8 Surprising Health Benefits of Pumpkin

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Mom and daughter cooking or baking with small pumpkin

Did you know pumpkin is actually a fruit? Maybe that’s what makes it so delicious in a pumpkin pie or pumpkin spiced latte. It’s also a treat for your body, because pumpkin is packed with health benefits. It’s bright orange color comes from beta-carotene and pumpkin contains high amounts of vitamin A. This helps improve vision, supports healthy skin and bones, battles infection, and boosts cellular growth. It’s also a great source of fiber and contains only 50 calories in one cup of pumpkin. Keep in mind that, though tasty, pumpkin seeds aren’t quite as nutritious as pure pumpkin.

1. Improves Eye Health

Look out, carrots! Pumpkin is taking the lead as a key food for eye health. It’s rich in vitamin A and beta-carotene which helps improve retinal function and light processing. In fact, one cup of pumpkin has more than 200% of the daily recommended amount of vitamin A. Pumpkin also contains lutein and zeaxanthin, powerful antioxidants that protect against cataracts and macular degeneration in aging eyes. Eating pumpkin every week could lower your risk of advanced macular degeneration by 25 to 35%.

2. Strengthens Your Immune System

Thank goodness pumpkins show up in the fall just in time for the cold and flu season. In addition to antioxidants and vitamin A, one cup of pumpkin is chock full of vitamin C and zinc. Vitamin A helps your body ward off viruses and fight infections and could make immunizations more effective. It may even provide protection against autoimmune diseases. Vitamin C and zinc can speed up your recovery and help you get over your sniffles faster. These are all perfect reasons to indulge in pumpkin pie this fall and year-round.

3. Protects Your Heart

If heart health is a priority for you, make pumpkin one of your power foods. It contains 16% of your daily recommended amount of potassium, which helps prevent heart disease. Potassium also regulates your blood pressure, lowers cholesterol levels, balances minerals in the body, and supports strong muscles. These heart healthy benefits go beyond pumpkin—any winter squash will do! Try butternut or acorn squash to mix things up. Adding roasted pumpkin and squashes to salads or pasta dishes is a tasty way to treat yourself and your heart. You can also cook with pumpkin seed oil.

4. Can Help Fight Cancer

Carotenoids are one of the most powerful components of pumpkins and squashes. Not only do they create those beautiful yellow and orange colors, they battle free-radicals in your body and may help protect you from certain types of cancer. Research suggests that carotenoids may be particularly beneficial in lowering the risk of colorectal and breast cancers. Pumpkin also contains beta-carotene and lutein, two flavonoids that may slow or stop cancer cell growth. With this much goodness in one cup of pumpkin, it makes sense to start your day with a colorful pumpkin smoothie (low in sugar, of course!).

5. Helps You Sleep

Skip the turkey and head straight for the pumpkin pie. Why? Because pumpkin seeds contain the amino acid tryptophan, which boosts our sleep hormone melatonin. If you really need help sleeping, start your tryptophan-rich meal with turkey, chicken, rice, or tofu. You can also try eating pumpkin seeds, also called pepitas, as a bedtime snack to help you have a restful night. As a bonus, pumpkin seeds are high in essential fatty acids and zinc, so you can improve your health while you sleep. If those tips don’t work, try sipping on pumpkin juice before bed.

6. Keeps You Regular

Eating pumpkin regularly can help keep your digestive system in sync. Pumpkin is full of fiber and provides 7 grams of fiber (and only 30 calories!) in one cup. Getting enough fiber in your diet helps reduce your risk of bowel cancer, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. How do you add pumpkin to your daily routine? Add pumpkin puree to smoothies, soups, stews, and chili. Roasted pumpkin is also versatile and can be eaten solo or served on top of your favorite grain. You might even try substituting mashed pumpkin for mashed potatoes.

7. Curbs Hunger

If you can’t keep your hands off your candy stash, reach for pumpkin instead. This fiber-filled fruit (yep, it’s a fruit) helps keep you fuller longer and scares away hunger pangs. Adding pumpkin to your lunch or sipping pumpkin juice after your workout may help you resist those tempting afternoon snacks. Research also shows that foods containing carotenoids could prevent your body from storing fat around your midsection. Leaner bodies typically have high blood levels of carotenoids. Just remember to avoid sugary pumpkin treats and opt for pure pumpkin instead.

8. Supports Healthy Skin

Pumpkins aren’t the only ones with gorgeous glowing skin. Eating pumpkin can help improve your skin’s appearance and prevent sun damage. Vitamin A is the key component in pumpkin that helps protect your skin from UV rays, so take a pumpkin smoothie to the pool or beach (in addition to sunscreen!). You can also use pumpkin pulp for a DIY facial. Blend a quarter cup of pure canned pumpkin with an egg, a tablespoon of milk, and a tablespoon of honey. Apply it to your face and let it sit for 20 minutes, then wash with warm water.

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  1. Seed of the month: Pumpkin seeds. Harvard Health. https://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/seed-of-the-month-pumpkin-seeds
  2. Pumpkin: Loaded with scary-good nutrients. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinichealthsystem.org/hometown-health/speaking-of-health/pumpkin-loaded-with-scary-good-nutrients
  3. I've heard that canned pumpkin is healthier than fresh pumpkin. Is that true? Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/expert-answers/pumpkin/faq-20058106
  4. Surprising Reasons Why Pumpkin Is a Healthy Food. Cleveland Clinic. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/truth-about-the-great-pumpkin-its-good-for-you/
Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 Oct 6
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