Pumpkins are widely grown and are very popular – especially in the fall.
Yet, most of the focus is on the flavor, rather than the health benefits of pumpkin.
Don’t get me wrong, there are some amazing recipes out there. But, if you’re going to rely on pumpkin this season, learning the health benefits makes sense.
Health Benefits of Pumpkin
There are many indirect advantages of pumpkin, simply because the vegetable contains important nutrients. There are also some direct health benefits from pumpkin.
Some of the compounds in pumpkin have been specifically associated with the prevention of cancer and there has even been some indication of a role in cancer treatment (1).
One key protein in this role is cucurmosin. Research suggests that the protein can inhibit the proliferation of a specific cell type associated with cancer (2).
Pumpkins have also been linked to fighting cancer as the result of phytoestrogens.
- In general, phytoestrogens do not perform an essential role in the body. Nevertheless, they may play a role in combating cancer, specifically in relation to hormone-dependent tumors.
- One study considered this role by looking at pumpkin seed extract. The authors found that compounds in pumpkin seeds could be significant in the treatment or prevention of breast cancer (3).
Weight Loss Benefits
Pumpkin is high in fiber but low in calories (4). This helps to make you feel full for a longer period of time, which can promote weight loss.
Additionally, pumpkin is relatively low in carbs (even though it isn’t considered a low carb vegetable). This means it can be used by people on a low carb or a ketosis diet, as long as they watch their total carbs.
You Get Antioxidant Benefits
It’s no secret that antioxidants are good for health. Pumpkin contains a number of these, including beta-carotene, which is a powerful antioxidant.
Getting enough antioxidants can have many benefits, such as decreasing disease risk and helping to fight aging (5,6,7).
Can Improve Eyesight
Pumpkin may also promote eyesight – due to the large amounts of vitamin A present (8).
Pumpkin also contains lutein and zeaxanthin, which are associated with eye health (9,10).
Pumpkin and pumpkin seeds are both powerful for people with diabetes, helping to maintain blood sugar levels (11,12).
- Indeed, seeds from the Cucurbitaceae family (of which pumpkin is a member) have been traditionally used as a treatment for diabetes in Africa (13).
- Two compounds in pumpkin that play this role are nicotinic acid and trigonelline (14). These compounds can improve glucose tolerance in animal models and may help suppress diabetes progression (15).
One research study considered the use of a milled seed mixture (sesame, pumpkin and flax seeds) on health outcomes. The authors found that the consumption of the seeds was able to improve glycemic control, decrease triglyceride levels and improve the overall fatty acid profile in patients (16).
Promote Heart Health
Pumpkins contain phytosterols. These have a similar structure to cholesterol and help to reduce levels of LDL cholesterol in the blood (17,18). Research also shows that getting phytosterols from food can be a powerful way to decrease cholesterol levels (19).
Pumpkin also contains phytoestrogens, which can help lower blood pressure (20). Furthermore, the fiber in pumpkin helps protect the heart (21).
These aspects can all help decrease heart disease risk (22,23).
May Improve Urinary Tract and Bladder Health
Extract from pumpkin seeds has also been linked to improvements in outcomes for men with lower urinary tract infections.
A randomized controlled trial on the topic used a sample of 1,431 men with related symptoms. Half were given pumpkin seed extract while the rest were given a placebo. After twelve months, the pumpkin seed group had a clinically relevant increase in quality of life. This shows how pumpkin seed can help in the treatment of urinary tract symptoms (24).
Another study considered the role of pumpkin seed oil in patients with an overactive bladder disorder. 45 participants took part in the study across a period of 12 weeks. During the study, participants received 10 g of pumpkin seed oil per day. The pumpkin seed oil decreased overactive bladder symptoms (25).
Pumpkin has also been linked to improved sleep because of the amino acid tryptophan. Tryptophan promotes sleep and helps the body to produce serotonin, which helps people to relax and can improve mood (26).
This makes pumpkin a great snack before bed to help you sleep well.
Helps with Parasites
Pumpkin seeds have actually been associated with getting rid of intestinal parasites.
A compound in the seeds helps to paralyze any parasites that you might have. This prevents them from hanging onto the intestine wall – and means that a bowel movement can flush them out.
Indeed, research has shown that treatment with pumpkin seed and areca nut extract is effective for treating issues of tapeworms in humans (27).
Pumpkin Nutrition Facts
Vegetables are a powerful source of nutrients and pumpkin is no exception.
The exact nutrient composition varies, as there are many different pumpkin varieties, all with their own properties (28). But, there are similarities as well.
Some of the most significant nutrients and compounds are described below.
Pumpkin is particularly high in vitamin A. A single cup of mashed pumpkin (roughly 245 g) has more than 200% of your daily recommended intake of vitamin A.
Vitamin A is a particularly important nutrient and is associated with improved eye health, as well as in the maintenance of healthy teeth, skin and soft tissue (29).
