Pumpkin is a dietary staple for many families’ holiday dinner spreads, but there’s so much more to enjoy than pumpkin pie and pumpkin spice lattes. Pumpkin is cultivated all over the world for various commercial, agricultural, and decorative purposes. (3) This bright orange winter squash can be used in many sweet or savory dishes and boasts an impressive nutrient profile.
Continue reading to learn more about the health benefits of pumpkin and how you can incorporate more pumpkin into your diet year-round.
4 health benefits of pumpkin
Whether pureed, roasted, or baked, pumpkin is a natural source of many essential nutrients and other dietary components. Most notably, pumpkin contains vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, lycopene, and fiber. (3)
Pumpkin seeds (pepitas) also contain various vitamins (e.g., vitamin E), minerals (e.g., zinc, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus), unsaturated fatty acids, protein, and phytonutrients (health-promoting chemical compounds found in plants) such as zeaxanthin and lutein. (3)(11) Thanks to its nutrient profile, eating pumpkin may support immune function, skin health, cardiometabolic health, and more.
1. Supports immune system health
Beta-carotene, a precursor to vitamin A, is abundant in fresh pumpkin flesh. Beta-carotene has been shown to enhance immune system function, helping defend the body from infection. (8)(11) Vitamin C, also found in pumpkin flesh, plays a role in immune function through antioxidant properties and supporting the epithelial barrier, a physical barrier of cells that protects the body from pathogens. (5)(19) Pumpkin seeds are also an excellent source of zinc, which is necessary for the development and function of immune cells. (17)
2. Promotes healthy skin
The vitamins and antioxidants found in pumpkin are well-known for their skin health-promoting properties. For example, pumpkin is high in vitamin C, an essential vitamin and antioxidant that protects the skin against sun damage induced by ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun. Vitamin C also stimulates collagen synthesis, a major structural component of the skin. (16)
When topically applied, pumpkin may alleviate symptoms of contact dermatitis, a red, itchy rash that may be associated with psychological stress. (4) According to a study in rats with stress-induced depression, topical and oral application of pumpkin plant (Cucurbita pepo L.) extract reduced inflammatory and oxidative changes related to contact dermatitis. (4)
A small human trial found that using a pumpkin ointment for hand eczema significantly improved quality of life but not the severity of the skin condition when compared to topical steroids. However, pumpkin ointment was recommended as an adjunct therapy to topical steroids in order to reduce steroid use in those afflicted with hand eczema. (10)
3. Protects eye health
Pumpkin contains various vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that have been shown to be protective against age-related eye disease. Multiple studies demonstrate that consuming fruits and vegetables rich in carotenoids (e.g., lutein and zeaxanthin), such as pumpkin, is associated with a reduced risk of age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a condition characterized by blurred vision or loss of central vision in older adults. (6)(7)(14) Pumpkin also contains vitamins C and E, which may act as antioxidants and protect eye health. (9)
4. Protects against cardiometabolic conditions
Pumpkin is an incredibly nutritious food rich in essential vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and dietary fiber. These nutrients may support heart health, healthy weight management, and more. Research suggests that diets rich in these components are associated with a reduced risk of many chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease (e.g., high blood pressure, heart disease), obesity, and type 2 diabetes. (18)
Some animal studies have observed significant reductions in serum concentrations of total and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and improvements in high-density lipoprotein (HDL) concentrations in rats fed pumpkin seeds. (1)
Although human trials are limited, some animal studies have shown that pumpkin and pumpkin seeds may reduce blood sugar levels in diabetic rats. (12)(13) Furthermore, a small 2017 case study noted a decrease in hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c), an indicator of blood sugar control over three to four months, from 10.8% to 8.5% following daily servings of pumpkin flesh in a patient with type 1 diabetes. Interestingly, HbA1c increased to 11.3% after the patient stopped consuming daily servings of pumpkin. (2)
Tasty ways to eat pumpkin
Don’t miss out on pumpkin’s health benefits. Incorporating pumpkin into your diet is easy all year round!
1. Snack on pumpkin seeds
Carving pumpkins? Don’t throw away the seeds; roast pumpkin seeds at home for a warm crunchy snack. Add dry roasted or raw unsalted pumpkin seeds to salads, mix them into homemade granola, add them to yogurt or oatmeal, sprinkle over avocado toast, or simply enjoy them on their own as a healthy snack.
Did you know? Roasted pumpkin seeds have higher total concentrations of phytonutrients and improved antioxidant properties compared to raw seeds. (15)
2. Add to smoothies
Pureed pumpkin adds natural sweet flavor and creaminess to smoothies. Try adding pumpkin in place of bananas to your next smoothie.
Tip: Most grocery stores carry canned pumpkin puree year-round. Avoid purchasing pumpkin pie filling, which may contain large amounts of added sugar.
3. Roast it
Roasting pumpkin is a simple way to bring out its natural sweetness. Serve roasted pumpkin similar to other roasted squash, such as butternut squash. Add to salads or serve as a savory side dish.
4. Cook a comforting pumpkin soup or chili
Similar to other winter squash, pumpkin works very well in silky, pureed soups. You can also roast some diced pumpkin and add it to your favorite chili recipe.
