Benefits of Pumpkin: Cozy Fall Dinners to Support Gut Health

With the change of seasons comes some of the best produce, including different varieties of squash and, of course, pumpkins. Keep reading to learn about the nutritional benefits of pumpkins and how to include them in your 'gut-friendly' dishes.

Best pumpkin varieties for eating

Pumpkins are part of the Cucurbitaceae family and grow in different shapes, colors, sizes, and varieties. Although most pumpkins are edible, only a few have a silky texture that is worth eating. Here are five varieties you may want to look for the next time you shop:

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VarietyDescription
Cushaw striped pumpkin
This pumpkin has green and white stripes and a classic gourd shape with a narrow, swan-shaped neck. It tastes sweet after cooking and can be steamed for an extra smooth texture.
Fairytale pumpkinA flat pumpkin with deep ribbing that makes it look too pretty to eat. This pumpkin is a great option for silky, smooth soups. You can use the hollowed pumpkin to serve your soup at dinner parties.
Casper pumpkinThis pumpkin is stark white on the outside with bright orange flesh inside. It is a great option for roasting and serving as a side dish or in pies.
Sugar pumpkinA small pumpkin with a deep orange color. This variety is one of the sweetest, is rich with pulp, and is a great option for making pumpkin pie and other desserts.
Long Island cheese pumpkinThe exterior has a creamy orange-yellow color that resembles a pastel version of a classic pumpkin. It is a great option for soups and other savory stews or curries.

Pumpkin nutritional values (per 100 g)

Pumpkin has a low calorie and fat content and an array of essential vitamins and minerals, including beta-carotene which converts to vitamin A in the body. The list below shows pumpkin (raw) nutritional values per 100 grams according to the USDA Food Data Central.

  • Calories: 26 kcal
  • Protein: 1 g
  • Total fat: 0.1 g
  • Carbohydrates: 6.5 g
  • Dietary fiber: 0.5 g
  • Total sugars: 2.76 g
  • Sodium: 1 g
  • Vitamin A, RAE: 426 µg
  • Vitamin C (total ascorbic acid): 9 mg
  • Vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol): 1.06 mg
  • Vitamin K (phylloquin): 1.1 µg
  • Selenium: 0.3 µg
  • Zinc: 0.32 mg
  • Potassium: 340 mg
  • Calcium: 21 mg
  • Iron: 0.8 mg
  • Magnesium: 12 mg
  • Phosphorus: 44 mg

Potential health benefits of pumpkin

Pumpkin has many potential nutritional benefits that may support various body systems, including the immune system, eye health, and cardiovascular health.

Regulates blood sugar

Pumpkin has a low glycemic load (GL), making it a suitable food choice for those who are managing blood sugar levels. Low GL foods are slower to digest, gradually releasing blood glucose into the bloodstream, reducing the risk of spikes and crashes in blood sugar levels.

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A recent systematic review of the current scientific research into pumpkin seeds found that they may have numerous health benefits when combined with other nutrient sources. They may also show potential as a complementary food supplement alongside diabetes treatment. It’s worth noting, however, that many of the experimental studies reviewed were conducted on animals and it would be beneficial to see more robust, longitudinal human studies.

Boosts the immune system

Pumpkin contains adequate levels of vitamins A and C, which are both important for a robust and healthy immune system. Vitamin A supports the production and function of the white blood cells used by the body to help fight infections. Vitamin C has antioxidant properties that support the immune system in many ways, including the action of natural killer (NK) cells that defend against germs and pathogens.

A 2023 scientific review into the use of pumpkin as a pharma food suggested that it could potentially be useful, alongside a healthy diet, to play a basic role in supporting the immunity of the population post-COVID-19. This is due to its potential antimicrobial, antiviral, and antioxidant pharmacological attributes.

Supports skin health

According to a 2020 laboratory study, pumpkins exhibit antioxidant capabilities. The antioxidants found in pumpkin varieties, including carotenoids and vitamins C and E, play an important role in our skin health. Optimal intake of carotenoids alongside other antioxidants may help protect the skin from UV damage, while vitamin C acts as a vital component for collagen production. Vitamin E is an antioxidant that aids in combating oxidative stress and may help maintain skin hydration levels alongside other skincare practices.

Promotes heart health

Pumpkin may be considered a 'heart-healthy' food due to its moderate potassium content and low sodium levels, which may help contribute to the maintenance of optimal blood pressure levels.

In a 2016 scientific review with meta-analysis, published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, authors found that an adequate potassium intake lowered the risk of stroke. The dietary fiber in pumpkin may also help lower cholesterol levels.

Dietary fiber intake has been scientifically linked to cardiovascular disease risk reduction. However, it's important to note that nutritional recommendations can differ for people with underlying conditions and it's recommended to consult with a healthcare professional for personalized advice.

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Supports eye health

To maintain healthy vision, our bodies need vitamin A. Pumpkin is a source of beta-carotene, which the body can convert into this much-needed vitamin. According to a 2022 scientific review, vitamin A may play a role in supporting cornea and retina function, potentially helping reduce the risk of age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

The efficacy of different nutrients implicated in age-related macular degeneration was reviewed in a 2022 network meta-analysis. Researchers concluded that carotenoids, such as beta-carotene, were most likely to prevent the progression of late AMD.

