Pumpkin is more than just an ingredient for pie crusts and Halloween carving! It is nutritional powerhouses that offers a wide range of health benefits.
What is Pumpkin?
Pumpkins are round, vibrant orange fruits with a slightly ribbed, tough and smooth outer skin. The inside of the pumpkin are the flesh and seeds. When cooked, the whole pumpkin is edible – the skin, pulp and seeds.
In the U.S. and Canada, pumpkin is a popular Halloween and Thanksgiving staple. The fruit is often made into pie, a traditional dessert staple of the American and Canadian thanksgiving holidays.
In North America, pumpkins are commonly craved into decorative lanterns called Jack-o-lantern for the Halloween season.
Pumpkin Nutrition Facts
Pumpkins are extremely rich in fiber and carotenoids, particularly beta-carotene, an antioxidant plant pigment that gives pumpkin its bright orange color.
The fruit also contains lots of essential vitamins and minerals, including vitamin A, B6, C, and E, as well as copper, potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, iron, and zinc.
In addition, pumpkin seeds and seed oil also provide many other nutrients that have been shown to offer a number of health benefits.
Health Benefits of Pumpkin
1. Maintain eye health
Vitamin A is essential for eye health and helps the eyes to absorb light, which is needed for sight. A single cup of pumpkin contains over 200 percent of recommended daily intake of vitamin A, making it a great choice for eye health.
Pumpkin also contains lutein and zeaxanthin, two antioxidants that help prevent cataracts and slow the development of macular degeneration.
2. Boost immunity
Pumpkin contains beta-carotene, which is converted to vitamin A when consumed. Research has indicated that vitamin A helps to trigger the creation of body’s immune cells that fight infection. Moreover, the vitamin C, fiber, and zinc in this fruit also contribute to a better immunity.
3. Cancer prevention
Several studies suggest that foods rich in beta-carotene may reduce the risk of several types of cancer.
A study conducted by the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology showed that consuming pumpkin seeds can prevent and treat breast cancer. Others studies suggest that a supplement containing pumpkin seeds had the potential to slow down the growth of prostate cancer cells.
4. Support cardiovascular health
Pumpkins are a rich source of antioxidants and fatty acids, which helps regulate and protect heart function.
The antioxidant compounds found in pumpkin may support cardiovascular health by preventing oxidative damage involved in the process of atherosclerosis. In a study among Massachusetts residents followed for nearly five years, those with a diet with the highest amount of beta-carotene had approximately half the risk of death from cardiovascular disease compared to those with a diet with the lowest amount.
The omega-3 fatty acids found in pumpkin seeds improve the health of the lining of blood vessels and lower blood pressure. They also help prevent the formation of cholesterol plaque on artery walls.
5. Lower blood pressure
An animal study has also shown that pumpkin seed oil can help control high blood pressure. For the study, Egyptian researchers caused hypertension in rats by inhibiting nitric oxide synthase, the enzyme responsible for generating the blood pressure regulating molecule nitric oxide. The hypertensive rats were then administered pumpkin seed oil or the antihypertensive medication amlodipine daily for six weeks. Results showed that pumpkin seed oil was as effective as amlodipine in reversing elevated blood pressure in rats by restoring nitric oxide levels close to normal.
6. Reduce LDL cholesterol
The soluble fiber in pumpkin is also beneficial for lowering cholesterol and triglycerides. Pumpkin seeds can help with cholesterol too. Like many other seeds, pumpkin seeds are naturally rich in phytosterols that have been shown to reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol.
7. Reduce diabetes risk
Due to the high magnesium content, pumpkin seeds can also help to regulate blood sugar levels, reducing the risk of diabetes. A study conducted by the Department of Nutrition, Harvard School of Public Health, found that consuming magnesium-rich foods may significantly reduce the diabetes risk.
An observational study involving over 127,000 men and women found that diets rich in magnesium were associated with a 33% lower risk of type 2 diabetes in men and a 34% lower risk in women.
Another study using rats, published in the Bioscience, Biotechnology, and Biochemistry in 2009, found that pumpkin contains substances called trigonelline and nicotinic acid which may help improve insulin resistance and slow the progression of diabetes.
8. Weight loss
Pumpkins are high in fiber and one cup serving of pumpkin contains only 49 calories, meaning it can keep you fuller longer on fewer calories. Research has found that adding pumpkin to your diet is effective for weight reduction programs.
9. Good for skin
Pumpkin contains vitamins C and E, as well as beta-carotene, all of which have been found to play an important role in maintaining a healthy skin.
Vitamin C and E are two well-known antioxidants that helps protect the skin from free radical damage, which can lead to wrinkles and even skin cancer. Vitamin C is also required for the production of collagen, which overtime can improve skin tone and elasticity.
A good intake of antioxidant beta-carotene in your diet like pumpkin has been shown to help reverse UV damage and improve skin texture.
10. Promote sleep
Pumpkin seeds are one of the top sources of tryptophan, an essential amino acid that is needed to synthesize serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates mood, sleep and behavior.
Consuming around 1 gram of tryptophan daily could help you sleep better.
Even though pumpkin seeds contain more tryptophan than almost any other food, you would need to eat around 7 oz (200 grams) of pumpkin seeds to get the necessary 1 gram of tryptophan.
In addition, pumpkin seeds are an excellent source of magnesium. Adequate magnesium levels have also been associated with better sleep.
Few studies have found that taking a magnesium supplement improved sleep quality and total sleep time in people with low magnesium levels.
So, eating a handful of pumpkin seeds a few hours before bed may be especially beneficial for providing your body with the fuel it needs to promote an optimal sleep.
How to Select and Store Pumpkin
When buying pumpkins, look for smaller varieties that are free of any blemishes or bruises, and are heavy for their size and have their stems intact. Larger pumpkins intended for decoration and are less flavourful than the smaller varieties that are intended for consumption.
If you plan on keeping them for as long as a month, gently clean the surface of the pumpkin with hot water and a clean cloth, then promptly wipe them completely dry. Pumpkins typically store well for up to 2 to 3 months, if you keep them at a cool temperature, between 10 and 12ºC.