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
Known for its immunity-boosting powers, beta carotene is essential for eye health and has been linked to preventing coronary heart disease.
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.
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.
Plus, the seeds contain high levels of phytosterols, which research suggests can reduce cholesterol and even help prevent some types of cancer.
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.
Superfood recipe: Pumpkin pie parfait
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
- Crumbled graham crackers
- Peanut butter (or any other nut butter)
What to do:
- Blend all ingredients in a blender, adding almond milk as you go until mixture reaches the desired consistency.
- Pour into a glass and top with desired toppings!
Originally published on October 25, 2011. Updated September 2013. Updated July 2019.