Pumpkin Nutrition Facts and Health Benefits

pumpkin

Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman 

Pumpkin (Cucurbita pepo or Cucurbita maxima) is a variety of squash that is native to North America. While many of us have a favorite pumpkin pie recipe that we pull out during the holidays, pumpkin's rich nutritional stores make it a healthful food to consume year-round, in sweet and savory preparations.

Pumpkin Nutrition Facts

A one-cup serving of cooked pumpkin (245g) that is boiled and drained with no added salt provides 49 calories, 1.8g of protein, 12g of carbohydrates, and 0.2g of fat. Pumpkin is a great source of vitamins A and C, potassium, and phosphorus. The following nutrition information is provided by the USDA.

  • Calories: 49
  • Fat: 0.2g
  • Sodium: 2.5mg
  • Carbohydrates: 12g
  • Fiber: 2.7g
  • Sugars: 5.1g
  • Protein: 1.8g
  • Vitamin A: 706mcg
  • Vitamin C: 11.5mg
  • Potassium: 564mg
  • Phosphorus: 73.5mg

Carbs

There are 12 grams of carbohydrates in one cup of pumpkin. Some of that carbohydrate is fiber (2.7 grams) and some is naturally occurring sugars (5.1 grams). The remaining carbohydrate is starch. 

The carbohydrates in pumpkin are filling while also having minimal impact on blood sugar. While pumpkin has a high glycemic index of 74, its glycemic load is estimated to be just 6.4. This makes pumpkin a good option for people with diabetes. 

Glycemic index (GI) and glycemic load (GL) both measure the effect a food has on blood sugar levels, though GL is considered more accurate because it is based on the typical serving size.

Fats

There is barely any fat in fresh pumpkin (0.2 grams per cup). Some brands of canned pumpkin and many pumpkin-flavored foods do contain added fat. This includes pumpkin pie and other pumpkin-flavored baked goods. 

Pumpkin-spiced coffee drinks, popular during the fall and winter months, often contain fat from the dairy that is used to make them. However, these drinks typically don't contain any pumpkin and are instead flavored with pumpkin pie spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves.

Protein

Pumpkin is not a rich source of protein at just 1.8 grams per cup. You may wish to add fresh or canned pumpkin to protein-rich meals or smoothies. As a fiber-rich carbohydrate, pumpkin is a flavorful and nutritious way to balance out high-protein menus.

Vitamins and Minerals

Pumpkin is rich in beta-carotene (5140 mcg). Beta-carotene is the carotenoid that gives the gourd its bright orange or yellow color. It is converted into vitamin A in the body, which helps support normal vision, immune function, and reproduction.

Pumpkin is also an excellent source of vitamin C, potassium, and phosphorus—as well as being a good source of vitamin E, riboflavin, copper, and manganese. You'll even benefit from smaller amounts of iron, magnesium, and folate when you consume pumpkin.

Calories

There are 49 calories in a cup of cooked pumpkin. In comparison to zucchini, a similar fruit (yes, both pumpkin and zucchini are fruits, not vegetables, at least botanically), pumpkin contains slightly more than double the calories per cup. It is still a lower-calorie food.

Summary

Pumpkin is fairly low in calories while also being very low in fat. The carbs it contains are a mixture of fiber, naturally occurring sugars, and starch. Pumpkin is an excellent source of vitamin A and also provides vitamin C, potassium, and phosphorus.

Health Benefits

Pumpkin is a nutritious food that may provide some health benefits. It can fit into many eating patterns and meal plans.

Reduces Chronic Disease Risk

Researchers have identified certain "powerhouse" fruits and vegetables. These are foods strongly associated with a reduced risk of chronic disease by providing higher levels of bioavailable nutrients such as vitamin C, riboflavin, niacin, folate, and others.

Pumpkin made the list, even having a higher nutrient rating than other winter squash varieties such as butternut squash. It also had a higher nutrient density score than other powerhouse foods such as Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, and carrots.

Lowers All-Cause Mortality

Beta-carotene is an important antioxidant, and you get a healthy dose of it when you consume pumpkin. Antioxidants help repair oxidative stress and protect against certain diseases, including Alzheimer's, high blood pressure, heart disease, Parkinson's, and rheumatoid arthritis.

One large-scale review noted that several studies have connected a higher intake of beta-carotene to a significantly lower risk of all-cause mortality.

