NEW YORK – Pumpkins are everywhere during autumn. But are they good for you?
Pumpkins are more than a seasonal decoration or flavouring for lattes. They have a long history as a versatile and vital source of nutrition, said Ms Denee Bex, a dietitian and diabetes care and education specialist in Farmington, New Mexico.
The pumpkin, which is a type of squash, is native to the Americas and was farmed by indigenous communities long before the arrival of the Europeans, said Ms Bex, who is Navajo.
And there are big benefits to their lasting popularity, she added. They are packed with nutrients, including vitamins, minerals and fibre.
Why pumpkin is so good for you
Pumpkin is what nutrition experts call a nutrient-dense food, meaning it packs a big nutritional punch in exchange for relatively few calories, said Dr Rachel Kopec, an associate professor of human nutrition at Ohio State University.
One cup of canned pumpkin, for example, contains 137 calories but provides more than 200 per cent of the daily value for vitamin A, 36 per cent of vitamin K, 25 per cent of fibre and 22 per cent of vitamin E. It is also a good source of vitamin B6, vitamin C, magnesium, riboflavin, iron and potassium.
The vitamin A in pumpkin comes from plant pigments called carotenoids, which give pumpkin its golden colour, and can be converted by the body into vitamin A, Dr Kopec said. Vitamin A is vital for vision, pregnancy, skin health and immune function – the last of which is especially “important as we head into the colder months”, she said.
A carotenoid in pumpkin called beta-carotene, as well as vitamins C and E, can also act as antioxidants and can help protect the skin from damage from ultraviolet rays and pollution, said Ms Amanda Lynett, a dietitian specialising in gastroenterology at Michigan Medicine hospital.
One cup of canned pumpkin puree, which is typically made from a pumpkin variety that is similar to butternut squash, contains about 7g of fibre, a nutrient that most people in the United States could benefit from eating more of.
Fibre can help you feel full and satisfied, regulate your blood sugar and cholesterol levels, and support a healthy gut microbiome, Ms Lynett said.
The types of fibre in pumpkin can also help those who suffer from diarrhoea or constipation by absorbing water and helping stool to move along inside the colon, she added. And pumpkin is a little gentler on the digestive tract than other types of high-fibre foods, such as kale or beans, she said, which have more roughage and can be a bit harder to digest.
Pumpkin’s potassium levels are also worth highlighting, Ms Lynett said. Research suggests that consuming more potassium may lower blood pressure, improve bone health and decrease the risk of stroke and kidney stones.
Ms Bex said pumpkin seeds are edible and contain valuable nutrients. Whether shelled or unshelled, they are a good source of protein, fibre, healthy fats, iron, magnesium and zinc.
Half a cup of shelled pumpkin seeds, called pepitas, contains 21g of protein and 4.5g of fibre, for example.