the health benefits of pumpkin (and why winter squash is so good for you)

There’s a lot more to pumpkin than flavoring for your coffee or decor for your front stoop. Though the food is so intrinsically tied with all things autumn, and already appears in many of your favorite fall foods, there’s probably a lot you don’t know about it.

For one: pumpkins come in an array of colors, including, green, yellow, white and even blue! Second: pumpkin is “just one of the great winter squash members of the gourd family,” says Emily Melby, R.D.N., of Allergy Associates of La Crosse—which makes pumpkin and its cousins a perfect excuse to visit your favorite farmers market.

Third, and most importantly: Pumpkin packs a major punch when it comes to nutrition.

In fact, pumpkin is rated as a “powerhouse fruit and vegetable,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“These foods are specifically associated with reducing chronic disease risk and are typically full of color,” says Melby. “It’s definitely a superfood because it contains so many nutrients.”

Want to know more about the nutrients pumpkin packs? Read ahead for more on this superfood and the parts of your body it benefits.

1. It Supports Eye Health

Want to keep your peepers working properly? Load up on the orange stuff! “The orange flesh of pumpkin contains the antioxidant beta carotene, a precursor to vitamin A, which supports eye health,” says Melby.

2. It’s Low-Calorie

You may associate pumpkin with heartier dishes like soups, but the veggie is actually pretty waistline friendly. “Pumpkin is naturally low in calories and high in fiber, making it a great addition to your diet for weight control,” Melby says. The 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest eating about 5 ½ cups of red and orange vegetables each week, according to Melby. “Incorporating pumpkin into your weekly diet definitely coincides with this advice,” she adds.

3. It’s Full of Fiber

Searching for something that will keep you fuller longer? Look no further than pumpkin. In addition to being full of vitamins and minerals while also being a “low calorie superstar,” pumpkin is phenomenal at delivering fiber, which slows digestion and helps you feel fuller longer, says Carol Aguirre M.S, R.D./L.D.N., nutritionist and dietitian at Nutrition Connections.

“There’s seven grams of fiber in a cup of canned pumpkin,” says Aguirre. “That’s more than what you’d get in two slices of whole-grain bread.”

She adds, “The high-fiber content means that the carbohydrate content is absorbed slowly so it’s ideal as a weight loss food, and for diabetics because it maintains stable levels of sugar, averting those unfortunate cravings for sweeter and more calorific foods.”

4. It Boosts Your Immunity

Oranges get all the love for providing vitamin C, but similarly hued pumpkin can also provide major advantages. “Pumpkin is packed with nearly 20 percent of the recommended amount of daily vitamin C, which may help one recover from colds faster,” Aguirre says. Serve yourself up some pumpkin and say buh-bye to your tissues!

5. It Reduces ‘Bad’ Cholesterol

Pumpkin is commonly associated with the scariest holiday of the year—but it can actually help keep some frightening health problems at bay. “Nuts and seeds, including those of pumpkins, are naturally rich in certain plant-based chemicals called phytosterols that have been shown in studies to reduce LDL or ‘bad’ cholesterol,” says Aguirre. According to the American Heart Association, LDL cholesterol contributes to fatty buildups in arteries and ups the risk for heart attack or stroke.

6. It’s a One-Stop Shop

Bottom line? Pumpkin pulls double and triple duty in the nutrition department. “I would definitely add pumpkin to the superfood list due to its robust nutrition profile,” says certified nutritional chef of Melissa Eboli of Via Melissa, LLC. “ I define a superfood as foods that are multi-functional, meaning you get a lot of vitamins and minerals from one food source as a one stop shop so to say.”

Pumpkin fits the bill; it’s not only loaded with antioxidants that protect cells from damage, vitamin C that helps shore up immunity, and fiber that helps with digestion—it’s also high in potassium, which is great for lowering blood pressure.

Check out all the best of pumpkins on Chowhound.

Related Video: Healthy Pumpkin Recipes You’ll Want to Make All Fall

Header image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Kelsey Butler is a reporter and editor based in New Jersey. She has written for a number of health and lifestyle publications, including Women's Health, Brides, and NBC News Better. Hot sauce, black coffee, and bacon make up 50% of her diet.
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