Pumpkin is a vegetable we generally only think about but once a year—bringing with it the sweet, comforting aroma of warm pumpkin lattes, pumpkin breads and pumpkin pie.
What you may not know is pumpkin is a healthy, nutrient-dense food you can eat in a variety of ways. Packing a whopping 19 vitamins and minerals, including antioxidants, pumpkin provides filling fiber that can help keep you going all day.
Like other types of winter squash, pumpkin is versatile and a great option if you want to incorporate fresh, in-season produce, and variety in your diet—in a fun, festive, seasonal way.
Just in time for harvest season, here are six surprising health benefits of pumpkin and five simple ways to enjoy both the flesh and the seeds.
1. Fill Up With Fiber
With only 49 calories and 3 grams of fiber in every cup, pumpkin is a good source of fill-you-up-fiber.
Incorporating foods in your diet that contain fiber can help reduce the risk for heart disease, including lowering blood pressure and cholesterol. Fiber also aids digestion, combats constipation, and can improve gut health which studies show can strengthen the immune system too.
“Incorporating fiber can help you feel fuller longer, so it can help you get from one meal to the next,” Tiffany DeWitt, RD, a dietitian with Abbott.
2. Improved Memory and Concentration
Pumpkin is an excellent source of lutein, a type of carotenoid. “Lutein is a powerful nutrient compound, widely recognized for its critical role in eye health, but emerging research suggests it could also improve cognitive function – from learning and memory to concentration and focus,” says Matthew J. Kuchan, PhD, a discovery scientist and the global science lead for Abbott’s partnership with the Center for Nutrition, Learning, and Memory at the University of Illinois.
In fact, supplementation of lutein and another carotenoid called zeaxanthin may help improve visual processing speed, a study in the journal Archives of Biochemistry and Biophysics found.
3. A Stronger Immune System
Pumpkin is an excellent source of vitamins A, C and zinc, which are all antioxidants that strengthen the immune system. Pumpkin also contains beta-carotene, which is a carotenoid or a plant pigment that gives pumpkin its bright orange color and is considered an antioxidant.
4. For Sharper Eyesight
That bright orange pumpkin color doesn’t only look festive; it’s also packed with beta-carotene and carotenoids which convert to vitamin A in the body.
According to the American Optometric Association, pumpkin may help reduce the risk of chronic eye diseases, including age-related macular degeneration and cataracts.
“To increase your daily intake of vitamin A, you can easily add one cup of cooked, mashed pumpkin to your daily smoothie or morning oatmeal,” DeWitt says. “One serving alone packs more than 200 percent of your recommend daily intake of vitamin A – an essential nutrient for vision health.”
5. A Stronger Heart
Pumpkin seeds are a good source of phytoestrogens, plant-derived compounds that – when incorporated into a healthy diet and lifestyle – have been shown to manage cholesterol and improve heart health.
Tip: Incorporate pumpkin seeds into a healthy diet by adding them as a salad topper.
6. Better Sleep and Mood
Pumpkin seeds in particular are an excellent source of tryptophan, an essential amino acid that is converted to serotonin, a chemical associated with healthy sleep and happiness.
“Since the body cannot make tryptophan on its own, pumpkin seeds are an easy, versatile way to add it into your diet,” DeWitt says.
Tip: top Greek yogurt with a half of a cup of pumpkin seeds and your favorite seasonal spices, or add them to a baked apple sprinkled with cinnamon for a filling, delicious evening snack.