Fall is here. That means it’s pumpkin season! Time for pumpkin bread, pumpkin pie, pumpkin soup, and pumpkin everything. This season’s most popular food also happens to be packed with nutrients. Yes, the versatile pumpkin has so many health benefits that it can be considered a superfood.
Here are 5 main health benefits of adding pumpkin to your recipes this holiday season.
High in dietary fiber (3 grams per cup, cooked) and low in calories (49 calories per cup), pumpkin makes you feel full faster without adding to your waistline. Pumpkin is especially rich in soluble fiber, the type that forms a gel-like substance when it dissolves in water. Soluble fiber slows digestion by delaying stomach emptying. So not only does it fill you up faster but it helps keep you full in between meals.
Another benefit of soluble fiber is that it helps control your blood sugar. Fiber is a type of carbohydrate, but we cannot digest it. Our intestines rely on our gut bacteria to do the work. So unlike starches and sugars, fiber does not rapidly raise blood sugar. In fact, it can even lower it. A New England Journal of Medicine study showed that people with diabetes who ate a very high fiber diet that included 50 grams per day, particularly high in soluble fiber, were able to lower their blood sugar compared to those who ate a lower amount of fiber.
The soluble fiber in pumpkin is also beneficial for lowering cholesterol and triglycerides. Pumpkin seeds can help with cholesterol, too (they are great roasted in the oven). Like many other seeds, they have phytosterols that can reduce LDL (aka “bad” cholesterol).
Rich in beta-carotene and vitamin C, both potent antioxidants, as well as potassium, pumpkin has cardiovascular health benefits. The antioxidant compounds found in pumpkin, as well as other fruits and vegetables, may influence cardiovascular health by preventing oxidative damage involved in the process of atherosclerosis. In a study among Massachusetts residents followed for nearly five years, those with a diet with the highest amount of beta-carotene had approximately half the risk of death from cardiovascular disease compared to those with a diet with the lowest amount.
Pumpkin seeds are one of the best sources of plant-based omega-3s (alpha-linolenic acid or ALA). Our bodies inefficiently convert ALA into the far more essential omega-3 fats EPA and DHA. Omega-3 fatty acids improve the health of the lining of blood vessels, relax stiffness, and lower blood pressure. They also have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects that delay developing cholesterol plaques and increase their stability. Consuming 2 to 3 grams per day of ALA is recommended for cardiovascular disease prevention.
One cup of cooked pumpkin contains over 200% of the daily recommended amount of vitamin A, which is essential for good eyesight. Our bodies use beta-carotene, the compound that gives pumpkin its orange pigment, to make vitamin A. Vitamin A helps the retina convert light into signals that can be interpreted by the brain. Combined with the vitamins C and E, also found in pumpkin, beta-carotene may help slow the progression of age-related macular degeneration.