Interestingly, a 2022 laboratory study highlighted the potential for lutein (an antioxidant found in pumpkin) to act as a filter for the harmful blue light that is emitted from devices like cell phones and computer screens. Despite the promising results, it’s worth noting that this study was done in vitro in a laboratory setting, and it would be beneficial to conduct more robust research on humans to be able to draw firm conclusions.

Culinary uses of pumpkin

Pumpkin is used in many different types of delicious and healthy recipes. From curries to cakes, it’s a highly versatile food that should have a place in every kitchen.

Savory dishes

Because it’s so versatile, pumpkin can be a great addition to many savory dishes. You can roast it with garlic and herbs, make pumpkin puree as a delicious dip, or use it as a base for soups and stews.

For a cozy dinner, try a tasty pumpkin soup seasoned with warming spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, and cumin. You can also add pumpkin to risotto, pasta dishes, and curries, which will give your dishes a sweet and earthy flavor.

Sweet treats

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Pumpkin is a beloved ingredient in many of the sweet treats that become favorites during the fall season. Pumpkin pie is probably the most famous of fall desserts, but you can also use it in muffins, sweet breads, and cakes.

You can try adding pumpkin puree to your baked goods to enhance the flavor and texture as well as boost the vitamin, mineral, and fiber content of your culinary creation.

Seeds and oil

Pumpkin seeds are often eaten as a nutritious snack containing protein, antioxidants, and healthy fats. They are extremely versatile and can be sprinkled raw over salads and soups or roasted with herbs and tamari for extra flavor. You can also add pumpkin seeds to baked goods like flapjacks and muffins.

Pumpkin seeds contain omega-3 fatty acids, which research has shown have anti-inflammatory properties. The oil, extracted from the pumpkin seeds, can be used as a healthy addition to salads and marinades, supporting your intake of antioxidants and essential fatty acids.

How to prepare pumpkin

Before eating a pumpkin:

  1. Wash the exterior with a brush and warm running water.
  2. Remove any obvious dirt or debris.
  3. Pat it dry with a towel before beginning your prep.

The pulp is easier to remove after roasting or boiling your pumpkin. The heat softens the flesh, and you can scoop or cut as much as you need for your recipe. Common ways to eat pumpkin include adding it to soups, curries, and stews or using it in baking.

Pumpkin rind is tough and is often discarded during prep. However, the peel is edible when prepared correctly. Save these pieces and bake them with oil and salt to create a crunchy snack for later.

Nutrition tip
If you have a sensitive stomach, you should slowly introduce high-fiber foods (like baked pumpkin rind) to your diet. Start with one piece and see how you feel.

Save the seeds

Pumpkin seeds can also be saved and turned into a nutritious and delicious snack. Toss them in a bowl with oil, paprika, cayenne pepper, and garlic powder before baking them on a flat tray for 30–45 minutes. Flip them halfway through to prevent burning.

You can add roasted pumpkin seeds to salads, soups, stews, and even a savory trail mix. You can refrigerate them in a sealed container to extend their shelf life and freshness.

Gut-friendly meals with pumpkin

Fall is the kickoff for soup and chili season. Here are some easy pumpkin meals you can make this fall:

  • Pumpkin curry. Add oil, onion, garlic, fresh tomatoes, red bell pepper, ground ginger, and curry powder to a pot. Stir until everything is softened, and add pumpkin puree and red lentils. Garnish with fresh cilantro before serving.
  • Silky pumpkin rice with shrimp. Add delicious vegetables to this dish, such as shredded kale, diced zucchini, garlic, onion, and sundried tomatoes. You can cook this in an air fryer to speed up the cooking process.
  • Cubed pumpkin casserole. Add thinly sliced cabbage, mushrooms, shredded chicken, diced carrots, celery, olive oil, and your favorite seasoning. Bake for 40 minutes and garnish with fresh parsley before serving.
  • Pumpkin hummus. Hummus is not a meal, but it can be a snack or an appetizer. Blend half a can of chickpeas, cooked pumpkin, tahini, garlic, olive oil, and lemon juice. Serve with fresh vegetables or baked crackers.
  • Diced pumpkin chili with lean ground beef. Add corn, bell pepper, carrots, celery, and canned tomatoes to your chili.

A gut-friendly diet includes a variety of vegetables, lean proteins, and high-quality starches.

Choosing the right pumpkin

You should pick a pumpkin that has a healthy, intact exterior. Lift the gourd to inspect the bottom and check for any signs of mold or decay. Obvious discoloration (brown, green, or black) can signify spoilage and should not be consumed.

If you have access to a car, consider driving out to a local farmer and buying pumpkins fresh from the land. Seeing where food is grown is a fun experience for children and a good reminder to appreciate the farmers who grow delicious foods for us to enjoy.

Final thoughts on pumpkin

From gut health to maintaining blood sugar levels, pumpkin offers a vast array of different potential health benefits that can be a great addition to your regular diet.

Its versatility, mineral content, vitamin profile, and antioxidant properties make this seasonal vegetable a valuable addition to any culinary endeavor.

With both sweet and savory options to explore, including pumpkin in your diet can help contribute to a balanced and nutritious lifestyle.

FAQ

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