While commonly thought of as a vegetable, pumpkin is actually a fruit. And like other fruits, fall’s great pumpkin is packed with health benefits. In fact, according to dietitian Julia Zumpano, RD, LD, pumpkin is so healthy for you that it shouldn’t be reserved just for your pie on Thanksgiving.
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Here are just some of the health benefits of pumpkin.
1. It’s great for your eyes
Not only is pumpkin rich in vitamin A and beta-carotene, it contains lutein and zeaxanthin — both potent antioxidants that are especially beneficial for aging eyes. “Vitamin A is really great for your vision and strengthening your immune system,” says Zumpano. But, she says lutein and zeaxanthin are compounds that protect your eyes from age-related macular degeneration and cataracts. She says eating a single serving or about one cup of pumpkin can provide over 200% of your daily recommended intake of vitamin A.
2. Heart healthy
Pumpkin’s high amounts of antioxidants can help prevent heart disease. Zumpano says, “It’s also high in potassium, another key ingredient in heart health,” Just one cup of pumpkin contains 16% of your daily recommended amount of potassium.
3. A powerful boost for your immune system
Pumpkin really packs a punch when it comes to the amount of antioxidants found in just one cup. Not only does it contain vitamin A, which is great for your vision, it’s loaded with immune-boosting vitamin C, providing 19% of the recommended daily allowance of this vitamin. It also contains vitamin E and iron.
4. A cancer-fighting carotenoid
Wait, a caro-what? Carotenoids are yellow, orange and red organic pigments produced by some plants like pumpkins, squash, tomatoes and (you guessed it) carrots. They combat the effects of free-radicals in your body, which may help protect against certain types of cancer.
5. Helps to lower “bad” cholesterol
What’s more, pumpkin contains only 50 calories per cup, but it’s filling, so if you’re trying to lose weight, pumpkin is easy on your waistline. That same portion provides three grams of fiber, which can keep you feeling fuller longer.
Easy ways to include pumpkin into your everyday diet
The health benefits of pumpkin may sound great, but when you think of actually consuming this gooey gourd, you may quickly feel baffled about how to increase this superfood into your daily diet. Rolling pumpkin into your everyday diet isn’t hard, says Zumpano. She recommends you:
- Roast pumpkin in the oven for a side dish.
- Stir pureed or canned pumpkin into soups or sauces (even tomato sauce) to thicken them. Pumpkin can even replace fats or carbohydrates in your recipes.
- Substitute pumpkin for fat or oil in breads, muffins and pancakes.
- Add pumpkin to plain or vanilla yogurt with some pumpkin spice and a dab of honey.
- Mix pumpkin into a smoothie.
- Toast pumpkin seeds to top a salad or roasted vegetables.
And remember, while fresh pumpkin is in season in the autumn months, it’s easy to use canned pumpkin all year long.