Pumpkin spice dominates our autumn season, but there’s much more than lattes to this fruit – and yes, pumpkins are a fruit!
Here are lots of ways pumpkin can be an added benefit to your diet.
Better Eyes and Better Immunity
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. 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.
Like all fruits, pumpkin is a good source of fiber. Canned pumpkin contains 7 grams of fiber per one-cup serving. Fiber is beneficial for removing cholesterol from the body, keeping blood sugars from spiking and helping regulate bowel habits. In addition, fiber also helps us to feel fuller longer. This can decrease overeating and help achieve and maintain a healthy weight.
If you try to eat heart healthy, then pumpkin is for you! Heart-healthy eating consists of choosing foods that are low in fat, salt and sugar, but high in fiber. You can check off the box on all those when it comes to pumpkin. Per half-cup serving, canned pumpkin has almost no fat, practically no salt and no added sugar.
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.
Lower Blood Pressure
Almost one-third of Americans have high blood pressure. To help decrease your blood pressure, try eating pumpkin, which contains potassium that helps to control blood pressure. Potassium also helps with bone health and decreases your risk for diabetes. Around 10% of your daily potassium is found in just a half-cup serving of canned pumpkin.
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. 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.
Since pumpkin is low in calories, you may be wondering how it can have much nutritional benefit in such few calories. In fact, many of our fruits and vegetables are called nutrient-dense foods. This means they are low in calories, but packed with a ton of vitamins and minerals to keep us healthy. I like to think of it as getting the most bang for my buck. When I eat pumpkin, I do not have to spend many calories to get a wide variety of health benefits.
Hidden Treasure Inside
When we talk pumpkin, we often think of mouthwatering sweet treats, such as pumpkin pie, pumpkin spice lattes, or pumpkin doughnuts. But don’t forget about the seeds!
Pumpkin seeds may be small but they are mighty. Packed with magnesium, zinc and fiber, pumpkin seeds add even more great nutrients. According to the American Heart Association, one-fourth of a cup of pumpkin seeds has almost half of our daily recommended amount of magnesium. Magnesium helps lower blood pressure and maintain good bone health. Unfortunately, about 50% of Americans do not get enough magnesium in their diet. A simple solution to this may just be in this mighty seed.
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.
If you are wondering how to get more pumpkin in your diet, try using it as a substitute in baking. A simple substitute to start is using pumpkin puree for oil. The substitute is one-to-one, so if the recipe calls for one cup of oil, simply use one cup of pumpkin puree instead.
Another substitute is using pumpkin puree for butter. To do this, multiply the amount of butter in the recipe by three-fourths. This will tell you how much pumpkin puree to use.
For example, if the recipe calls for one cup of butter, you would use three-fourths of a cup of pumpkin puree.
You can even replace eggs by using one-fourth of a cup of pumpkin puree for each egg. Substitutions may change the texture of the product. Therefore, start with just one substitute at a time. Hopefully you will find the “sweet spot” with using pumpkin in your baked goods.
Although we often use pumpkin in sweet foods, it works well in savory foods, too. If you are wanting more savory uses, try roasting pumpkin in the oven and pureeing it to make pumpkin soup, or using its creaminess to make a pumpkin alfredo. Add some additional nutrients by topping whatever you make with some roasted pumpkin seeds.
Pumpkin may be a fall flavor, but the health benefits of pumpkin are good all year-round!