It’s commonly thought of as a vegetable, but pumpkin is actually a fruit, and it’s a fall favorite that’s packed with health benefits.
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In fact, says dietitian Julia Zumpano, RD, LD, pumpkin is such a nutritional knockout that it shouldn’t be relegated to just the autumn months.
She explains some of the health benefits of pumpkin and how you can move it off the list of fall-only fare to incorporate it into your everyday diet.
Is pumpkin good for you?
Move over, Charlie Brown, it’s time to give new meaning to the term “The Great Pumpkin”! This stunning squash is considered a superfood, a title typically reserved for natural foods that are especially nutrient-dense while generally being low in calories. In other words, yes: Pumpkin is very good for you.
The health benefits of pumpkin
Though pumpkin is often found in sugary treats and desserts, it’s actually not super sweet on its own, which makes it a perfect savory ingredient. Before you get your gourd on, here are some of the known health benefits of consuming pumpkin.
1. Great for your eyes
“Pumpkin is rich in vitamin A, which is really great for your vision and strengthening your immune system,” Zumpano says. Just a single serving (about one cup) of pumpkin can provide over 200% of your daily recommended intake of vitamin A.
2. Healthy for your heart
“Pumpkin is high in potassium, which is a key ingredient for heart health,” Zumpano says. A cup of pumpkin contains 16% of your daily recommended amount of potassium. And it also has heart-healthy vitamin C, fiber and antioxidants, which can help prevent heart disease.
3. Boosts your immune system
A serving of pumpkin provides 19% of the recommended daily allowance of vitamin C, an immune booster that helps reduce cell damage from free radicals (unstable molecules that can bind to your cells). Pumpkin also packs a punch when it comes to other immunity-strengthening antioxidants, including vitamin A, vitamin E and iron.
4. Contains cancer-fighting carotenoids
Caro-what now?! “Carotenoids are plant pigments produced by yellow, orange and red plants like pumpkins, carrots, squash and tomatoes,” Zumpano explains. Carotenoids combat the effects of free radicals in your body, which may help protect against certain types of cancer.
5. Keeps you full
If you’re watching your weight, pumpkin is a good choice. “It contains just 50 calories per cup, and it’s filling, too,” Zumpano notes. That same portion also provides three grams of fiber, which can keep you feeling fuller longer.
6. Super-healthy seeds
Don’t toss those pumpkin seeds! Once you separate them from the rest of the gourd’s gloopy innards, you can clean, spice and roast them for a nutritious nosh. The health benefits of pumpkin seeds include a reduced risk of cancer, improved bowel and prostate health, and a lower risk of heart disease.
“They make for a tasty, protein-packed snack that travels well,” Zumpano says. Add them to a salad, oatmeal, homemade granola or over yogurt for a little bit of crunch.
How to include pumpkin in your diet
If you’ve typically thought of pumpkin as a seasonal splurge, it’s time to rethink. Why reserve pumpkin for just Thanksgiving pie and seasonal lattes when there are so many delicious — and healthy — ways to consume it all year long?
Zumpano shares some of her favorite recommendations for working pumpkin into your regular repertoire.
- Roast pumpkin in the oven for a side dish.
- Stir pureed or canned pumpkin into soups or sauces (even tomato sauce) to thicken them.
- Substitute pumpkin for fat or oil in breads, muffins and pancakes.
- Add pumpkin to plain or vanilla yogurt with some pumpkin spice and just a smidge of honey.
- Mix pumpkin into a smoothie or turn it into a healthy pudding.
Pumpkin spice lattes may be the subject of myriad memes, but there’s actually a latte to love about this fall fruit all year round. Though fresh pumpkins aren’t in season until autumn, canned pumpkin makes it easy — not to mention delicious and healthy — to enjoy throughout the year.