food Hydrocolloids, (143). https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0268005X23004241 
  14. Edigin, E., Asemota, I.R., Olisa, E., & Nwaichi, C. (2019) Carotenemia: A case report. Cureus 11(7) 5218. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6758952/ 
  15. Claudepierre, C. (2022). Healthy pumpkin spice latte (low calories, vegan). The Conscious Plant Kitchen. https://www.theconsciousplantkitchen.com/healthy-pumpkin-spice-latte/ 
  16. (2022) How To Plant and Grow Pumpkins. Harris seeds. https://www.harrisseeds.com/blogs/growing-guides/how-to-grow-and-care-for-pumpkins
  17. (2019) Food Data Central Search Results: Pumpkin, canned, without salt. FoodData Central. https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/168450/nutrients 
  18. Awada, R. (2022). Easy roasted pumpkin soup recipe. Healthy Fitness Meals. https://healthyfitnessmeals.com/roasted-pumpkin-soup-recipe/ 
  19. Pumpkin pie smoothie. Ambitious Kitchen. (2022). https://www.ambitiouskitchen.com/pumpkin-pie-smoothie/ 
  20. Dotto, J.M., & Chacha, J.S. (2020). The potential of pumpkin seeds as a functional food ingredient: A review. Scientific African, 10. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2468227620303136

About the author

Mia Barnes is a health writer and researcher who specializes in nutrition, fitness, and mental health.

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