As that artfully crafted Jack O'Lantern perches comfortably on your front stoop, its chilling grin could actually hold the antidote to many ailments. Pumpkin is surprisingly packed with antioxidants that contribute to the overall strength and function of the body. You may have heard before that orange is associated with eye health. This is true, and one of many contributions to your overall well being that a pumpkin can provide. Some other benefits of this little orange squash include:
Strengthening the immune system
Preventing chronic lifestyle diseases like cardiovascular disease
Supporting weight loss
Rejuvenating the skin
Even the seeds are chock full of nutrients
To understand the effectiveness of this incredible fruit (though it acts more like a vegetable) several underlying imbalances in the body should be made clear. Let’s back up….
Free Radicals & Oxidative Stress
Free radicals are molecules produced by your body’s metabolic process. They have many useful roles, which include destroying harmful bacteria in the body. However, they are highly unstable and excess free radicals create an imbalance in the body called oxidative stress. This stress can lead to vision loss, destruction of skin cells and chronic illnesses like stroke, heart disease and cancer. Antioxidants are required to neutralize free radicals, stopping the damage they cause to your cells. Read on to see how pumpkin can help with this oxidative stress.
Beta-carotene & Vitamin A
Beta carotene is the antioxidant that gives pumpkin it’s vibrant orange color. In the body, beta carotene is converted to Vitamin A. This vitamin has an incredibly important function when it comes to protecting the body against oxidative stress. Vitamin A prevents the damage free radicals could cause on cells throughout the body, supports the immune system, and helps fight infection. In fact, people with vitamin A deficiency have been shown to have weaker immune systems than those who maintain the daily recommended level. And guess what? One cup of pumpkin (245g) provides 245% of the reference daily intake (RDI) of Vitamin A!
Antioxidants & Vitamin C
It’s not just Vitamin A — lutein and zeaxanthin, two other carotenoids found in pumpkin and the main dietary compounds found in the retina, are linked to lowering the risk of cataracts and age-related macular degeneration (the leading cause of severe, permanent vision loss in older adults). Additionally, lutein, zeaxanthin, vitamin E and other carotenoids like beta-carotene act as a natural sunblock. They are among the antioxidants that can internally boost your skin’s defenses against UV rays (however, still use that sunscreen!).
Vitamin C is also crucial in the production of the protein collagen, a key component in blood clotting and providing structure to your skin. Additionally, this vitamin increases your white blood cell production, assisting in the function of immune cells and speeding up the process of healing wounds. Just one cup of pumpkin is equal to 19% of your daily recommended dose of Vitamin C. Is that Jack O'Lantern starting to look tasty yet?
Potassium & Heart Health
Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in America and potassium plays an important role in heart health. One cup chopped pumpkin provides 16% of your RDI of potassium. This mineral reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke by lowering blood pressure. Imagine how a diet of foods rich in nutrients just like pumpkin could keep your heart healthy and strong for the long term.
Fiber & Digestive Regulation
There is a hefty amount of fiber in each serving of pumpkin. As you probably know, fiber regulates bowel movements, allowing for a healthy flow through your digestive tract and lowering your risk of colon cancer. In each cup of pumpkin, you are receiving 2.7 grams of fiber. Not only that but pumpkin is 94% water. Low in calories and high in nutrients, pumpkin’s fiber content will curb your appetite, promote regular bowel movements, foster a healthy gut, and reduce the stress on your colon.
Seeds & Magnesium
Pumpkin seeds should never go to waste. Spread them on a sheet, sprinkle them with a little salt and roast them until toasty, around 25 minutes. They contain magnesium, a vital component of chemical reactions in the body, and an element that is deficient in many adults. This mineral controls blood pressure, regulates blood sugar levels, and reduces your risk of heart disease, to name a few. Pumpkin seeds also provide nearly 8 mcg of zinc in every 100g serving. This mineral is essential for normal immune function, prevention of uterine infections, and especially important for normal growth and development during pregnancy. Because the body has no natural storage center for zinc, a daily intake requirement is necessary. Munching on a handful of pumpkin seeds a day is a delicious way to heal your body through diet.
In the Kitchen
When it’s time to cook a pumpkin, choose a sweet or pie pumpkin. Find one that is hard and heavy for its size and still retains a stem at least 2 inches in length. These pumpkins can be stored for two months in a cool, dry location. Cut it open, scoop out seeds and strings, wash them off and put those seeds aside for your magnesium munching. Cut the pumpkin into wedges to roast. From here, you can make some incredible pumpkin recipes. One suggestion might be to make your own creamy, pumpkin puree. You can use this puree in place of oil or butter in any recipe.
Here are some recipes if you're looking for inspiration:
1 cup of pumpkin contains:
1.76 g of protein
2.7 g of fiber
49 calories (kcal)
0.17 g of fat
0 g of cholesterol
12 g of carbohydrate
Pumpkin also provides a range of essential vitamins and minerals, including:
The pumpkin positively influences nearly every aspect of the body, from eyes to skin to heart to stomach to colon to weight to the innate ability to fight off infection. It’s an intimidating fruit—heavy and messy and hard to cut. What’s more intimidating is conquering long term health goals and the diseases that hover over us as we age. Pumpkin is one of many plants especially beneficial for our physical condition and well-being. Incorporate this odd orange orb into the meal-time rotation and utilize its many nutrients to take control of your health and your future.
Do you have any amazing pumpkin recipes to share? Let us know in the comments below!
Hi! My name is Alana Ahrens, and I am a student in Georgia State University's Coordinated Program for Dietetics. I am so excited to be pursuing my passion for food and fitness. When it comes to nutrition, there are endless opportunities to explore and writing is a favorite of mine. If I'm not in a classroom, you will find me hiking, running and/or cooking decently adequate vegan meals. I look forward to the chance to learn from and connect with this plant-based community.