Besides being tasty and highly nutritious, pumpkin is also good for your health. Scientific studies have highlighted the many health benefits of pumpkin.
Native to North America and very popular at Halloween, pumpkin belongs to the same family as cucumber, squash and melon (Cucurbitaceae). Although generally considered a vegetable, the pumpkin is actually a fruit, as it contains seeds.
Here are 7 health benefits of pumpkin that may surprise you.
1. Has a remarkable nutritional profile.
Rich in minerals and vitamins, pumpkin is low in calories since it is composed of 94% water. It is an excellent source of vitamin A.
1 cup of boiled and drained pumpkin puree (250 ml or 259 g) contains1:
Total Fat: 0.18 g
Protein: 1.86 g
Carbohydrates: 12.68 g
Fiber: 2.9 g
Vitamin A (beta-carotene): 5426 µg
Potassium: 595 mg
Copper: 0.236 mg
Manganese: 0.230 mg
Vitamin B2: 0.202 mg
Vitamin E: 2.07 mg
Iron: 1.48 mg
2. Boosts the immune system.
Pumpkins contain many nutrients that can boost the immune system. These include:
Beta-carotene: Once in the body, it is converted into vitamin A, which boosts the immune system and helps defend against infection2.
Vitamin C: It has been shown to increase white blood cell production, improve the effectiveness of immune cells and speed up wound healing3,4.
3. Helps improve cardiovascular health.
The health benefits of pumpkin also extend to the cardiovascular system. Indeed, its high potassium, vitamin C and fiber contents are beneficial to the heart.
Studies have shown that people with higher intakes of potassium appear to have lower blood pressure and a reduced risk of stroke, thus reducing their risk of heart disease5.
In addition, pumpkin is high in antioxidants, which may help prevent blood vessel obstruction6.
4. Helps reduce the risk of cancer.
Cancer is the leading cause of death in Canada and is responsible for 30% of all deaths7.
Cancer cells produce free radicals to help them multiply rapidly. Pumpkin contains carotenoids with antioxidant properties. They can help neutralize free radicals and help protect you against certain cancers.
Studies showed that people with higher intakes of carotenoids had a significantly lower risk of throat, pancreas, stomach, breast and other cancers8, 9, 10, 11.
However, further studies are needed to determine whether the observed effects are related to the carotenoids themselves or to other factors such as lifestyle habits.
In general, it is possible to adopt healthy eating habits to help reduce your risk of cancer.
5. Protects eyesight.
Vitamin A is known for its many benefits for the eyes. It helps prevent the risk of eye diseases and slow down their progression.
Studies show that higher consumption of vitamin A, vitamin C, β-carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin is associated with a significantly decreased risk of age-related cataract12.
Pumpkin high vitamin A and carotenoids contents may protect your eyesight.
6. Aids in weight loss.
One cup of boiled and drained pumpkin (259g) contains 52 calories and is about 94% water1, meaning you can eat more and still consume fewer calories. By comparison, one cup of cooked white rice contains 282 calories1. Combined with a healthy lifestyle, eating pumpkin can help you maintain a healthy weight.
Furthermore, thanks to its fiber content, pumpkin can also help reduce your appetite and promote healthy bowels.
7. Helps reduce the risk of chronic diseases.
Pumpkin contains antioxidants, such as alpha-carotene, beta-carotene and beta-cryptoxanthin. These can neutralize free radicals and prevent them from damaging your cells.
Free radicals are molecules produced by your body's metabolic process. In small doses, they help the body fight microbes and viruses effectively.
However, an excess of free radicals in the body has been linked to chronic diseases, including heart disease and cancer13. That's where antioxidants come in.
High in antioxidants, minerals and vitamins, pumpkin has many health benefits. So it's much more than a Halloween decoration; consider using its flesh and seeds to make delicious dishes.
The best way to get all the health benefits of pumpkin is to eat it without sugar and to avoid processed foods. Opt for healthier options such as pumpkin soup, hummus, roasted pumpkins or pumpkin puree.
