Sure, pumpkins can seem spooky in their jack-o’-lantern state, but don’t be fooled: They’re actually one of the most nutritious fruits out there. Loaded with antioxidants and disease-fighting vitamins, these gourds aren’t just for carving — they’re a bona fide superfood.

Pump up the pumpkin: Why it’s super

Pumpkins’ bright orange color may make them a good substitute for traffic cones, but the real power behind their hue is beta carotene, a provitamin that is converted to vitamin A in the body.

Known for its immunity-boosting powers, beta carotene is essential for eye health and has been linked to preventing coronary heart disease.Nutrition and retinal degenerations. Berson, E.L, Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, Boston, MA. International Ophthalmology Clinics, 2000 Fall;40(4):93-111.Beta-carotene and risk of coronary heart disease. A review of observational and intervention studies. Tavani, A., La Vecchia, C. Istituto di Recerche Farmacologiche Mario Negri, Milan, Italy. Biomedicine and Pharmacotherapy, 1999 Oct;53(9):409-16.

But there’s no need to choose fresh to get the benefits of pumpkin. One cup of canned pumpkin has 7 grams of fiber and 3 grams of protein (even more than the fresh stuff) and contains only 80 calories and 1 gram of fat.

Plus, canned pumpkin is packed with vitamins and provides over 50 percent of the daily value of vitamin K, which may reduce your risk for some types of cancer.Dietary vitamin K intake in relation to cancer incidence and mortality: results from the Heidelberg cohort of the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC-Heidelberg). Nimptsch, K., Rohrmann, S., Kaaks, R.. Division of Cancer Epidemiology, German Cancer Research Center, Heidelberg, Germany. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2010 May;91(5):1348-58. Epub 2010 Mar 24.

The real treasure is in the seeds.One ounce (about 140 seeds) is packed with protein, magnesium, potassium, and zinc. Studies suggest pumpkin seeds provide a number of health benefits, such as blocking the enlargement of the prostate gland, lowering the risk of bladder stones, and helping to prevent depression.Pumpkin seed oil and phytosterol-F can block testosterone/prazosin-induced prostate growth in rats. Tsai, Ys., Yong, Y.C., Cheng, J.T., et al. Institute of Clinical Medicine, Department of Urology, College of Medicine, National Cheng Kung University, Tainan Taiwan. Urologia Internationalis, 2006;77(3):269-74.The effect of pumpkin seeds on oxalcrystalluria and urinary compositions of children in hyperendemic area. Suphakarn, V.S., Yamnon, C., Ngunboonsri, P. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 1987 Jan;45(1):115-21.The effect of pumpkin seeds snack on inhibitors and promoters of urolithiasis in Thai adolescents. Suphiphat, V., Morjaroen, N., Pukboonme, I., et al. Division of Experimental Nutrition, Faculty of Medicine, Ramathibodi Hospital, Mahidol University, Bangkok, Thailand. Journal of the Medical Association of Thailand, 1993 Sep;76(9):487-93.The treatment of depression in general practice: a comparison of L-tryptophan, amitriptyline, and a combination of L-tryptophan and amitriptyline with placebo. Thomson, J., Rankin, H., Ashcroft, G.W. Psychological Medicine, 1982 Nov;12(4):731-51.

Plus, the seeds contain high levels of phytosterols, which research suggests can reduce cholesterol and even help prevent some types of cancer.Phytosterol, squalene, tocopherol content and fatty acid profile of selected seeds, grains, and legumes. Ryan, E., Glavin, K., O’Connor, T.P., et al. Plant Foods for Human Nutrition (Dordrecht, Netherlands), 2007 Sep;62(3):85-91. Epub 2007 Jun 27.Dietary phytosterols: a review of metabolism, benefits and side effects. Ling, W.H., Jones, P.J. School of Dietetics and Human Nutrition, McGill University at macdonald Campus, Ste-Anee-de-Bellevue, PQ, Canada. Life Sciences, 1995;57(3):195-206. So get scooping!

Get like Peter: Your action plan

Peter, Peter, Pumpkin Eater, that is. There are plenty of ways to sneak pumpkin into any meal — whether it’s the seeds or the guts; canned, cooked, or raw; or in a main dish or a chocolate chip cookie.

Canned pumpkin can be added to almost anything, and (voilà!) out comes the perfect autumn treat. For a hot breakfast filled with fiber, try adding canned pumpkin to oatmeal.

And take note: If a recipe calls for canned pumpkin, don’t be afraid to replace it with fresh. Placing a small, cleaned-out pumpkin in the microwave for six minutes will make the insides easy to scoop out.

Save those seeds — they’re easy to roast. After removing the seeds from the pumpkin’s cavity (like, say, after carving it for Halloween!), wipe them off with a paper towel.

Place in a single layer on a cookie sheet, sprinkle with some seasoning, and lightly roast at 160–170°F for 15 to 20 minutes. Roasting for a short time at a low temperature helps preserve their healthy oils.

While there’s no such thing as too much pumpkin, eating a lot can actually give your skin a “pumpkin-like glow.” Too much beta carotene isn’t toxic, but excessive consumption can cause a yellowish discoloration of the skin called carotenemia.

Don’t worry, though — turning into a pumpkin after midnight is still only for fairy tales. The skin discoloration is harmless and can be easily reversed.A case of carotenodermia caused by a diet of the dried seaweed called Nori. Nishimura, Y., Ishii, N., Sugita, Y., et al. Department of Dermatology, Yokohama City University School of Medicine, Japan. The Journal of Dermatology, 1998 Oct;25(10):685-7.

Superfood recipe: Pumpkin pie parfait

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What you’ll need:

  • 1–1 1/2 cups almond milk
  • 1/4 cup plain pumpkin purée (fresh or canned)
  • 1/2 large frozen banana
  • 1 tablespoon chia seeds
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

Optional toppings:

  • Crumbled graham crackers
  • Peanut butter (or any other nut butter)
  • Cinnamon

What to do:

  1. Blend all ingredients in a blender, adding almond milk as you go until mixture reaches the desired consistency.
  2. Pour into a glass and top with desired toppings!

Originally published on October 25, 2011. Updated September 2013. Updated July 2019.