It’s that time of year again! Even if you don’t want to believe it, fall is coming! It’s almost time to bust out your sweaters and boots, jump in a big pile of leaves, sit by a bonfire, and enjoy everything PUMPKIN! Most people don’t give pumpkins a second thought unless they are looking for Halloween decorations or making a pie for Thanksgiving, but pumpkins (and their seeds!) have a lot of health benefits! Whether you are ready to throw on your comfy sweater, or are hanging onto your flip-flops for as long as possible, here are a ten reasons why everyone should be including pumpkin in their diet, no matter what time of year it is!
1. A powerful antioxidant: Pumpkins and pumpkin seeds are one of the best-known sources of beta-carotene, which is a powerful antioxidant. Beta-carotene helps protect your cells from harmful free radicals and also helps reduce inflammation. In one study done with rats suffering from arthritis, it was found that rats given pumpkin seed oil received the same benefit but didn’t experience any side effects compared with rats given an anti-inflammatory medication.
2. Provides tons of vitamins and minerals: Pumpkins are full of vitamin C, riboflavin, potassium, copper, and manganese. They also contain significant amounts of vitamin E, thiamin, niacin, vitamin B6, folate, iron, magnesium, and phosphorus.
3. Keeps your vision focused: Vitamin A is a key player in keeping your eyes healthy and keeping your vision sharp. Because beta-carotene is converted into Vitamin A in our bodies, pumpkins are an excellent source of it. In fact, just 1.5 ounces of canned pumpkin supplies us with 100% of our daily intake of Vitamin A. The antioxidants found in pumpkins have also been shown to decrease the risk of degenerative damage to the eyes.
4. Full of fiber: Pumpkin is rich in soluble fiber, which provides many health benefits. Having enough fiber in your diet helps keep you fuller longer, helps control blood glucose levels, reduces high cholesterol levels, and keeps your digestive system moving. For approximately 80 calories, one cup of canned pumpkin contains seven grams of fiber while a one-ounce serving of pumpkin seeds also delivers a whopping 5.2 grams of fiber!
5. Great source of protein and healthy fats: A one-ounce serving of pumpkin seeds can provide your body with a significant amount of protein and fats for the day. Did you know that a one-ounce serving of pumpkin seeds contains seven grams of protein? That same amount also contains 13 grams of fat, six grams being omega-6 fats which are essential to our diet as our body does not produce them on its own.
6. Regulates blood pressure: The potassium, fiber, and vitamin C found in pumpkins all contribute to a healthy heart. Pumpkin seeds are also high in magnesium, zinc, and fatty acids, which contribute to blood pressure control and reducing your risk of heart disease. Studies done on animals have shown that those which consumed pumpkin seed oil had reduced blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Pumpkin seeds also contain nitric oxide, which helps expand blood vessels, helping to increase blood flow and reduce the risk of plaque formation in arteries.
7. Prevents diabetes: Studies have shown that participants who supplemented their diets with pumpkin juice or seed powder had lower blood sugar levels then those who did not. The high level of magnesium found in pumpkins also contributes to a reduced risk of diabetes. An observational study that looked at 127,000 men and women found that those who had a diet high in magnesium had 1/3 less risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. The high levels of soluble fiber in pumpkin delays gastric emptying, which also helps control blood sugar levels.
8. Reduces your risk of cancer: Studies have found that diets rich in pumpkin are associated with lower risk of breast, prostate, colon, stomach, and lung cancers. Specifically, studies have found that beta-carotene is associated with lower risk of prostate cancer. Other studies have found that lignans (a type of antioxidant found in the seeds) play an important role in the prevention and treatment of breast cancer.
9. Protects your immune health: Pumpkin pulp and pumpkin seeds are both high in beta-carotene and Vitamin C. The antioxidant properties of pumpkin help battle free radicals that can put your immune system at risk. Once in your body, beta-carotene converts into Vitamin A, which is important in the production of white blood cells. Vitamin C is important for the growth and repair of damaged tissue and helps maintain healthy teeth, bones, cartilage, and skin.
10. Promotes relaxation and a good night’s sleep: It’s not just your Thanksgiving turkey that is putting you to sleep! Their seeds are high in the amino acid Tryptophan, which converts into gamma-aminobutyric acid or GABA. This is a neurotransmitter that works in your brain to help you relax, decrease anxiety, fight off depression, and improve sleep.
Another great benefit is that it is very easy to add to your diet. Mix pumpkin puree into your soups, chili, or pasta sauce for some added flavor; snack on pumpkin seeds when you’re on the go, add them to your morning yogurt, or sprinkle them on your salad at lunch; or try cooking your meals with pumpkin seed oil. Pumpkin puree can also be used in many baking recipes as a substitute for oil or butter, which not only greatly reduces the fat content but also adds flavor and a ton of nutrients to your sweet treat. You can even add pumpkin puree to your protein shake for a fun fall twist on your usual post workout meal. With so many benefits, it won’t be surprising if pumpkins become your year round go-to!