Pumpkin isn't just for pie or decorating your front porch at Halloween. It's also a low-calorie food packed with nutrients. In fact, 1 cup of cooked mashed pumpkin contains just 49 calories. In addition to being a rich source of vitamins and minerals, pumpkin may be beneficial for prostate health and improving HDL, the "good" cholesterol. Both canned and fresh pumpkin are healthy options, as are the seeds. Just steer clear of canned pumpkin with added ingredients, such as salt or sugar.
Pumpkin flesh gets its orange color from beta-carotene, an antioxidant belonging to a group of pigments called carotenoids. Beta-carotene may help reduce cell damage in the body and improve immune function. It may also reduce your chances of developing chronic diseases such as heart disease, according to Colorado State University's Shirley Perryman, M.S. Perryman also reports that beta-carotene could lower your risk for cataracts and macular degeneration. This antioxidant is converted to vitamin A in the body, an important nutrient for eye health.
Pumpkin has only trace amounts of fat, but the seeds are a good source of health unsaturated fats. Just 1 oz. contains 5 g of fat, with 4 g being unsaturated. The seeds contain alpha-linolenic acid, or ALA, a type of omega-3 fatty acid. Eating a diet rich in ALA may help prevent cardiovascular disease and its risk factors including hypertension and high cholesterol, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center.
Pumpkin seeds are a smart snack and healthy topping for salads. In addition to their unsaturated fat content, the seeds are a good source of fiber. Fiber garners a lot of attention for its role in digestive health and preventing constipation. Yet it may also help lower your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes and the risk factors associated with heart disease. Pumpkin seeds also contain the essential mineral zinc, which plays a role in keeping bones healthy.
Pumpkin Seed Oil
If the flavor of pumpkin -- or its seeds -- isn't appealing, use pumpkin seed oil. Some research findings suggest this oil may have some significant health benefits. One study, published in the journal "Climacteric" in May 2011, found that postmenopausal women who took 2 g of pumpkin seed oil daily for 12 weeks had reduced diastolic blood pressure. The participants also experienced less menopausal symptoms and had increased HDL cholesterol levels. An article appearing in the Winter 2009 issue of "Nutrition Research and Practice" revealed that the oil may be an effective alternative treatment for benign prostate gland enlargement. Discuss using this and any other supplement with your doctor before giving it a try.
- Utah State University Cooperative Extension; Ask a Specialist: What are the Health Benefits of Pumpkin?; Nedra Christensen; October 2008
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Beta-carotene
- Colorado State University Extension; Be a Pumpkin Eater; Shirley Perryman, MS, RD; October 2010
- American Dietetic Association: How Do I Toast Pumpkin Seeds?
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Alpha-linolenic Acid
- Harvard School of Public Health Nutrition Source: Fiber: Start Roughing It!