Pumpkin power: A nutrient-rich addition to your diet


by Jennifer Kaltenbach, RD, LD, CDCES

Nov 10, 2023

Fall has arrived, and with it come pumpkins—pumpkin spice lattes, pumpkin pies, pumpkin donuts, even pumpkin ice cream. But did you know that pumpkin is not just a tasty treat or seasonal decoration? It’s a superfood with numerous health benefits. Pumpkins are nutrient-dense, loaded with vitamins, minerals and fiber. Plus, they’re a good source of protein, especially in their skin.

Pump up your intake of vitamins and minerals

Pumpkin is an excellent source of fiber. One cup of cooked pumpkin contains 7 grams of fiber, which is 28% of the recommended daily intake. Fiber is essential for maintaining a healthy digestive system, preventing constipation and lowering the risk of colon cancer. It also helps you feel full for longer, which can aid in weight loss.

Like all orange and red vegetables, pumpkin is packed with vitamin A. One cup of cooked pumpkin provides about 250% of the recommended daily intake of vitamin A, which is crucial for maintaining healthy eyesight, skin and immune function.

Pumpkin also contains vitamin C, which is essential for collagen production, wound healing and boosting the immune system. While pumpkin isn’t a top source of vitamin C—one cup provides about 18% of the recommended daily intake for adults—it can still add to your daily intake of this important nutrient.

Pumpkin is also a good source of potassium, which can help regulate blood pressure and reduce the risk of stroke.

Another benefit of pumpkin is that it is high in antioxidants. Antioxidants are compounds that help protect your cells from damage caused by harmful free radicals, which can contribute to chronic diseases like cancer, heart disease and Alzheimer's. Pumpkin contains several antioxidants, including beta-carotene, which gives it its bright orange color, and alpha carotene, which may help reduce the risk of certain types of cancer.

But that's not all—pumpkin seeds are also a nutritional powerhouse. They are rich in healthy fats, protein, and minerals such as magnesium, zinc and iron. Studies have shown that consuming pumpkin seeds can help lower cholesterol levels, improve heart health and reduce inflammation in the body.

Add pumpkin to your daily diet

Now that you know about pumpkin’s nutritional benefits, start looking for delicious ways to incorporate it into your diet. There are countless options. One is to add canned pumpkin to smoothies, oatmeal or yogurt for a creamy, vitamin-packed breakfast. Pumpkin soup can be a comforting and nutritious meal for chilly autumn nights.

Roasted pumpkin makes a great side dish for dinner. Substitute it or butternut squash for potatoes to add taste and color to a winter meal. You can roast it alongside other vegetables on a sheet pan with olive oil in the oven for about 30 minutes at 400 degrees.

Let's not forget about pumpkin desserts. Try making a pumpkin pie with a whole grain crust and natural sweeteners for a guilt-free treat.

And don’t forget about the seeds. They’re a tasty treat right out of the pumpkin, or you can roast them in the oven to make a wholesome, crispy snack. You can also use the seeds as a tasty topping for salads or other dishes.

Pumpkins: Not just for decoration anymore

If you can’t get your hands on fresh pumpkin from a store or farmers market, opt for a canned variety. When choosing pumpkin products, be mindful of added sugars and preservatives. Many pumpkin-flavored products on the market contain high amounts of sugar and artificial flavors, which can negate the health benefits of pumpkin. Always check the ingredient list and aim for products with simple, whole food ingredients.

If you’re not a big fan of pumpkins, you can substitute related vegetables like acorn or butternut squash. Acorn squash, for example, is rich in vitamins A and C, as well as potassium and magnesium, which can help regulate your blood pressure and maintain healthy bones. And butternut squash is a great source of vitamin E, which can help protect your cells from damage and boost your immune system.

From fiber to vitamins to minerals, pumpkin has it all. So, next time you're at the grocery store, grab a can of pumpkin or a fresh pumpkin to incorporate into your meals. Your taste buds and your body will thank you.

Ready to learn more about the health benefits of pumpkin, squashes and other high-nutrient vegetables? Make an appointment with a registered dietitian or nutritionist near you

About the Author

Jennifer is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes care and education specialist with Aramark Healthcare+, assigned to Baylor Scott & White Medical Center- McKinney.

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