Just like their orange cousins, the carrot and the sweet potato, pumpkins are rich in beta carotene. Your body changes this antioxidant to vitamin A. You need vitamin A to see, ward off germs, and for your reproductive system to work the way it should. It also helps your heart, lungs, kidneys, and other organs stay healthy.
One cup of pumpkin can give you 200% of your recommended daily vitamin A intake. If you get it, your eyes will thank you. Vitamin A helps you have healthy eyes and see more clearly, especially in low-light conditions.
Pumpkin's vitamin A kick brings another biggie: a lowered risk of certain kinds of cancer, like lung or prostate cancer. Studies show this benefit comes only when you eat foods with vitamin A. You don't get the same protection from vitamin A supplements alone.
In addition to beta carotene, pumpkins offer vitamin C, vitamin E, iron, and folate -- all of which strengthen your immune system. More pumpkin in your diet can help your immune cells work better to ward off germs and speed healing when you get a wound.
Pumpkin's rich orange color is also a sign it's packed with potassium. This is crucial for lowering blood pressure. Unsalted pumpkin seeds are also crammed with minerals and plant sterols that raise HDL cholesterol levels (the "good" kind) and help keep blood pressure numbers down, too.
More good news about pumpkins' potassium power: Studies show that higher potassium levels can lower your risk of stroke, kidney stones, and type 2 diabetes. Another bonus: Potassium may also increase bone mineral density, boosting your bone health.
Pumpkins are high in fiber and low in calories. That means they make you feel full without adding to your overall food intake for the day. If you're looking for a healthy way to fill up, nutrient-rich pumpkin is a good go-to choice. The fiber uptick in your diet promotes digestive health, too, so what goes in comes out on a regular basis.
Pumpkin seeds have tryptophan, an amino acid that helps make a chemical called serotonin. In addition to making you feel good, serotonin is also a key player in promoting good sleep.
The antioxidant power of beta carotene in pumpkin works to combat the effects of aging on your skin. It also helps ease inflammation, which keeps your skin -- and your body -- calmer and happier.
Your odds of heart disease go down as your fiber intake goes up, and pumpkin is loaded with it. But it isn't just the fiber that takes care of your ticker: The vitamin A and potassium you get when you add pumpkin to your diet also play a part in heart health.
With all the goodness pumpkins offer, surely an extra-large pumpkin spice latte with a pumpkin muffin can't hurt. But experts say hold your horses. The best way to get pumpkin's health benefits is to avoid the sugar and processing of baked goods or pumpkin flavor. Opt for more wholesome choices, like roasted pumpkin, pumpkin puree, pumpkin hummus, or pumpkin soup.
IMAGES PROVIDED BY:
- University of Illinois Extension: "Pumpkin Nutrition."
- National Institutes of Health: "Vitamin A," "Potassium."
- Northwestern Medicine: "Pick Pumpkin for Better Health."
- Community Eye Health: "What is vitamin A and why do we need it?"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Hypertension and Nutrition."
- Journal of Leukocyte Biology: "Technical advance: ascorbic acid induces development of double-positive T cells from human hematopoietic stem cells in the absence of stromal cells."
- British Journal of Nutrition: "Selected vitamins and trace elements support immune function by strengthening epithelial barriers and cellular and humoral immune responses."
- Piedmont Health Care: "Health Benefits of Pumpkin."
- JAMA: "Vegetable, fruit, and cereal fiber intake and risk of coronary heart disease among men."
- PLoS One: "Dietary fiber and saturated fat intake associations with cardiovascular disease differ by sex in the Malmö Diet and Cancer Cohort: a prospective study."