Pumpkin is a ubiquitous decorative and dietary staple during the Halloween and Thanksgiving seasons. Most of us associate the bright orange gourd with jack-o'-lanterns and sugar-laden pies, but few of us realize that pumpkin is actually a nutritional powerhouse! It's low in calories, full of antioxidants, and packed with fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
Pumpkin is also an incredibly versatile vegetable. You can find it in side dishes, baked into breads and pies, or substituted for sweet potatoes or squash in many recipes. And it's not just the flesh of the pumpkin that can be used—pumpkin seeds are also quite nutritious, and they offer up a good dose of both dietary fiber and phytosterols, two nutrients that may help improve cholesterol levels in the body.
Whether you choose to pick out a locally grown pumpkin from the nearest pumpkin patch and gut the gourd yourself, or simply use pure canned pumpkin, you can take advantage of pumpkin's many nutritional benefits. Read more about what this sweet squash can do for you!
Aids Digestive Health and Fullness
Fiber is a very important part of digestive and gastrointestinal health. A cup of raw, boiled pumpkin packs about 3 grams of dietary fiber. If you opt for the canned stuff, you're looking at twice that amount—around 7 grams of fiber per cup. The difference in fiber content between fresh pumpkin and canned pumpkin is due to the fact that canned pumpkin is much more concentrated by volume and has less water content than fresh pumpkin.
Fresh pumpkin contains mostly soluble fiber, which helps to increase feelings of satiety and fight off food cravings by keeping you fuller longer. Feelings of fullness are especially important for those individuals who may be on restricted calories in an effort to lose body fat.
Enhances Nerve and Muscle Function
Bananas and potatoes aren't the only good sources of potassium in your diet. Pumpkins are another way to load up on this essential electrolyte without a lot of added calories or carbs. Besides regulating blood pressure and muscle function, potassium plays a very important role in nerve firing and functionality. Potassium is especially important for trained individuals and recreational athletes, due to the fact that the mineral is involved in regulating water balance and muscular contractions.
When your electrolytes are off balance and fluid intake is inadequate, you might experience muscular cramps during exercise. For these reasons, providing your body with adequate amounts of potassium through your diet is equally as important as staying hydrated.
Boosts Vision and Maintains Strong Bones
Pumpkin is also a phenomenal source of vitamin A, a fat-soluble vitamin and antioxidant that aids vision and bone remodeling, and regulates the development of your cells. Half a cup of cooked pumpkin offers up over 100 percent of your recommended intake for vitamin A, which will help keep your eyesight sharp and bones strong.
Pumpkin also happens to be a rich source of beta-carotene, which is a precursor to vitamin A and offers additional protection for your peepers.
Supports Immune Function
The combination of vitamin C and beta-carotene in pumpkin can help support your body's immune system and may help ward off the common cold. Both fresh and canned pumpkin pack in about 12 milligrams of vitamin C per serving, around 20 percent of your recommended daily intake.
Provides Powerful Antioxidants
Pumpkins are packed full of antioxidants, which can help minimize the activity of substances called free radicals that can damage your cells and tissue.
Beta-carotene and alpha-carotene, two compounds found in large amounts in pumpkin, help scavenge and eliminate free radicals in the body and prevent them from causing damage to your blood vessels and other tissues.
Supports Muscle Growth
If you chose to use fresh pumpkin in lieu of canned pumpkin, do yourself a favor and hold on to the pumpkin seeds!
Not only are pumpkin seeds a great source of zinc—a micronutrient responsible for cell metabolism and immunity—and magnesium—an important cofactor involved in ATP energy production—they're also a great source of protein. You'll find 8 grams of protein and 2 grams of fiber per 1-ounce serving of seeds.
Pumpkin seeds, like any other nut or seed, are relatively high in calories (roughly 160 calories per ounce). Just make sure to pay attention to the serving size when snacking on these delicious and nutritious seeds.
As far as prep goes, you can roast the seeds by simply placing them on a lightly greased baking sheet and baking at 320 degrees Fahrenheit for 20 minutes, tossing and shaking the seeds every 5 minutes to prevent burning.
Put Your Pumpkin to Use
Now that you know pumpkin is more than something pretty to plop on your doorstep this fall, here's a protein-packed pumpkin-pie recipe that's great to serve at any holiday party!
Whole eggs 2
Egg whites 4
Fat-free cream cheese, softened 8 oz.
100% canned pumpkin 15 oz.
Splenda 1/3 cup
Cinnamon 1 tsp
Nutmeg 1 tsp
Baking powder 1/8 tsp
Vanilla protein powder 1 scoop
- Preheat oven to 400 F.
- Beat cream cheese and canned pumpkin in a mixing bowl.
- Blend in remainder of ingredients.
- Pour batter into a lightly greased aluminum pie plate.
- Bake for 40-45 minutes or until top starts to slowly crack. Stick the middle with a toothpick to test doneness.
- Let the pie sit on the countertop for 1-2 hours. Chill overnight for 8-12 hours and enjoy!
Serving size: 1/2 pie
Recipe yields: 2 servings