Pumpkin is so much a part of the traditions, aesthetic, and culture of fall that as soon as the leaves start to change, this many-sized celebrity of squashes starts to dominate our newsfeeds, grocery store displays, and lattes before we even have time to break out our UGG boots.
Americans love pumpkins, with over 1.5 billion pounds of pumpkin produced in the U.S. each year, 800 million of which make their debut in the single month of October. A winter squash belonging to the Cucurbitacae family, which includes cucumbers and melons, pumpkins are technically classified as a fruit, but it’s a fruit that wears many hats.
Not only is pumpkin a favorite fall decoration, day-activity attraction (cue the family pumpkin-patch photo shoot), Halloween prop, Thanksgiving Day staple, and preferred replacement noggin of the Headless Horseman, but as a naturally low-calorie, nutrient-rich food, it has untapped potential for your health as well.
The Anatomy of the Pumpkin
Though the worth-it factor may vary based on the quality of the taste, each part of the pumpkin is technically edible: the stem, leaves, flowers, skin, pulp, and seeds. The main attraction is 90% water, making it a low-calorie food, with one cup of plain cooked or boiled pumpkin containing:
- ~2 grams of protein
- ~3 grams of fiber
- ~50 calories
- Less than half a gram of fat
- No cholesterol
- And 12 grams of carbs
Single-ingredient canned pumpkin puree has a similar macronutrient profile, and both offer a healthy dose of vitamins A, C, and E, riboflavin, potassium, copper, manganese, thiamin, B-6, folate, pantothenic acid, niacin, iron, magnesium, and phosphorus.
Overall Pumpkin Health Benefits
Let’s break down that long list of nutrients to see how it actually translates to your health.
According to the National Institute of Health, vitamin A is specifically beneficial to your eyes, aiding in low-light vision and providing protection against macular degeneration and cataracts. A cup of pumpkin provides 200% of your recommended daily intake.
This versatile nutrient is a powerful, immune-system-boosting antioxidant which helps the body’s ability to form and maintain the health of your connective tissues (bones, bloods vessels, and the skin).
Where vitamin C is water-soluble (cannot be stored in the body), vitamin E is fat soluble. Another antioxidant, E helps to neutralize toxins in the body as well as protect against PMS symptoms, eye disorders, and neurological diseases.
The calorie-to-fiber ratio of pumpkin make it an ideal food option for those looking to lose weight, as it helps to satiate hunger for longer periods of time than low-fiber foods.
Combined with fiber and vitamin C, which all boast heart-healthy benefits, potassium aids in regulating blood pressure, reducing the risk of stroke, and maintaining the health of muscle and bone tissue.
Amazing Pumpkin Facts
- Irish immigrants brought pumpkin-carving to America. Traditionally, they had carved turnips, potatoes, and beets, lighting them up to ward off evil spirits, but soon found that pumpkins were an easier option for carving.
- Antarctica is the only continent too inhospitable to grow the hearty pumpkin.
- 95% of all pumpkins grown in America are grown in the “Pumpkin Capital of the World,” Morton, Illinois.
- There are over 45 different types of pumpkin, giving us a trove of color and size options for our Martha-Stewart-style porch displays and Thanksgiving centerpieces.
- The largest pumpkin ever recorded was grown in 2010, measured five feet in diameter, and weighed 1,800 pounds.
- Colonist-style pumpkin pies looked a lot different than our pies of today. They cut the tops off, scooped out the seeds, and filled the center with milk, spice, and honey before baking them whole over hot coals.