You can hollow them out and make Jack-O-Lanterns, turn them into tasty pies, put them outside your house as decoration, use them as a spice in food or beer, or pick them up and smash them onto the ground in a fit of fury (or fun). Yeah, pumpkins are great. But did you know they’re actually really healthy, too? So long as they’re not in a big ole’ pie, that is. To celebrate the season, we’re giving you a list of health benefits pumpkins have to offer, with some help from Jim White, R.D., a certified health-and-fitness specialist, the owner of Jim White Fitness & Nutrition Studios, and the national spokesman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
1. They’re high in fiber and low in calories.
Anything high in fiber and low in calories is good. You feel full longer, curb cravings, keep your calories down, and maintain or lose weight. Pumpkins do just that. “Pumpkin has 3 grams of fiber and only 50 calories per 1 cup,” says White. “A high fiber diet is essential to a healthy diet and often helps us feel full longer by slowing digestion.”
2. They contain the antioxidant Beta-Carotene.
Beta-carotene not only gives pumpkins their bright color, it’s also “a powerful antioxidant that, according to the National Cancer Institute, has a role in fighting cancer,” states White. Your body is full of free radicals, which damage cells and may play a role in the development of cancer. That’s bad. “Pumpkin is full of antioxidants that are great at fighting free radicals,” says White. That’s good.
3. They keep your skin young and eyes sharp.
Unless you’re the lucky one who is 35 and still getting carded at bars, you’re probably trying to delay aging. Beta-carotene can help. “Beta-carotene has been proven to improve a person’s skin and decrease wrinkles,” says White. “It’s also converted to vitamin A in the body. Vitamin A is essential for healthy vision. 1 cup of pumpkin contains 200 percent more vitamin A than the RDI (recommended dietary intake).”
4. They may contain anti-diabetic properties, and are great snack for diabetics.
Snacking can be difficult when you’re diabetic, but pumpkins are definitely a go-to. That’s because they have been found to raise insulin levels and lower blood glucose levels to non-diabetic levels.
5. The seeds are healthy, too.
“Pumpkin seeds are high in vitamin A, vitamin B (including thiamin, riboflavin), vitamin C, vitamin K, niacin, calcium, iron, phosphorus, and protein,” White states. “They are also high in magnesium, manganese, zinc, potassium, and copper,” and poly and mono unsaturated fats. Toss them with your favorite spices and roast them in the oven, and you’ve got yourself a healthy, delicious snack.
6. They lower your bad cholesterol.
There’s good and bad cholesterol. Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) is the bad stuff. A chemical called phytosterol lowers LDL levels. Pumpkin seeds have phytosterol. Translation: eat pumpkin seeds, lower your cholesterol.
7. They help you sleep and make you happy.
Pumpkin seeds also contain tryptophan, which is needed to make serotonin. Serotonin not only makes you happy, but also helps make melatonin, which regulates your sleep and wake cycles. A solid night’s rest followed by a happy morning? Sounds good to us.