Pumpkin is also a good source of fiber. A cup of mashed pumpkin contains a little under 3 g of fiber (30). That’s quite a lot of fiber for not much pumpkin.
Fiber is important for helping you to feel full and this can help people who are trying to lose weight. People who eat high fiber diets tend to lose weight faster and eat less overall.
Yet, despite this, the average fiber intake in the United States is less than half of the recommended amount (31). This means that most people need to increase their daily fiber consumption – and pumpkin is a fantastic way of doing just this.
Another important nutrient in pumpkin is potassium. Often, bananas are referred to as an energy food, partly due to their potassium content.
Potassium helps to balance the electrolytes in the body and helps promote healthy functioning of the muscles. Yet, of the two, a cup of mashed pumpkin contains more potassium (564 mg) than a medium-sized banana (422 mg).
This makes pumpkin a good choice following a workout – such as in a smoothie.
Finally, pumpkin is also a good course of vitamin C and contains close to 20% of the recommended daily value (32). Vitamin C is well-known for its health benefits, including boosting the immune system (33,34).
Pumpkin also contains a range of plant-based compounds, which also offer benefits.
One class is carotenoids. These are pigments that are found in many different plants. There are upwards of 600 different carotenoids and high levels of carotenoid consumption have been linked to protection against some chronic diseases (35) and to improved health outcomes overall (36).
- These are pigments that are found in many different plants.
- There are upwards of 600 different carotenoids.
- High levels of carotenoid consumption have been linked to protection against some chronic diseases (35) and to improved health outcomes overall (36).
- Carotenoids have also been linked to reducing the number of wrinkles in the skin by fighting some of the impacts of aging. This is one reason why carotenoids are included in some cosmetic products (37).
Another important compound is trigonelline. This has been associated with a wide range of health benefits, particularly in relation to diabetes and the central nervous system.
The compound is most strongly associated with fenugreek, which is a Chinese herb, but trigonelline also is present in pumpkin (38).
Many of the studies that I talked about earlier showed health benefits from pumpkin seeds or from some of the compounds in the seeds.
The seeds are often wasted and ignored, even though they’re nutritious. They’re also a great snack and a key source of magnesium (39).
Dried pumpkin seeds are a high source of protein, with one cup containing upwards of 33 g of protein. The seeds are also high in vitamin K, riboflavin, folate and thiamin – all of which are relatively uncommon and important nutrients (40).
Likewise, the same serving size of pumpkin seeds contains more than the recommended daily intake for iron, magnesium, phosphorous and manganese (41).
Manganese is another important nutrient. It has a powerful antioxidant role and may help to decrease prostate cancer risk (42).
Pumpkin seeds are relatively high in calories and fat – but this isn’t a problem if you’re on a low-carb diet. In fact, healthy fats are good for you.
Plus, pumpkin seeds are high in monounsaturated fats, including oleic acid.
- This type of fat can decrease the level of bad cholesterol (LDL) in the blood and raise good cholesterol (HDL).
- This is also the type of fat prevalent in olive oil, and is one of the reasons that olive oil is so good for health.
- Oleic acid has also been associated with decreasing markers of inflammation (43).
Roasting Pumpkin Seeds
The easiest way to eat pumpkin seeds is roasted – and this is something you can do yourself.
Now, you can buy roasted pumpkin seeds on their own if you want to, but that seems a waste if you are using the rest of the pumpkin anyway. Additionally, most companies tend to majorly over-season their seeds and charge far too much for them.
Another advantage of roasting your own seeds is that you can create a flavor that you find appealing.
You can follow your own path with seasoning. But, a good place to start is tossing the seeds in olive oil, salt and pepper. This creates a good flavor base and you can build out from there. The olive oil is particularly important, as it is a healthy oil and stops the seeds from burning when they are in the oven.
The best approach is to pick at least one other flavor to add to the seeds, as salt and pepper aren’t particularly appealing on their own.
One of my favorites is smoked paprika and combinations of chopped herbs also work quite well. The site Serious Eats also has details about interesting flavors you can try for your roasted pumpkin seeds.
However, you can really try just about anything. With some experimenting, you may well find a flavor unique to you that works really well.
Pumpkin Seed Oil
A related area is pumpkin seed oil. This is made by pressing pumpkin seeds that have been roasted and hulled.
The oil can vary from dark green to dark red and has a nutty taste. It is sometimes combined with olive oil or honey to create a salad dressing. Additionally, pumpkin seed oil is sometimes added to desserts and other dishes.
However, it cannot be effectively used as a cooking oil, as cooking with it destroys the fatty acids present. Some of the key fatty acids present include:
- Linoleic acid
- Oleic acid
- Palmitic acid
- Steric acid
While most studies have focused on pumpkin seeds or pumpkin itself, the oil may offer benefits as well. After all, many of the same compounds are present.
This includes reducing prostate size and prostate growth (44), having hypoglycemic action and in slowing the progression of hypertension (45).
Research has also indicated that the oil has a high amount of carotenoids and fat-soluble vitamins, which are also good for you (46).