Health Benefits of Pumpkin:
The Spooky-Season Superfood
You’ve probably put a pumpkin or two on your front porch to welcome October, but have you considered putting some on your plate? This colorful variety of winter squash is not just for decorating. When it comes to savory squash dishes and delectable pumpkin desserts, the possibilities are endless. The best part? Incorporating pumpkin into your diet can result in a myriad of health benefits, thanks to pumpkin’s nutrient-dense composition. Keep reading to learn about the various health benefits of pumpkin along with the science behind each of them.
Just a single cup of fresh, cooked pumpkin – and we’re talking pulp (the fleshy inner “guts” of the pumpkin) – is jam-packed with goodness. Similar to other winter squash, pumpkin is loaded with vitamins and minerals. It also possesses a surprisingly low caloric content as well as a minimal amount of sugar.
Seely, Marissa. “Nutrient Profile of Pumpkin Infographic.” 2020, jpeg file.
Seely, Marissa. “Health Benefits of Pumpkin Human Body Infographic.” 2020, jpeg file.
Eye Health Improvement and Sharper Vision
One of the lesser known benefits of consuming pumpkin is that it can significantly sharpen your vision, as well as improve overall eye health. Perhaps you’ve heard the same about carrots before. This is because both carrots and pumpkins contain a pigment called Beta-carotene which gives many fruits and vegetables a stunning red-orange hue. A precursor of vitamin A, the beta-carotene in pumpkin “helps reduce the oxidative stress light puts on our eyes,” especially harmful blue light from computer, phone, and television screens (1). In addition to this, Vitamin A can reduce the risk of eye infections as well as vision loss. Lookin’ good!
Maybe you’re trying to lose a few pounds before the holidays, or perhaps you’re like us and put on some pandemic pounds these past few unpredictable months. Either way, pumpkin is your friend when it comes to weight loss, for more reasons than one. For starters, its high fiber content will leave you feeling fuller longer, effectively helping you curb those untimely cravings. Its impressively-low calorie count – just 49 calories per cup! – makes pumpkin even more attractive to those monitoring their calorie intake. Pumpkin is no boring weight loss food, either. Its versatility in the kitchen will amaze you, as it can be used to make anything from a batch of muffins to a creamy vegan pumpkin macaroni dish.
Thanks to its copious amounts of vitamins, nutrients, and antioxidants, pumpkin has also been known to supplement your immune system. With Covid-19 on the rise yet again and flu season just around the corner, we could all use an immune system boost. Pumpkin’s Vitamin C in particular is especially useful in battling common colds and illnesses, while the Vitamin A it contains is skilled in fighting off infections. Its antioxidants can help to reduce the risk of chronic diseases. This is not to mention they may even lower the risk of developing certain forms of cancer, specifically in women. Pumpkin seeds in particular contain phytoestrogens, “a plant compound that mimics the human hormone estrogen and can help prevent breast cancer” (2). However, it’s important to note that no amount of pumpkin seeds can replace the effectiveness of annual breast cancer screenings administered by a doctor. Have fun trying different pumpkin seed roasting techniques, but don’t ditch those necessary appointments!
Younger, Healthier-Looking Skin
Creating the ideal skincare routine has become all the rage in the past few months, with the sales of skin products from sustainable brands like Youth to the People skyrocketing. Let us not forget, however, that the foods we eat have just as much of an impact on our skin as the formulated cleansers and serums we apply to it directly. When it comes to healthy, younger-looking skin, pumpkin has got your back – and your face, and your neck, too! Compounds found in pumpkin, such as Vitamin C and beta-carotene “work together on several levels. On one level they help to soften the skin and boost its collagen production to prevent the signs of aging such as wrinkles, fine lines, and dark spots. On an Antioxidant level, the Vitamin C and beta-carotene work together to reverse UV damage and free radical damage, two major culprits for wrinkles and worse yet, skin cancer” (3). To reap pumpkin’s skin enhancing benefits, you can simply add the fruit – you heard us right, it’s got seeds – to your regular diet. Or, if you’re feeling creative, you can whip up an all-natural face mask. While it’s always a good idea to consult with a dermatologist before adding anything new to your skincare routine, we love these tips from One Green Planet for using pumpkin directly on the skin.
Control Blood Sugar
Pumpkin can also be advantageous to those suffering with diabetes, a condition that affects around 425 million people worldwide (4). While it is by no means a substitute for insulin, pumpkin does contain an alkaloid called trigonelline, as well as nicotinic acid. Both of these are skilled at regulating levels of sugar in the blood. Numerous studies on the effects of pumpkin consumption on diabetic rats and mice have yielded promising results, including reduction in insulin needs and an improvement in blood sugar control (5).
Promote Heart Health
But wait – there’s more! Did you know pumpkin also promotes heart health? Because pumpkin seeds are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids (6), they have the ability to help lower cholesterol as well as high blood pressure. Want to prepare these heart-healthy seeds in a way so delicious that they become your new go-to snack? Keep scrolling for some of our favorite methods towards the end of this article.