5. Add to baked goods
Pureed pumpkin can replace oil or butter in many baked goods. Next time you’re craving muffins or banana bread, swap out the butter for pureed pumpkin (approximately ¾ cup of pumpkin for every 1 cup of butter).
Did you know? Sugar pumpkins, also known as the “pie pumpkins” are most popular for baking purposes.
6. Mix into oatmeal
Add a scoop of canned pumpkin to a bowl of oatmeal and top with your favorite toppings, such as pumpkin spice, pecans, or raisins.
The bottom line
Before carving your next pumpkin into a jack-o-lantern or displaying it on your front porch as part of your fall decor, consider all the culinary possibilities this versatile squash has to offer. Eat pumpkin for its many vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients that may help support immune health, protect against cardiometabolic conditions, and protect eye and skin health. If you’re a patient, consult your healthcare provider before making significant changes to your diet.
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- Abuelgassim, A., & Al-Showayman, S. (2011). The effect of pumpkin (Cucurbita pepo l) seeds and L-Arginine supplementation on serum lipid concentrations in atherogenic rats. African Journal of Traditional, Complementary and Alternative Medicines, 9(1), 131–137.
- Alenazi, B., & Deeb, A. (2017). Does pumpkin affect glycemic control in diabetic patient. Case report and literature review. European Journal of Pharmaceutical and Medical Research, 4(9), 42–45.
- Amin, M. Z., Islam, T., Uddin, M. R., Uddin, M. J., Rahman, M. M., & Satter, M. A. (2019). Comparative study on nutrient contents in the different parts of indigenous and hybrid varieties of pumpkin (Cucurbita maxima Linn.). Heliyon, 5(9), e02462.
- Balgoon, M. J., Al-Zahrani, M. H., Jaouni, S. A., & Ayuob, N. (2021). Combined oral and topical application of pumpkin (cucurbita pepo L.) alleviates contact dermatitis associated with depression through downregulation Pro-Inflammatory cytokines. Frontiers in Pharmacology, 12, 663417.
- Carr, A., & Maggini, S. (2017). Vitamin C and immune function. Nutrients, 9(11), 1211.
- Chapman, N. A., Jacobs, R. J., & Braakhuis, A. J. (2018). Role of diet and food intake in age-related macular degeneration: A systematic review. Clinical & Experimental Ophthalmology, 47(1), 106–127.
- Eisenhauer, B., Natoli, S., Liew, G., & Flood, V. (2017). Lutein and zeaxanthin—Food sources, bioavailability and dietary variety in Age‐Related macular degeneration protection. Nutrients, 9(2), 120.
- Huang, Z., Liu, Y., Qi, G., Brand, D., & Zheng, S. (2018). Role of vitamin A in the immune system. Journal of Clinical Medicine, 7(9), 258.
- Johnson, E. J., & Rasmussen, H. (2013). Nutrients for the aging eye. Clinical Interventions in Aging, 8, 741.
- Khademi, A., Mansuri, P., Pahlevan, D., Bozorg, M., Nasiri, M., Hejazi, S., Azizian, Z., & Shirbeigi, L. (2020). Efficacy of pumpkin ointment in treatment of chronic hand eczema: A randomized, Active-Controlled, double blind clinical trial. Iranian Journal of Public Health, 49(7), 1339–1347.
- Kulczyński, B., Sidor, A., & Gramza-Michałowska, A. (2020). Antioxidant potential of phytochemicals in pumpkin varieties belonging to Cucurbita moschata and Cucurbita pepo species. CyTA – Journal of Food, 18(1), 472–484.
- Liu, Y., Jin, H., Xu, Z. Q., Nan, W. K., Wang, T., & Cheng, Y. Y. (2006). Effects of pumpkin polysaccharides on blood glucose and blood lipids in diabetic rats]. Chinese Journal of Applied Physiology, 22(3), 358–361.
- Makni, M., Fetoui, H., Gargouri, N. K., Garoui, E. M., & Zeghal, N. (2011). Antidiabetic effect of flax and pumpkin seed mixture powder: Effect on hyperlipidemia and antioxidant status in alloxan diabetic rats. Journal of Diabetes and Its Complications, 25(5), 339–345.
- National Eye Institute. (2021). Age-Related macular degeneration. https://www.nei.nih.gov/learn-about-eye-health/eye-conditions-and-diseases/age-related-macular-degeneration
- Peng, M., Lu, D., Liu, J., Jiang, B., & Chen, J. (2021). Effect of roasting on the antioxidant activity, phenolic composition, and nutritional quality of pumpkin (cucurbita pepo L.) seeds. Frontiers in Nutrition, 8, 647354.
- Pullar, J., Carr, A., & Vissers, M. (2017). The roles of vitamin C in skin health. Nutrients, 9(8), 866.
- Shankar, A. H., & Prasad, A. S. (1998). Zinc and immune function: The biological basis of altered resistance to infection. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 68(2), 447S-463S.
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- Wintergerst, E. S., Maggini, S., & Hornig, D. H. (2006). Immune-Enhancing role of vitamin C and zinc and effect on clinical conditions. Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism, 50(2), 85–94.