1. Serving size. Government of Canada. Accessible online: https://aliments-nutrition.canada.ca/cnf-fce/switchlocale.do?lang=en&url=t.serving.size.taille.portion
2. Hee-Yun Kim, Sun-Young Nam, Shi-Young Yang, Hyung-Min Kim, Hyun-Ja Jeong. Cucurbita moschata Duch. and its active component, β-carotene effectively promote the immune responses through the activation of splenocytes and macrophages. Immunopharmacol Immunotoxicol. 2016 Oct;38(5):319-26. doi: 10.1080/08923973.2016.1202960. Epub 2016 Jun 29. PMID: 27315229.
3. Anitra C Carr, Silvia Maggini. Vitamin C and Immune Function. Nutrients. 2017 Nov 3;9(11):1211. doi: 10.3390/nu9111211.PMID: 29099763.
4. Mirelle J A J Huijskens, Mateusz Walczak, Nicole Koller, Jacob J Briedé, Birgit L M G Senden-Gijsbers, Melanie C Schnijderberg, Gerard M J Bos, Wilfred T V Germeraad. Technical advance: ascorbic acid induces development of double-positive T cells from human hematopoietic stem cells in the absence of stromal cells. J Leukoc Biol. 2014 Dec;96(6):1165-75. doi: 10.1189/jlb.1TA0214-121RR. Epub 2014 Aug 25. PMID: 25157026.
5. Marco Vinceti, Tommaso Filippini, Alessio Crippa, Agnès de Sesmaisons, Lauren A Wise, Nicola Orsini. Meta-Analysis of Potassium Intake and the Risk of Stroke. J Am Heart Assoc. 2016 Oct 6;5(10):e004210. doi: 10.1161/JAHA.116.004210. PMID: 27792643.
6. Jens Milde, Erich F Elstner, Johanna Grassmann. Synergistic effects of phenolics and carotenoids on human low-density lipoprotein oxidation. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2007 Aug;51(8):956-61. doi: 10.1002/mnfr.200600271. PMID: 17639513.
7. Cancer statistics at a glance. Canadian cancer society. Accessible online : https://cancer.ca/fr/research/cancer-statistics/cancer-statistics-at-a-glance
8. Alessandra Buja, Marco Pierbon, Laura Lago, Giulia Grotto, Vincenzo Baldo. Breast Cancer Primary Prevention and Diet: An Umbrella Review. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2020 Jul 1;17(13):4731. doi: 10.3390/ijerph17134731. PMID: 32630215.
9. Yunping Zhou, Tao Wang, Qiang Meng, Shenyong Zhai. Association of carotenoids with risk of gastric cancer: A meta-analysis. Clin Nutr. 2016 Feb;35(1):109-116. doi: 10.1016/j.clnu.2015.02.003. PMID: 25726725.
10. Fulan Hu, Baina Wang Yi, Wencui Zhang, Jing Liang, Chunqing Lin, Dandan Li, Fan Wang, Da Pang, Yashuang Zhao. Carotenoids and breast cancer risk: a meta-analysis and meta-regression. Breast Cancer Res Treat. 2012 Jan;131(1):239-53. doi: 10.1007/s10549-011-1723-8. Epub 2011 Sep 7. PMID: 21901390.
11. Xiao-Xiao Ge, Mei-Yuan Xing, Lan-Fang Yu, Peng Shen. Carotenoid intake and esophageal cancer risk: a meta-analysis. Asian Pac J Cancer Prev. 2013;14(3):1911-8. doi: 10.7314/apjcp.2013.14.3.1911. PMID: 23679292.
12. Hong Jiang, Yue Yin, Chang-Rui Wu, Yan Liu, Fang Guo, Ming Li, Le Ma. Dietary vitamin and carotenoid intake and risk of age-related cataract. Am J Clin Nutr. 2019 Jan 1;109(1):43-54. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/nqy270. PMID: 30624584.
13. Nemat Khansari, Yadollah Shakiba, Mahdi Mahmoudi. Chronic inflammation and oxidative stress as a major cause of age-related diseases and cancer. Recent Pat Inflamm Allergy Drug Discov. 2009 Jan;3(1):73-80. doi: 10.2174/187221309787158371. PMID: 19149749.