There’s Nothing Scary About Nutrition-Packed Pumpkins

There are pumpkins in abundance this October at farmers markets and roadside stands. If we buy pumpkins solely to carve them into scary jack-o’-lanterns, we will be missing the incredible nutritional value in this seasonal Halloween vegetable.

Pumpkins are the spooky symbol of the Halloween season. Carved into grinning jack-o’-lanterns and lit with flickering candles, they decorate our homes and welcome trick-or-treaters on Halloween night. But the value of the pumpkin is not merely atmospheric. The flesh of this bright orange vegetable packs a serious nutritional punch that is high in dietary fiber and low in calories.

The USDA National Nutrient Database tells us that one cup of cooked pumpkin has only 49 calories and provides the following nutritional benefits:

  • Well over 100 percent of the daily recommended amount of vitamin A
  • 20 percent of daily recommended vitamin C
  • 10 percent of the recommended amounts of vitamin E, riboflavin, potassium, copper, and manganese
  • 5 percent of the daily recommended amount of thiamin, B6, folate, pantothenic acid, niacin, iron, magnesium, and phosphorus

The potential health benefits of pumpkin provided by these nutrients are extensive:

  • Beta-carotene, the antioxidant that gives pumpkins their vibrant orange color, may reduce the risk of prostate and colon cancers, and protect against asthma and heart disease.
  • The fiber, potassium, and vitamin C in pumpkin support heart health by reducing blood pressure. Increasing your potassium intake can also lower risk of stroke, protect against loss of muscle mass, and preserve bone mineral density.
  • Your eye health can be boosted by the vitamin C, vitamin E, and beta-carotene in pumpkin. These nutrients have also been shown to reduce the progression of age-related macular degeneration.

If you want to add pumpkin to your diet, smaller, heavier pumpkins are your best choice. Prepare fresh pumpkin by steaming, roasting, or boiling it for the most health benefits. Canned pumpkin is also a good choice. Check the label to make sure that the only ingredient in the can is pumpkin; canned pumpkin pie mix contains added sugars and syrups that make it a less nutritious choice. Try adding pumpkin puree to yogurt or brewing up a batch of pumpkin soup. Steamed cubed pumpkin can be combined with pasta or added to risotto. And if you do plan to turn your pumpkins into jack-o’-lanterns, save the pumpkin seeds. Cleaned, dried, and roasted, the seeds make a delicious snack that has been shown to lower bad cholesterol and help prevent muscle weakness.

Any way you carve or slice them, pumpkins can boost your healthful diet while they add to your Halloween festivities.

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