Pumpkins are a source of happiness and cheer—not just because you carve funny and scary faces into them or use them to decorate your fall table. The flesh and seeds of pumpkins contain lots of nutrients that can benefit you in ways you would never have thought of.
Pumpkin flesh is a source of L-tryptophan, a chemical that triggers feelings of well-being, improving both mood and sleep. It's also high in beta-carotene, vitamin C, magnesium, potassium, manganese, B vitamins, copper, lutein, and zeaxanthin. The seed kernels are packed with protein, fiber, iron, copper, magnesium, manganese, phosphorous, zinc, and vitamin K, as well as healthy unsaturated fats.
With all these great nutrients, here are some of the ways pumpkin can boost your health:
1. Weight loss
This carotenoid-rich fruit is low in calories and high in fiber and water, making it a great food to include in your weight-loss program. It's 90 percent water and provides 50 calories and 3.5 grams of fiber per ½ cup.
Like all orange produce, it's high in beta-carotene, which converts to vitamin A in your body. The vitamin A, along with antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin, improves eye health, helps prevent cataracts, and decreases risk of macular degeneration.
3. Skin and hair
Pumpkin is amazing for treating a dull complexion, acne, or aging skin. The vitamins A and C in the pumpkin soothe the skin and boost collagen production. The zinc is good for acne by controlling the oil production as well as assisting with skin healing. The essential fatty acids and vitamin E help skin cells maintain good barrier function.
4. Immunity and anti-inflammation
The vitamin C and vitamin A in pumpkin help fight infections and decrease inflammation. Pumpkin oil also helps fight both bacterial and fungal infections. The vitamin C hastens recovery from colds.
5. Healthy bones
The magnesium in pumpkin works synergistically with calcium for building healthy bones. Sixty-five percent of the magnesium that you eat is deposited in bones. The copper, zinc, manganese, and vitamin K contained in pumpkin also help bone growth.
6. Healthy heart and blood pressure
Adequate magnesium is necessary for numerous chemical reactions in the body. Pumpkin is rich in magnesium and also potassium and fiber, so it's helpful for controlling blood pressure, reducing heart disease, and regulating blood sugar levels. Also, two B vitamins in pumpkin—niacin and folate—help with circulation.
Other health benefits from pumpkin and seeds include:
- Decrease risk of prostate, breast, and colon cancers
- Prostate and bladder health
- Fertility and sperm counts
- Increase good cholesterol (HDL)
That's not to say you should go out and eat an entire pumpkin by yourself. Pumpkin is a starchy vegetable and is mostly carbohydrate. It is, however, lower in carbs than some other starches like potatoes, beans, and corn.
You should also beware of the plethora of pumpkin-flavored treats that pop up in every store, bakery, and coffee shop during the holiday season. Many of these are high in sugar, fat, and refined carbs and don't offer the health benefits of real pumpkin.
Here are some great ways to use pumpkin that are healthy and wholesome:
- Cube it, season it, then bake or sauté
- Add pureed pumpkin to soups, stews, and chilis to thicken and add fiber and flavor
- Roast your own seeds and sprinkle on salads, vegetable dishes, or in hot cereal or soups
- Use pumpkin puree in place of oil or butter in baking recipes
- Use it as an ingredient in smoothies
- It tastes great in marinara or cream sauce with pasta
- Make a face mask or hair conditioner by mixing with ingredients like honey, lemon, yogurt, and coconut oil
- And, of course, bake with it in a pumpkin pie or pumpkin bread. Just be sure to use a recipe that uses whole, healthy ingredients!