Health Benefits of Pumpkin

By: Lilli Rozanski MS, RDN, LDN, Sports and Fitness Dietitian, Thibodaux Regional Medical Center

First, just a reminder that pumpkin is a type of produce, not just a scent in your favorite fall candle or flavoring in your pumpkin spice latte. Pumpkin has a ton of health benefits to add nutrition to your diet and boost the taste of pretty much anything. It complements both sweet and savory foods and is pretty low in calories. Here are five awesome benefits of pumpkin:

  1. It is high in vitamin A
    • Eating pumpkin is good for your eyes! One cup of pumpkin has over 200 percent of the recommended daily intake of vitamin A, which is important for eye health and night vision. Pumpkin’s bright orange color comes from its high beta-carotene concentration and beta-carotene is a carotenoid (an antioxidant) and a precursor of vitamin A. Beta-carotene also helps protect us from the sun's harmful UV rays.
  2. Also packed with Vitamin C
    • Pumpkin is a good source of vitamin C, an antioxidant known for strengthening the immune system and boosting collagen production. It also improves iron absorption and studies show it reduces oxidative stress, which can prevent premature aging. One cup of pumpkin contains 19 percent of the recommended daily intake.
  3. Can help keep you full
    • Pumpkin is high in fiber! One cup of pumpkin has about 7 grams of fiber. The recommended intake of fiber is between 25-35 grams per day. Fiber is needed for healthy digestion, it helps to lower cholesterol, and keeps us fuller for longer.
  4. It is great for your muscles
    • Pumpkin also contains magnesium, a mineral that is very important for a variety of different functions in the body like energy creation, muscle relaxation, and nervous system regulation. In one cup you get 14 percent of your daily value.
  5. It has more potassium than a banana
    • Pumpkin is high in potassium, a mineral necessary for muscle contraction, good digestion, water balance, and a healthy blood pressure. As with magnesium, if you’re active and are depleting electrolytes, like potassium, it’s even more critical to restore levels. There’s over 500 milligrams of potassium in a cup of canned pumpkin —more than what you’d get in a large banana.

But what about pumpkin spice?

There is a strange occurrence that happens between Labor Day and Black Friday. Grocery stores, restaurants and coffee shops are suddenly filled with an influx of pumpkin spice–flavored products. They include everything from yogurt to cereal to protein bars. But since not all pumpkin spice products are created equal, here are some guidelines on what to look for:

  1. Choose products that actually have pumpkin as the first or second ingredient.
    • For yogurts, ice cream, baked goods, and protein bars it’s a must; for cereals and spreads, a few ingredients down is okay on occasion. So long as the first ingredient is a real food and not sugar, you’re good to go.
  2. Look for as few ingredients and grams of sugar as possible.
    • Try to find products with an ingredient list that is short and sweet. You also want to be able to pronounce all the ingredients! Products with a single digit of grams of sugar is a good rule to go by. Dairy and fruit products may contain a little more due to naturally occurring sugar, but try not to go more than about 12 grams of sugar.
  3. Skip the daily sugary beverages!
    • Unfortunately that does include the infamous PSL from Starbucks (a medium has about 50 grams of sugar!). Luckily, there are a few better-for-you alternatives to satisfy your pumpkin spice craving.
      • Try a pumpkin spice creamer. With about 35 calories per tablespoon, you can get the taste of pumpkin spice with a tablespoon or two added to your coffee.
      • Another option is to add low-fat milk, one teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice, ½ teaspoon vanilla and one teaspoon sugar/stevia to your brewed coffee!
      • Recreate your own PSL Frappuccino! Blend together one medium banana, 1/3 cup canned pumpkin puree, one cup unsweetened milk of your choice (non-fat or low fat milk, almond, soy, oatmeal), ½ teaspoon pumpkin pie spice, one teaspoon sugar (or low calorie sweetener). Mix and enjoy — serves two and has just 125 calories per serving.

References available upon request