Health Benefits Of Pumpkin

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Overview

Often overlooked as a seasonal treat or carvable decoration, pumpkins can be enjoyed year-round in a variety of forms. Despite its common use as a vegetable, pumpkin is classed as a type of fruit. It is part of the plant family known as gourds/squash that also includes butternut squash, melons and cucumbers.

In the UK, pumpkins are in season from October to December, although they will usually be available to buy year-round - not just as an autumn/winter treat.

Low in fat and calories but high in starch and fibre, they make for a healthy yet filling snack or ingredient. This is beneficial for all but especially for people looking to lose weight or get fitter. Due to their high nutritional content, they can also help to maintain your health in a variety of ways.1 

Pumpkin should also be eaten in moderation and avoided by some with particular health concerns.  

About pumpkins

Health benefits of pumpkins

Pumpkins can provide a range of health benefits to the human body. It counts as 1 of your 5-a-day and due to the plethora of vitamins and nutritional compounds contained in them, they can contribute to the healthy functioning of some organs and can strengthen the body's reaction to infections and some diseases.1 

For example, eating pumpkin can help with:

  • Keeping the eyes healthy, ensuring you maintain good vision and preventing some cases of sight loss (i.e. macular degeneration and cataracts)
  • Aiding proper heart function and preventing heart disease1
  • Reducing the chance of developing diabetes1
  • Ensuring proper digestion and reducing the need to snack after meals due to its high fibre content1
  • Supporting the immune system to prevent infections and cell damage/inflammation 1
  • Reducing the chances of developing some cancers including breast, prostate and colon cancer1
  • Helping with the symptoms of menopause such as osteoporosis and excessive weight gain2 

Nutrients we can get from pumpkin

Pumpkin can be a source of the daily vitamins, minerals and dietary compounds which can help in various aspects of your health.

These include:

  • Vitamin A - aiding in the healthy function of the eyes and the immune system 
  • Vitamin C - for cell renewal, heart and immune defence
  • Vitamin E - for fighting infections 
  • Fibre - for gut health 
  • Antioxidants - for heart health and overall cell functions 
  • Carotenoids (plant compounds) - for fighting against cell-damaging free radicals and cancer 
  • Iron - for supporting heart health and circulation
  • Potassium and magnesium - for heart function, bone strength and blood glucose control1

Pumpkin seeds, in particular, are high in protein, essential oils and healthy, unsaturated fats. This makes them ideal as a healthy, energy-dense snack or meal ingredient, containing all the same plant nutrients and minerals that the pumpkin flesh provides.2,3 

Ways to include pumpkin in your diet

There are many ways you can include pumpkin into your food as part of a healthy, balanced diet. It can be included in sweet or savoury dishes, raw or cooked, or just as the seeds.

Pumpkin seeds are ideal as a healthy snack - either raw or roasted. Pumpkin is also included in a variety of sweet foods and drinks like pumpkin pie and the seasonally popular pumpkin spice latte. However, keep in mind that consuming pumpkin in sweeter dishes and desserts will be more sugary and less healthy than fresh, savoury forms.1

For a healthy breakfast option, the gourd can also be added to smoothie mixes or yoghurt bowls. For evening meals, pumpkin can be a great flavoursome and nutritional ingredient in soups, sauces and curries. These can be easily made from raw pumpkin, pumpkin puree or canned pumpkin. Roasted pumpkin is also particularly flavoursome and a great addition to a typical meat-and-two-veg dinner.1 

Pumpkin can also be used to cook other foods, for example using pumpkin puree instead of butter and pumpkin seed oil instead of other typical oil varieties.

Raw pumpkin is edible and may be ideal for dishes such as salads, sushi and as a dipping snack (in the place of carrot or cucumber sticks).

Pumpkin for babies is recommended only at weaning age (around 6 months) and it is safe to add cooked pumpkin flesh or purees to their diet. Pumpkin seeds can be healthy snacks for them too, but you should take care that they are processed into a texture that is not a choking hazard.

How much is enough?

The Cleveland Clinic recommends one portion of pumpkin as enough to consume per day - 80g or around 3 large tablespoons of cooked pumpkin will provide you with enough goodness.

Eating raw pumpkin in smaller quantities can help you intake more vitamins and other nutrients from the squash. However, eating raw pumpkin flesh or seeds can increase your chance of getting ill due to the higher chance of them harbouring bacteria. Therefore, if you are prone to gastrointestinal issues, it may be best to avoid raw pumpkin.

Eating cooked pumpkin and pumpkin seeds is largely safe to eat for everyone except those with a known pumpkin or pumpkin seed allergy, though this is rare.

While eating more than one portion of pumpkin a day or pumpkin products exceptionally regularly is unlikely to cause any harm, unwanted side effects could occur if:

  • You have diabetes (pumpkins contain a considerable amount of sugary starch)
  • You have low blood pressure (pumpkin has a blood pressure-reducing effect) 

Summary

Overall, pumpkin is ideal if you are looking to add a tasty yet nutritious snack or meal component to your daily intake of fruits and vegetables. The nutritional punch pumpkins can provide has led them to be considered a “superfood” by many and for good reason. Vitamins and minerals are essential in our diets for helping to prevent some diseases and the negative effects of ageing. Pumpkins contain a good many of them. 

Cooking with pumpkin doesn’t have to be difficult and there are many different flavoured recipes to try. Take care that you eat sweeter varieties of pumpkin in moderation as these can be counterintuitive to any health or fitness goals you may have.

  1. Yadav M, Jain S, Tomar R, Prasad GBKS, Yadav H. Medicinal and biological potential of pumpkin: an updated review. Nutrition Research Reviews [Internet]. 2010 Dec [cited 2023 Sep 12];23(2):184–90. Available from: https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/nutrition-research-reviews/article/medicinal-and-biological-potential-of-pumpkin-an-updated-review/614835C9F2CABAAAFD5E7925A72E7F9F 
  2. Lestari B, Meiyanto E. A review: the emerging nutraceutical potential of pumpkin seeds. Indonesian Journal of Cancer Chemoprevention [Internet]. 2018 Jul 3 [cited 2023 Sep 13];9(2):92–101. Available from: https://ijcc.chemoprev.org/index.php/ijcc/article/view/225 
  3. Hussain A, Kausar T, Sehar S, Sarwar A, Ashraf AH, Jamil MA, et al. A Comprehensive review of functional ingredients, especially bioactive compounds present in pumpkin peel, flesh and seeds, and their health benefits. Food Chemistry Advances [Internet]. 2022 Oct 1 [cited 2023 Sep 13];1:100067. Available from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2772753X22000557

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This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Amy Murtagh

BSc Veterinary Bioscience - Bachelors of Science, University of Glasgow

Amy is a recent graduate from Glasgow's School of Biodiversity, One Health and Veterinary Medicine with a particular interest in science communication in these subject areas.

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