The power packed in those little seeds doesn’t stop at heart health, either. An amino acid called tryptophan within pumpkin seeds can improve your sleep cycle. Move over, warm milk! Scientists say just a gram of tryptophan in your daily diet is enough to help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer, preventing those pesky early morning interruptions in your sleep cycle (7). Perhaps you’ve felt sleepy after a big Thanksgiving meal and heard turkey was the culprit. That’s because it has significant amounts of – you guessed it – tryptophan. So next time you find yourself tossing in bed or helplessly counting sheep for hours, give pumpkin seeds a shot. After all, so long as you prep them beforehand or buy them ready-to-eat, they’re a far more effortless midnight snack than turkey!
Improve Moods and Increase Happiness
Pumpkin seeds are also a well-known feel-good food, thanks again to tryptophan, responsible for creating the mood-boosting chemical called serotonin (8). You’ve likely heard of serotonin before, as it is dubbed the “happy chemical” for its tendency to increase feelings of “well being, confidence, and belonging” (9). Because pumpkin seeds – specifically those amino acids within them – increase our bodies’ production of serotonin, they can provide you with an uplifting “boost” and potentially reduce feelings of depression and hopelessness. Just be mindful not to overdo it, as dangerously high levels of serotonin can result in shivering, diarrhea, fever, and seizures. However, this is more commonly associated with serotonin-increasing drug usage than with serotonin-boosting food consumption.
As if the previous health benefits of pumpkin we’ve noted were not mind-blowing enough, there’s one more thing its seeds can do for you: boost your fertility! Because pumpkin seeds contain zinc, thought of as the most vital fertility mineral, consuming the seasonal snack can facilitate healthy sperm production. Pumpkin seed consumption is not only helpful when trying to conceive, but in the months that follow conception, as well. Because zinc helps to promote healthy fetal development, pumpkin seeds can be enjoyed during pregnancy as well, so long as no allergies are present and your doctor hasn’t advised against doing so (10). Fun fact – did you know that at forty weeks, your baby has reached the size of a small pumpkin?
The Best Pumpkins for Eating
So, can you eat any pumpkin? The short answer: probably, but we don’t suggest it. As a matter of fact, there are varieties of pumpkin specifically designated for consumption, while others are best reserved for carving and decoration. Many believe that the classic orange “face” pumpkins are what is used for pumpkin pie making. However, this is rarely the case. Oddly enough, some of the funkiest, strangest looking subtypes of pumpkin are the best for cooking! For instance, pumpkins nicknamed “Cinderella,” “fairy-tale,” “peanut,” and “cheese” pumpkins often make the tastiest pumpkin pie. This is thanks to their sweet flesh. Blue Jarrahdale pumpkins are also great for pie baking, though their versatility also makes them a great ingredient for soups and stews.
Seely, Marissa. “Pumpkin Varieties Infographic.” 2020, jpeg file.
Prepping Your Pumpkin
Let’s get down to business – how do we eat this spectacular squash? First and foremost, it’s important to note which parts of the pumpkin can be consumed and which parts cannot. It is common knowledge that the flesh and seeds can be enjoyed, but did you know that the leaves and shell of the pumpkin can also be eaten? As a matter of fact, “in many parts of the world, including Asia and Africa, they are a regular part of the diet when available” (11). The taste is somewhat similar to that of other leafy greens, but has been described by most as a combination of the flavors of broccoli, asparagus, spinach, and green beans. Yum!
As for the skin, though not all varieties can be chewed as easily as others, it is also edible. It is even encouraged to do so, as the bulk of pumpkin’s nutrients are actually concentrated on the outside of the vegetable. Aside from the health benefits of doing so, incorporating the skin of the pumpkin into your recipes is likely to add even more flavor and texture to your meals (12). The only part of the pumpkin that is not edible is its stalk, also called the stem – but think before you toss these guys into the trash! There are a plethora of ways you can upcycle them, like drying them out to make adorable decorative pumpkins or to use in another craft.
While pumpkin seeds can technically be eaten raw, they are even more delicious when roasted. We love Pillsbury’s guide to pumpkin seed roasting as well as the variations they provide for sweet, savory, spicy, and even Italian-style seed flavoring. When eating pumpkin seeds, you have the option of either peeling away the shell or simply eating them whole for added fiber benefits.
Perhaps the most versatile part of the pumpkin when it comes to preparation for eating is its flesh. The flesh can be cubed and roasted for a wonderful pumpkin side dish to a fall meal, or it can be pureed for use in baking pies, cookies, breads, or even these low-calorie pumpkin bars. It can also be incorporated into a number of classic comfort dishes like soups, chilis, and pasta dishes…or, you can get creative and add the pumpkin flesh to some nachos.
When it comes to preparing and eating pumpkin, the possibilities – as well as the health benefits – are endless! What are you waiting for? Try out one of the recipes we’ve mentioned or conjure up one of your own this fall, then be sure to tag us (@cookandculture) in pictures of your creations on Instagram.
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