Prevents Age-Related Vision Loss

The beta-carotene in pumpkin converts to vitamin A. Vitamin A is important for maintaining your vision, especially as you age.

Macular degeneration is a form of vision loss that becomes more common as people get older. Research has indicated that taking supplements or consuming foods with beta-carotene may help prevent age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

For example, one report found that when participants took a supplement containing high levels of vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, and zinc, they showed a 35% decrease in AMD. In addition to beta-carotene, pumpkin also contains these other nutrients.

Supports Skin Health

Pumpkin is a good source of vitamin C. Vitamin C is essential to the production of collagen, which is the main protein in the skin. It also provides antioxidant protection against photodamage caused by the sun's UV rays.

While vitamin C can be applied topically for some skin benefits, the authors of one study noted that healthy skin is also associated with fruit and vegetable intake. Although they indicated that the active component responsible for this benefit can't be confirmed, vitamin C availability may be a factor.

May Reduce Lung and Prostate Cancer Risk

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) reports that consuming higher levels of beta-carotene may reduce your risk of developing lung and prostate cancer. Studies have not confirmed whether it can prevent cancer or reduce the risk of cancer-related death.

The NIH adds that there are also safety concerns about taking high levels of vitamin A (particularly in supplement form), This may actually increase your lung cancer risk. This is less likely when consuming dietary sources of vitamin A.

Allergies

While pumpkin allergy is rare, some people are allergic to the proteins it contains. Others might be allergic to pumpkin seeds, though this too is an infrequent occurrence.

If you suspect that you have a pumpkin allergy, speak with your healthcare provider about your symptoms to get a diagnosis and make a treatment plan. 

Adverse Effects

There is some evidence that there may be a minor interaction between pumpkin and Coumadin (warfarin), a prescription medication used to prevent harmful blood clots from forming.

Some studies have also found that pumpkin has diuretic properties. Therefore, it may interact with lithium. Check with your healthcare provider to get personalized advice if you take one of these medications.

Varieties

There are many different types of pumpkins. Any of them can be used for cooking, but some varieties are better than others. The large pumpkins that you see in grocery stores around Halloween, for example, are best for decorations and carving jack-o-lanterns, not eating.

Pumpkin varieties that are better for cooking include Small Sugar (or New England Pie), and Winter Luxury. Buckskin, Chelsey, Dickinson Field, and Kentucky Field are often used for commercial canning.

Canned pumpkin is also widely available but may include additional ingredients such as sugar, spices, or added fat, which greatly impact nutritional value. Canned pumpkin pie filling often contains some of these added ingredients, making it less healthy than fresh pumpkin.

That said, some canned pumpkin contains no added ingredient and is just as nutritious as the fresh vegetable. Many cooks still prefer to use the fresh variety, but it can be time-consuming to prepare.

When It’s Best

While canned pumpkin is available all year long, fresh pumpkin is in season in the fall. To choose a pumpkin for cooking, look for one labeled "sweet pumpkin" or "pie pumpkin." They are usually smaller, less watery, and sweeter.

A good pumpkin should feel heavy for its size and be free from blemishes. The pumpkin's shape doesn't matter—just choose one with a stem that is 1 to 2 inches in length to avoid early decay.

Storage and Food Safety

Whole, fresh pumpkins can usually be stored for 30 to 90 days if kept in a cool, dry place. Wash the outside of the pumpkin first and dry thoroughly before storing.

Many people store their pumpkins on a dry board or piece of cardboard to delay rotting. (If your pumpkin develops a soft spot, it has started to rot.) Do not place pumpkins on carpet or concrete as they may rot and stain these surfaces.

You can store cut, raw pumpkin in the refrigerator for use within a week, or you can freeze it. Generally, it's best to cook pumpkin in a microwave or the oven before freezing. Remove the flesh, cook it until it is soft, then place in airtight bags in the freezer for up to a year.

How to Prepare

To cook a pumpkin, remove the stem and split the gourd open with a sharp knife. Remove the pumpkin seeds (save and roast them for a delicious and nutritious treat) and cut the flesh according to how you plan to prepare it. Rinse it well under cold water.

To boil or steam pumpkin, place the chunks in a large pot with a few inches of water in the bottom. Cook for 20 to 30 minutes, until tender.

To roast pumpkin, place the two halves on a baking sheet with the skin facing up (flesh facing down). Bake at 350°F for about an hour, or until you can pierce the flesh with a fork and it is tender. 

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