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Health Benefits, Nutrition, Who Should Avoid It


Pumpkin is a type of squash and a popular seasonal ingredient during the fall. This nutrient-dense food has various health benefits thanks to a hefty amount of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

While pumpkin is considered a safe food for most healthy adults, it’s possible to experience an allergic reaction or other side effects in certain situations.

This article discusses the health benefits of pumpkin, outlines who should avoid it, and offers tips on how to prepare it.

Longfin Media / Getty Images


Pumpkin Nutrition

Pumpkin (Cucurbita pepo) is packed with vitamins, minerals, and nutrients, particularly fiber and vitamin A. One cup of canned pumpkin contains:

  • Calories: 137
  • Fat: 7 grams (g)
  • Carbohydrates: 19 g
  • Protein: 3 g
  • Fiber: 7 g
  • Sodium: 37 milligrams (mg)
  • Calcium: 64 mg
  • Iron: 3 mg
  • Magnesium: 54 mg
  • Vitamin C: 9 mg
  • Vitamin A: 1,880 micrograms (mcg)

Pumpkin Seed Nutrition

Pumpkin seeds also contain a variety of nutritional benefits. High in antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, pumpkin seeds are a potent anti-inflammatory food that helps support heart health, minimizes diabetes risk, promotes healthy digestion, and more.

Nutritional content for 1 cup of unsalted pumpkin seeds includes:

  • Calories: 264
  • Protein: 14 g
  • Carbohydrates: 7 g
  • Fiber: 3 g
  • Sugar: 0.6 g
  • Calcium: 24 mg
  • Magnesium: 253 mg
  • Zinc: 4 mg
  • Sodium: 8 mg

Benefits of Pumpkin

This versatile squash is nutrient-dense, low in sugar, and high in fiber, making it a supportive dietary addition for immunity, eye health, heart health, diabetes prevention, and more.

Immunity

The beta-carotene (vitamin A) in pumpkin is key for various functions, including boosting the immune system. Vitamin A, along with vitamins C and E, protects the lining of the gut, which helps ward off germs and infections.

Research also shows fruits and vegetables rich in fiber, like pumpkin, may positively impact gut health, thus supporting the immune system. 

Eye Health

Pumpkin’s high beta-carotene content may help protect against age-related eye issues. The antioxidant and anti-inflammatory protection that vitamin A offers can help protect cells from damage.

This may be particularly helpful in people with diseases that impact a part of the eye known as the macula. The beta-carotene and vitamin A can reduce the risk of developing macular degeneration (an eye condition that causes vision loss) and cataracts (a condition that causes the eye’s natural lens to appear cloudy).

Heart Health

The rich supply of potassium, calcium, and magnesium in pumpkin may regulate blood pressure and prevent heart disease. These nutrients are essential parts of a dietary intervention for lowering blood sugar levels and stopping high blood pressure (hypertension).

The nutrients in pumpkin may also help reduce the risk of heart disease, heart failure, stroke, and more.

Digestive Health

The digestive system needs fiber to keep bowel movements regular and maintain a healthy balance of good bacteria that live in the gut. Just 1 cup of canned pumpkin contains nearly one-third of the daily recommended fiber intake.

Molecules found in the peel of a pumpkin (known as polysaccharides) may support the healthy bacteria in the gut.

Metabolic Health

Boosting your metabolism by eating lower-calorie foods helps the body process food into energy steadily. While pumpkin is a source of some carbohydrates, it has fewer than other substitutes like potatoes or rice and also contains more calories.

Pumpkin’s high-fiber, high-water content keeps the body fuller for longer, making pumpkin a good choice for weight management.

Skin Health

Vitamins C, E, and A are essential for overall skin health. Specifically, vitamin A seems to help protect the skin from sun damage and may also improve skin texture. The antioxidant support vitamins C and E provide are often touted within skin care ingredients, but some research shows that they may also be supportive when consumed in the diet.

Reduce the Risk of Cancer

Antioxidants like those found in pumpkins can help neutralize the damaging free radicals (unstable molecules) produced by abnormal cancer cells, which may help protect against the development of certain types of cancers.

Some studies show that people who consume high amounts of antioxidants like beta-carotene have a decreased risk for stomach, breast, and pancreatic cancers. More research is needed to confirm antioxidant consumption as the reason behind this lowered risk.

Prevent and Control Diabetes

Research shows pumpkin and pumpkin seed can help lower blood sugar levels, which could be helpful for people who either live with or are at risk for developing type 2 diabetes. These findings may be attributed to pumpkin’s rich magnesium content, but more scientific evidence is needed to confirm the potential benefits.

Who Should Avoid Pumpkin?

Pumpkin is generally safe for most healthy adults to eat. That said, if you’re trying pumpkin for the first time or reintroducing it to your diet, here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  • Allergic reaction: People with food allergies or sensitivities to certain foods may experience gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms or a skin rash after consuming pumpkin.
  • Digestive symptoms: Because pumpkin is high in fiber, consuming it may impact the digestive system and contribute to stomach cramping, bloating, and gas.
  • Foodborne illness: Raw food can transmit bacteria, viruses, and other pathogens that can cause disease. Avoid raw pumpkin that has not been properly washed, thoroughly cooked, or prepared.
  • Medication side effects: The nutrients in pumpkin may encourage the body to eliminate water content quickly, which could impact how the body absorbs and rids itself of certain medications like lithium (a mood stabilizer sometimes prescribed to treat bipolar disorder).

People who are pregnant or breastfeeding should always check with a healthcare provider about their diet before consuming any new or questionable foods to ensure it’s safe for them to eat.

What’s the Healthiest Way to Add Pumpkin to Your Diet?

There are simple ways to add pumpkin to your diet. Because the flavor of pumpkin is sweet, it’s often thought of as being ideal for desserts and other sweet snacks. Canned pumpkin is used as a healthy ingredient in baked goods, pancake batters, and smoothies but also as a savory addition to foods like hummus or mashed potatoes.

When seeded and sliced into wedges, pumpkin may also be seasoned and cooked into soups, stews, pastas, or casseroles. Some nutritionists have suggested pureed pumpkin as a healthier replacement, depending on your flavor preferences.

Summary

Pumpkin is rich in numerous vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that can help support the immune system, bolster eye and skin health, and protect against some types of chronic disease. While it’s sometimes associated with seasonal lattes and desserts, pumpkin can be a simple addition to sweet and savory cuisines.

Pumpkin is considered a safe food for most healthy adults, but check with a healthcare provider if you have a history of food allergies, are pregnant, or are taking certain medications.



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