If you associate pumpkin only with lattes and pies, you’re missing out on the serious health benefits you can gain from eating this winter squash. It’s highly nutritious and helps fight disease.
It’s good for your eyes. The orange color of the pumpkin comes from its abundance of carotenoids, antioxidants that neutralize the free radicals that can damage your cells. One of these is beta-carotene, which your body converts into vitamin A. Vitamin A is important for eye health and helps the retina absorb and process light. Pumpkin is also high in both lutein and zeaxanthin, which reduce your risk of macular degeneration and cataracts.
It’s good for your heart. Pumpkin is very high in fiber, both soluble and insoluble. The soluble fiber helps remove the bad LDL cholesterol from your arteries to help prevent heart disease. It’s also high in potassium, magnesium and iron — minerals that help regulate blood pressure.
It’s good for cancer prevention. Beta-carotene has been shown to help protect against cancers of the stomach, esophagus, lungs, and colon. Pumpkin also contains phenolic acids which bind themselves to potential cancer-causing substances in your body to keep them from being absorbed.
It’s good for your immune system. Per the NIH, vitamin A, which is abundant in pumpkin, plays a critical role in enhancing immune function, helping your body fight off infections, viruses, and infectious diseases. Pumpkin is also high in vitamin C and zinc, both of which boost the immune system.
It’s good for weight loss. Because it’s rich in fiber, pumpkin is digested more slowly and helps keep you feeling fuller longer, so you eat less. Slower digestion also helps keep your blood sugar from spiking.
It’s good for your gut. The fiber in pumpkin feeds and helps the good bacteria in your gut grow. It’s also good for your digestion and helps keep you regular.
The seeds are good for you too. Pumpkin seeds are rich in iron and a great source of protein, with an ounce of seeds having as much protein as an ounce of meat. The seeds are full of fiber, they’re high in zinc, and the oil in the seeds has compounds that are good for men’s prostate health. The zinc and protein also help speed up recovery after a workout.
The nutritional value of canned pumpkin is pretty close to that of fresh, so feel free to use canned for cooking. Just make sure you’re buying 100% pumpkin puree and not pumpkin pie filling. If you’re buying a whole pumpkin, don’t get the large ones used for carving, but instead get the smaller ones labeled as “sugar” or “pie”. You can roast the pumpkin or use in recipes just as you would any other winter squash. The canned pumpkin can be used sauces, puddings, dips, or baked into muffins, breads, pancakes and waffles. If you’re craving a pumpkin spice latte, try making one from scratch where you control what goes into it and you can avoid the excess sugar or artificial flavors.