10 Health Benefits of Pumpkin that Will Inspire You to Eat More
Pumpkin benefits for your health
Each season comes with its own food favorites and fall is all about squash, especially pumpkin. Most people believe pumpkin is a vegetable, but it’s actually a fruit. Most fruits have seeds, while vegetables are actually plant parts, like leaves, roots, or stems.
When you hear pumpkin, you probably think of its most common form, pumpkin pie, which can be unhealthy. “Yes, pumpkin is often turned into sweet treats but there are lots of healthier versions of classic recipes and new pumpkin recipes to try—think savory as well as sweet,” says Garth Graham, MD, a cardiologist, vice president of community health at CVS Health, and associate professor at University of Connecticut Medical School. “It’s worth expanding your palate; pumpkin is packed with health-promoting nutrients, including fiber, potassium, vitamin C, and protein.”
It’s also delicious and simple to use, says Alyssa Lavy, RD, nutrition counselor, and personal trainer in Connecticut. “Pumpkin makes any dish taste like ‘autumn’ and whether canned or roasted, it’s easier than you think to incorporate into your diet,” she says. (Go beyond pumpkin with these tips for a healthier fall.)
Here are just a few surprising pumpkin benefits that may inspire you to add it to your diet.
Pumpkins seeds have 12 grams of protein and 12 grams of fiber per cup, making them a powerhouse snack for people on a diet. “The combination of fiber and protein in pumpkin seeds can help curb cravings for fatty and sugary treats while satisfying a craving for crunchy, salty snacks,” Dr. Graham says. They have 285 calories per cup but they’ll keep you full much longer than a lower-cal processed “diet” snack, helping you eat fewer calories overall, Lavy says. Don’t love the seeds? One cup of raw pumpkin has .5 grams of fiber for about 30 calories.
Better heart health
If you’re concerned about your heart, pumpkin is a great addition to your diet, Dr. Graham says. “The potassium found in pumpkins and other vegetables may help reduce blood pressure and protect against stroke,” he says. Raw pumpkin has nearly 400 mg of potassium per cup. Plus, fiber has been shown to help improve cardiovascular health.
Stronger immune system
The vibrant orange color is a clue that pumpkin is a great source of vitamins A and C—two nutrients essential for a healthy immune system, Dr. Graham says. Pumpkin seeds are also high in zinc which is another proven immune-booster, he adds.
Steamier sex life
Pumpkin seeds are an excellent nutritional source of zinc, containing ~7 mg per cup. Zinc plays many roles in the body, including helping your immune system, proper growth, and faster wound healing. But another potential health benefit of zinc is a higher libido and an improved ability to maintain an erection (at least in mice), according to a study published in the Journal of Human Reproductive Science. This may be due to its ability to naturally increase testosterone, the researchers found. However, human studies need to be conducted to verify the findings.
Improved gut health
Pumpkin contains both soluble and insoluble fiber, which your body needs for healthy gut functioning, Dr. Graham says. Insoluble fiber acts as a prebiotic, feeding good gut bacteria which in turn boost your mood and your immune system. And for people who struggle with constipation or diarrhea, it also helps with forming healthy stool by making it softer and easier to pass
Lower risk of diabetes
The soluble fiber in pumpkin and other squash has been shown to reduce blood cholesterol and blood sugar. This can reduce your risk of diabetes, Dr. Graham says, adding that the effect is magnified when you add cinnamon, a common spice used in many pumpkin recipes. It is so powerful that compounds found in squash could potentially replace or reduce the daily insulin injections that many diabetics need, according to an animal study published in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture. Although this sounds promising, these findings need to be replicated in human studies first.
Fewer fungal infections
There are other ways pumpkin can help enhance your immune system, Lavy says. In studies to find treatment alternatives for using antibiotics for infections, scientists discovered that a compound found in pumpkin skin is a powerful antifungal. It can inhibit the growth of microbes, including Candida albicans, the fungus that causes vaginal yeast infections, diaper rash in infants, and other health problems, according to the study, published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.
Lower risk of cancer
In addition to being a rich source of beta-carotene, pumpkins are also one of the best sources of alpha-carotene, an antioxidant that promotes cellular health and a stronger immune system, Lavy says. Alpha-carotene is chemically similar to beta-carotene but may be more effective at inhibiting the growth of cancer cells, according to a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine. (Make sure you don’t believe any of these common cancer myths.)
Motivation to exercise
A surprising health benefit of pumpkins comes from the way many of us acquire them, Lavy says. Pumpkin picking is a traditional, fun fall activity—that has the added bonus of getting people outdoors in nature, walking, and carrying things. The average pumpkin weighs between seven and 11 pounds so carrying one or two across a large field can count as both cardio and strength training. It feels festive (and makes for great photo ops) but it is also good exercise which comes with a host of benefits including weight loss, improved mood, and a longer life.
A longer life
It’s not just the anti-cancer properties that tie eating pumpkins to a longer life. People with high blood levels of alpha-carotene seem to have a reduced risk of dying of any cause over a 14-year period, according to the JAMA Internal Medicine study. Increasing your intake of yellow-orange and dark green fruits and vegetables—think carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, broccoli, green beans, green peas, spinach, turnips greens, collards, and leaf lettuce—may be a way of preventing premature death, the researchers noted.
Next, here’s a nutritionist-approved pumpkin spice latte recipe.
- Garth Graham, MD, MPH, cardiologist, president of the Aetna Foundation, vice president of Community Health & Chief Community Health Officer at CVS Health, associate professor at University of Connecticut Medical School, and deputy assistant secretary at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) during both the Bush and Obama administrations
- Alyssa Lavy, RD, CDN, nutrition counselor, and personal trainer in Connecticut
- Journal of Human Reproductive Science: "Effects of zinc supplementation on sexual behavior of male rats"
- Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture: "Hypoglycaemic role of Cucurbita ficifolia (Cucurbitaceae) fruit extract in streptozotocin‐induced diabetic rats"
- Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry: "Antifungal Mechanism of a Novel Antifungal Protein from Pumpkin Rinds against Various Fungal Pathogens"
- JAMA Internal Medicine: "Serum α-Carotene Concentrations and Risk of Death Among US Adults"