Pumpkin: It’s yummy and it’s seasonal. And we’re in the middle of a full-on flavor takeover. There’s pumpkin in your bagels, beer and coffee. Starbucks has sold more than 200 millionPumpkin Spice Lattes in the past 10 years. Even the makers of Pringles are getting in on the action. While most pumpkin-flavored treats should be added to the once-in-a-while list, pumpkin itself (not to be confused with artificial pumpkin spice flavoring) is actually one of the healthier foods of the season. Here are six reasons it’s OK to be totally obsessed with this season’s superfood.
1. Feel Fuller
Pumpkin seeds pack about 1.7 grams of dietary fiber per ounce, while mashed pumpkin has only 50 calories per cup and 3 grams of fiber. “Fiber helps keep you fuller longer, which keeps your appetite at bay so you eat less overall,” says nutrition and fitness expertJJ Virgin, author of The Virgin Diet.
2. Boost Vision
A cup of cubed pumpkin contains almost twice the recommended daily intake of vitamin A, which promotes good vision, especially in dim light, according to the National Institutes of Health. It has also been found to slow the decline of retinal function in those with retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative eye disease that can lead to blindness, according toresearchers from Harvard. Bonus: Vitamin A also helps form and maintain healthy skin,teeth and bones.
3. Lower Blood Pressure
Pumpkin seed oil is full of phytoestrogens, which research shows are beneficial for preventing hypertension. When researchers fed rats a diet supplement with the oil, they found that it helped lower both systolic and diastolic blood pressure in just 12 weeks.
4. Sleep Better
Pumpkin seeds are rich in tryptophan, the amino acid that contributes to post-Thanksgiving dinner sleepiness, says Virgin. Tryptophan is also responsible for helping the body make serotonin, the feel-good neurotransmitter that helps you relax and unwind. Not only do pumpkin seeds promote better sleep, the serotonin will improve your mood, says Virgin.
5. Protect Your Package
Pumpkins — especially the seeds — are rich in beta-carotene and other antioxidants with cancer protective properties, says Virgin. And pumpkin seeds could be especially healthy for men. Researchers in Taiwan found pumpkin seed oil blocked unhealthy prostate growth in male rats. A quarter cup of the seeds also contains about 2.75 mg of zinc (about 17 percent of the recommended daily intake for adults), which contributes to male sexual health. When young men in a Wayne State University study restricted their dietary zinc intake, they had significantly lower levels of testosterone after 20 weeks.
6. Have a Healthier Heart
All that fiber can also help protect your ticker, research shows. One Harvard study of over 40,000 male health professionals found that those who ate a diet high in fiber had a 40 percent lower risk of coronary heart disease, compared to those who ate a diet low in fiber. A more recent study by Swedish researchers found that women who ate a diet high in fiber had a 25 percent lower risk of heart disease compared with women who ate a low fiber diet. Men benefitted less, likely because they’re more likely to get their fiber from breads, while women are more likely to get their fiber from healthier sources, like fruits and vegetables, the researchers write.
That means pumpkin-laced desserts won’t quite cut it. For a healthier way to add pumpkin into your diet, adding pumpkin chunks to a roasted vegetable medley, or sprinkling pumpkin seeds on top of your salad. Feeling even more creative? Try pumpkin puree in place of nut butters as a spread, Virgin suggests. And for an energizing morning smoothie, blend a high-quality protein powder (like vanilla DailyBurn Fuel) with coconut milk, chia seeds, pureed pumpkin and pumpkin pie spice. Happy fall indeed!
Health Benefits of Pumpkins
The only difference between 100 grams of raw and the same amount of cooked pumpkin is a 6-calorie increase in the raw form. So where do the nutrients come from? It's in the vitamins and minerals, including large amounts of fiber and 100% of the daily vitamin A requirement.
Pumpkins also provide lots of vitamin C, riboflavin, potassium, copper, and manganese. Smaller but significant amounts of vitamin E (alpha tocopherol), thiamin, niacin, vitamin B6, folate, iron, magnesium, and phosphorus also are present.
What does that mean for us? The bright orange hints at the presence of a particularly beneficial phytonutrient: carotene. This converts to vitamin A in the body for a tremendous punch of antioxidants with the capacity to help prevent heart disease, cancer, and many of the degenerating signs of aging. Vitamin A is also a must for good vision and helping to prevent lung and mouth cancers. Flavonoids such as cryptoxanthin, lutein, and zeaxanthin destroy harmful free radicals, and the latter, especially, helps protect the retina of the eye from macular degeneration.
Pumpkin seeds are not only a tasty, easy-to-transport snack, you could also say they're a concentrated source of minerals and vitamins, with 30 grams of protein, 110% of the daily value in iron and 559 calories, but no cholesterol, which is excellent for cardiovascular health. The fiber helps maintain regular elimination to keep the colon clear.
A special bonus in pumpkin seeds is the amino acid tryptophan, which, once in the brain, converts into GABA – a nutrient which relaxes the body, calms the nerves, improves sleep, and transmits signals between neurons.