Orange is the new healthy: Singing the praises of pumpkins

By Liz Meszaros, MDLinx
Published October 31, 2018

Key Takeaways

Fall is the season of pumpkin-flavored everything. Believe it or not, this is a good thing, because pumpkins are chock-full of healthy ingredients. More than simply a decoration, this beautiful, orange food is rich in vitamins and low in calories.

A tell-tale sign of the goodness of pumpkins comes from its color. That beautiful orange hue signals that the pumpkin is packed full of goodness in the form of beta carotene. Foods rich in beta carotene may reduce the risk of certain cancers (prostate), protect against asthma and heart disease, and even delay aging.

In her wisdom, Mother Nature also packed pumpkins full of fiber, potassium, and vitamin C, which all support heart health. Some studies suggest that potassium is vital in the treatment of hypertension, and others that it is associated with a reduced risk of stroke, protects against loss of muscle mass, and preserves bone mineral density.

Pumpkin seeds and pulp contain plant compounds that help the tissues and intestines absorb glucose, and may also help balance liver glucose levels. All of these may reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. In fact, researchers are currently studying the use of pumpkin as an anti-diabetic medication.

The seeds and pulp are also high in vitamin C and beta carotene, which support good immune health.

Pumpkins are an excellent source of fiber, which can slow the rate of sugar absorption into the blood and promote smooth digestion and regular bowel movements. Fresh, cooked pumpkin provides almost 3 g of fiber, while canned pumpkin, 7 g. Pumpkin is also low in calories (49), fat (0.2 g), and carbohydrates (12 g).

Here’s a rundown of the other great things pumpkin is packed with, according to the percent of the reference daily intake (RDI) it provides per 1 cooked cup (245 g):

  • Vitamin A: 245%
  • Vitamin C: 19%
  • Potassium: 16%
  • Vitamin B2: 11%
  • Copper: 11%
  • Manganese: 11%
  • Vitamin E: 10%
  • Iron: 8%
  • Small amounts of magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, and folate.

When trying to incorporate pumpkin into your own diet, here are some basics to remember:

  • Pumpkins can be stored in a cool, dark place for up to 2 months.
  • Preparing fresh pumpkin at home will provide the most health benefits, but canned pumpkin is good as well, as pumpkin retains many of its health benefits during the canning process.
  • Don’t use the traditional jack-o’-lantern pumpkins, which are edible but tend to be bland, watery, and stringy.
  • Try to use the sweeter, smaller varieties that may be labeled “sugar pumpkin” or “pie pumpkin.” Specific names to look for include “Baby Pam,” “Autumn Gold,” “Ghost Rider,” “New England Pie Pumpkin,” “Lumina (white),” “Cinderella,” and “Fairy Tale."
  • Choose pumpkins that weigh between 4 and 8 lbs and are free of any bruises or soft spots.
  • Prepare pumpkins in the same way you would any other hard winter squash (ie, roast them whole, steam, or peel and cut them up into smaller pieces for soups and curries).
  • Pumpkin puree (which can be frozen) and canned pumpkin can serve as a substitute for butter or oil when baking. If you’re using whole pumpkins, make sure to bake or roast them before using them as an ingredient.
  • Always avoid canned pumpkin pie mix, which contains added sugars and syrups.
  • Don’t forget to roast the pumpkin seeds, too!

Join us in our celebration of all things pumpkin, and incorporate this healthy vegetable into your diet. Your whole body will be the better for it. How often is anything this beautiful also so good for you?


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