It’s that time of year again: Leaves are falling, the weather is getting cooler, and Thanksgiving is right around the corner. Pumpkins are a hallmark icon for autumn, but this fall staple offers more than just a festive decoration and flavor. Learn more about why the pumpkin health benefits that are good for you, and (below) try out some of our favorite healthy pumpkin recipes this fall.
Pumpkins contain protein, fiber, polyunsaturated fatty acids, vitamins, healthy oils, and more. They provide essential nutrients like zinc, which is beneficial for bone health, as well as other minerals like potassium, magnesium, and selenium. But this vegetable’s bright coloration might just be what makes it most impressive.
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Pumpkin Health Benefits: Carotenoids
Carotenoids are the pigments responsible for the yellow to red coloration of many fruits and vegetables, including pumpkins. They are powerful antioxidants that remove damaging reactive oxygen species and protect cell membranes and other vital parts of the cell from oxidative damage.
Consumption of these nutrients leads to a lower risk of degenerative and cardiovascular diseases, cataracts, and some forms of carcinomas. Beta-carotene, a specific type of carotenoid found in pumpkins, has pro-vitamin A activity, so it helps improve vision and immune function and supports growth and development.
More Pumpkin Health Benefits: Anti-Cancer Effects
Carotenoids have many anticancer activities, and people who eat more carotenoids have a decreased risk of many types of cancer, including lung cancer, prostate cancer, breast cancer, and colon cancer.[7-9]
Pumpkin flesh is one of the richest food sources of carotenoids, but the seeds are also packed with carotenoids as well as other cancer-fighting compounds, such as lignans and beta-sitosterol.
These various compounds in pumpkin seeds and flesh help to fight cancer by many different mechanisms. Research shows that pumpkin seed extract, for instance, can alter hormone receptors contributing to breast cancer.
How Pumpkin Helps Prostate Health
- Controls blood sugar. Both the pulp and seeds from pumpkins have blood-sugar-lowering effects, making it a healthy food choice for those with diabetes.[1,13,14]
- Improves urinary health. Patients given 10 g of pumpkin seed oil extract daily for 12 weeks showed significant improvements in overactive bladder symptoms.
- Lowers blood pressure. Pumpkin can combat hypertension, as studies show it can lower blood pressure.
- Provides antifungal effects. Pumpkin also has acted as an antifungal in laboratory studies.
Besides decreasing the risk of prostate cancer, pumpkin helps maintain prostate health in other ways.[7,10,11] Researchers have also shown that pumpkin seed extract can help treat benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), a non-cancerous enlargement of the prostate. In one study, patients given 320 mg/day of pumpkin seed oil for 12 months showed significant improvement in BPH symptoms compared to those taking a placebo.
Pumpkin seed oil inhibits 5-α-reductase, an enzyme involved in the conversion of testosterone to DHT, which promotes the growth of the prostate gland. Five-α-reductase inhibitors are common drugs used to treat BPH and pumpkin seed extract is a natural alternative.
Eating More Pumpkin
The flesh of pumpkin can be incorporated into many recipes, from savory main dishes to sweet desserts. Choose an all-natural brand of pureed, canned pumpkin (in BPA-free packaging) to use in your dishes, or buy a real pumpkin to make your own.
If you buy a whole pumpkin, you can also save the seeds and roast them to take advantage of the many health benefits pumpkin seeds have to offer. Pumpkin seed extract, which is used in many studies to treat a variety of conditions, can also be purchased for use as a supplement (generally 1,000 mg daily) at your local natural health grocery store.
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Originally published in 2015 and updated.