Pumpkins: More Than Just a Jack-O’-Lantern

As the weather cools and fall quickly approaches, one word comes to mind: pumpkins. Whether in lattes, pies, soups, or breads, pumpkins are a delicious fall staple. However, consuming autumn’s orange squash provides more than just a cozy feeling, they also provide many health benefits.

Pumpkins can be considered a functional food since they provide benefits beyond basic nutrition. They also may play a role in reducing the risk of certain diseases and other health conditions. Pumpkins fit into this category because they contain a compound known as carotenoids, specifically beta-carotene. Beta-carotene is not only responsible for pumpkins’ signature orange color, but it is also converted into vitamin A in the body. Vitamin A is important for normal vision, the immune system, bone health, and helps regulate cell growth and division. Studies suggests that a diet rich in foods containing beta-carotene may reduce the risk of developing certain cancers and offers protection against heart disease, as well as some degenerative aspects of aging. Other fruit and vegetables such as carrots, sweet potatoes, cantaloupe, and tomatoes also contain beta-carotene.

But the health benefits don’t stop there! Pumpkins are also low in calories, fat-free, cholesterol-free, sodium-free, and are a good source of vitamin C, fiber, and potassium. With three grams of fiber at only 49 calories per one cup serving, pumpkins have the ability to help keep you fuller for longer and, therefore, may aid in weight management.

And it’s not just the pumpkin itself that supplies the health perks; the seeds are also loaded with magnesium. Magnesium plays a role in normal muscle and nerve function, healthy immune function, and bone health. In addition, pumpkin seeds, along with other nuts and seeds, contain phytosterols, a plant chemical that may help lower LDL cholesterol levels.

Craving some pumpkin treats yet? Try these ideas to incorporate pumpkin into your diet:

  • Use pumpkin as a side dish like other winter squash. Using fresh or canned, add cinnamon, nutmeg and sweetener of choice, bake or microwave (time will depend on original product) and serve.
  • Make your own trail mix with almonds, walnuts, raisins, and pumpkin seeds.
  • Try adding pureed pumpkin in place of oil to your favorite quick bread, pancake or waffle recipe.
  • Enhance your granola with some roasted pumpkin seeds or add pureed pumpkin to your oatmeal for added fiber.
  • Warm up with some pumpkin soup or pumpkin chili.
  • Find comfort in a pumpkin risotto or pasta dish.
  • Indulge in a slice of pumpkin pie or pumpkin cheesecake.

Fresh pumpkin season is from September to November. If their versatility and limited seasonal availability weren’t enough to get you pumped, the copious health benefits they provide should be reason to scoop up some pumpkins today!

For More Information on Functional Foods, view IFIC’s Functional Foods Backgrounder.