Pumpkin is a favorite autumn ingredient, but you may wonder whether it’s healthy.
Indeed, pumpkin is very nutritious and low in calories. Plus, it’s more versatile than you may think. It can be cooked into savory and sweet dishes alike.
This article reviews the nutritional properties of pumpkin and its various uses and benefits.
Pumpkin is a type of winter squash that’s in the same plant family as cucumbers and melons. It’s technically a fruit since it contains seeds. Yet, in terms of nutrition, it’s more like a vegetable.
Pumpkins are usually round and orange, although the size, shape, and color can vary depending on the variety. They have a thick outer rind that’s smooth and ribbed, as well as a stem that connects the pumpkin to its leafy plant.
Inside they’re hollow, except for ivory-colored seeds coated with stringy flesh.
These squash are native to North America and play a big role in two holidays. They are carved into jack-o’-lanterns for Halloween and cooked into pies for Thanksgiving dessert in the United States and Canada.
However, they’re also grown around the world on every continent except Antarctica.
Their seeds, leaves, and flesh are all edible.
There are many varieties of pumpkins, including:
- Jack-o’-lantern: a large variety that’s used for carving
- Pie pumpkins: a smaller, sweeter variety
- Miniature: used for decoration but also edible
- White: used for decoration but can be cooked
- Giant: mostly grown for contests; technically edible but less flavorful than smaller pumpkins
Most of the pumpkin that’s sold in the United States is canned.
Interestingly, the variety of pumpkin that’s most typically canned looks more similar to a butternut squash than a jack-o’-lantern.
The distinction between pumpkin and other types of squash can be a bit fuzzy, as there are many different but closely related varieties.
Pumpkin comes in many varieties, although the most common varieties are the large ones used for carving jack-o’-lanterns and smaller, sweeter pie pumpkins.
Pumpkin is an incredibly nutritious food. It’s nutrient dense, meaning it has lots of vitamins and minerals and relatively few calories.
One cup (245 grams) of canned pumpkin provides (
- Calories: 137
- Protein: 3 grams
- Fat: 7 grams
- Carbs: 19 grams
- Fiber: 7 grams
- Vitamin A: 209% of the Daily Value (DV)
- Vitamin K: 37% of the DV
- Copper: 28% of the DV
- Vitamin E: 22% of the DV
- Iron: 18% of the DV
- Magnesium: 13% of the DV
- Riboflavin: 10% of the DV
- Vitamin B6: 10% of the DV
- Vitamin C: 10% of the DV
- Potassium: 10% of the DV
It also contains smaller amounts of several other nutrients.
The vitamin A contained in pumpkin is actually in the form of vitamin A precursors beta carotene and alpha carotene. Your body can turn these powerful antioxidants into vitamin A after you consume them (
Pumpkin seed nutrition
Pumpkin seeds, or pepitas, are also commonly eaten as a snack. Here’s the nutrient breakdown of 1 ounce (15 grams) of pumpkin seeds in their shell (
- Calories: 86
- Protein: 4 grams
- Fat: 7 grams
- Carbs: 2 grams
- Fiber: 1 gram
- Copper: 21% of the DV
- Magnesium: 20% of the DV
- Phosphorus: 14% of the DV
- Zinc: 10% of the DV
Pumpkin seeds are low in carbs but high in fat, making them an ideal snack for people who follow low carb or plant-based diets.
Pumpkins are loaded with a variety of nutrients, including fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
Most of a pumpkin’s health benefits come from its vitamins and minerals, along with its low sugar and high fiber content.
While there aren’t many studies on pumpkin specifically, it’s high in several nutrients that have established health benefits.
Pumpkin gives you a hefty dose of beta carotene, which is partially converted into vitamin A. Vitamin A can help your body fight infections (
Some research shows that vitamin A is particularly important for strengthening the intestinal lining, making it more resistant to infections (
Vitamin C also plays a key role in immune health by strengthening the immune cells that respond when a pathogen is identified (
There are a couple of ways in which pumpkin is good for your eyes.
First, it’s rich in beta carotene, which helps keep your vision sharp by helping the retina absorb light (
Second, the combination of other vitamins and minerals in pumpkin may protect against age-related macular degeneration.
One study found that people with age-related macular degeneration could slow its progression by taking supplements containing zinc, vitamin C, vitamin E, beta carotene, or a combination of these (
While that study used a supplement, you can find all of these nutrients in pumpkin, although in smaller amounts.
The antioxidants found in pumpkin are important for skin health. These include beta carotene and vitamins C and E.
Beta carotene, in particular, may protect your skin from the sun’s damaging ultraviolet (UV) rays. Eating foods with beta carotene may also help improve the appearance and texture of your skin. (
Vitamins C and E also have antioxidant properties. They’re often used as an ingredient in skin care products, but they may even help boost skin health when eaten. However, more research in humans is needed (
Eating fruits and vegetables supports heart health. What’s more, pumpkin contains specific nutrients that are good for heart health.
Particularly, potassium may help reduce high blood pressure levels (
In addition, fiber may help lower blood cholesterol levels by binding with the cholesterol in the foods you eat and preventing its absorption (
Eating foods rich in beta carotene, such as pumpkin, may help improve your metabolic health — that is, how well your blood sugar is managed and the distribution of fat on your body (
Pumpkin is also rich in fiber, which can help dull blood sugar spikes after you consume carb-containing foods (
However, your overall dietary pattern is much more important for your health than simply occasionally eating pumpkin.
Most of the health benefits of pumpkin relate to its content of fiber and micronutrients, including beta carotene and vitamin A.
Pumpkin is popular in pancakes, pies, custards, and muffins, but it also works well in savory dishes.
You can cook it into a soup or roast it with other vegetables. Canned pumpkin can be combined with coconut milk and spices to make a creamy curry base.
You can also eat other parts of the pumpkin plant. Its seeds are roasted for a crunchy snack or salad topping, while its flowers are often battered and fried.
But don’t bother cooking that jack-o’-lantern. The large pumpkins used for carving have a stringy texture and are less flavorful than pie pumpkins. Plus, for food safety reasons, you don’t want to eat something that has been cut open and sitting around.
There are many ways to enjoy pumpkin. For the healthiest versions, try using it in savory dishes like soup or as a roasted vegetable.
Pumpkin-flavored processed foods
Just because something has pumpkin in its name doesn’t mean it’s healthy.
Drinking pumpkin spice lattes, for example, doesn’t offer any of the health benefits of eating an actual pumpkin. What’s more, many pumpkin-spice-flavored sweet treats don’t even have any pumpkin in them — only pumpkin pie spice.
And while pumpkin baked goods like pie and quick bread may offer some extra vitamins, minerals, and fiber from their pumpkin content, they also contain lots of sugar and refined carbs.
Pumpkin is generally a healthy food with no negative consequences if eaten in moderation, but for optimal health, you should limit highly processed, sugar-laden pumpkin foods to occasional treats.
Pumpkin is an incredibly healthy vegetable that’s rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals. It’s extremely versatile and can be used in desserts or savory dishes. The seeds, which are an excellent source of plant-based fat, also make a healthy snack or salad topping.
However, to get the most benefits from pumpkin, you should eat it as a vegetable — not a dessert.
Just one thing
Try this today: Pumpkin can be used in many dishes you’d never expect. I’ve made a low carb pumpkin chili before by replacing the beans with canned pumpkin. Pumpkin also makes a flavorful fall soup when paired with broth, cream, and herbs and spices.
Finally, canned pumpkin makes an excellent base for dips and spreads, which you can take in the savory or sweet direction.