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 most of us have a favorite pumpkin pie recipe that we pull out during the fall and winter holidays, this versatile bright orange vegetable isn't limited to dessert. It can also be used to make smoothies, baked goods, soups, salads, and more. Pumpkin's rich nutritional stores make it a healthful food to consume year-round.

Pumpkin Nutrition Facts

The following nutrition information is provided by the USDA for 1 cup (245g) of fresh, (not canned) cooked pumpkin with no fat added.

  • Calories: 49
  • Fat: 0.17g
  • Sodium: 390mg
  • Carbohydrates: 12g
  • Fiber: 2.7g
  • Sugars: 5g
  • Protein: 1.8g

Carbs

There are 49 calories and 12 grams of carbohydrate in a cup of fresh cooked pumpkin. Some of that carbohydrate is fiber (2.7g) and some is naturally occurring sugar (5g). The remaining carbohydrate is starch. 

The carbohydrates in pumpkin are filling, while also having a minimal impact on blood sugar as measured by its glycemic load. 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. While pumpkin has a high GI of 75, the glycemic load (which takes portion size into account) is estimated to be just 3. GL is considered a more accurate way to measure a food's impact on blood sugar because it is based on the typical serving size. 

Fats

There is barely any naturally occurring fat in fresh pumpkin. Some varieties of canned pumpkin contain added fat. In addition, many pumpkin-flavored foods contain added fat. For example, pumpkin pie and many pumpkin-flavored baked goods contain added fat. 

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 do not contain any pumpkin and are instead flavored with pumpkin pie spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove.

Protein

Pumpkin is not a rich source of protein, with just 1.8 grams per cup. However, many pumpkin fans add fresh or canned pumpkin to protein-rich meals or smoothies. As a fiber-rich carbohydrate, pumpkin is a flavorful and healthy way to balance out out high-protein meals.

Vitamins and Minerals

Pumpkin is rich in vitamin A and beta-carotene—a carotenoid or natural pigment—which gives it its bright orange or yellow color. Beta-carotene is converted into vitamin A in the body, which helps you to maintain healthy skin, teeth, and vision. Pumpkin is also an excellent source of vitamin C and potassium.

Pumpkin is a good source of vitamin E, riboflavin, copper, and manganese. And you'll benefit from smaller amounts of iron, magnesium, phosphorus, and folate.

Health Benefits

Pumpkin is a nutritious food that may provide certain health benefits. However, most research on the health benefits of pumpkin has used pumpkin oil extract, pumpkin seed oil, or pumpkin seeds and has been conducted on rodents. Very few studies have investigated the benefits of pumpkin flesh on humans. But there are studies that link nutritional components of pumpkin and other squash varieties to potential benefits.

Lowers Disease Risk

Researchers have identified certain foods that they identify as "powerhouse" fruits and vegetables. These are foods most strongly associated with reduced chronic disease risk by providing higher levels of bioavailable nutrients such as vitamin C, riboflavin, niacin, folate, and others. Pumpkin made the list, with a higher nutrient rating than winter squash varieties such as butternut squash.

Lowers All-Cause Mortality

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

One large-scale review regarding the health effects of beta-carotene found that several studies connected a higher intake of beta-carotene to a significantly lower risk of all-cause mortality.

Prevents of Age-Related Vision Loss

Pumpkin is an excellent source of beta carotene, a type of vitamin A that is essential for eye health. Vitamin A is important for good eye health and maintaining your vision, especially as you age.

Research has indicated that taking supplements or consuming foods with beta carotene may help prevent age-related macular degeneration. Macular degeneration is a form of vision loss that becomes more common as people age. A report published in 2011 found that when study participants took a supplement containing high levels of vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, and zinc they showed a 35% decrease in age-related macular degeneration. In addition to beta carotene, pumpkin also contains high levels of vitamin C, some vitamin E, and small amounts of zinc.

Supports Skin Health

Pumpkin is a good source of vitamin C, with a 1-cup serving containing up to 19% of the recommended daily amount (RDA). Vitamin C is essential to the production of collagen, which is the main protein in the skin. While aiding skin structure, 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, authors of one study noted that multiple intervention studies concluded that healthy skin is also associated with fruit and vegetable intake. Although they note that the active component in the fruit and vegetables responsible for the observed benefit can't be identified, vitamin C availability may be a factor.

May Help Prevent Cancer

Vitamin A in pumpkin may also play a role in the prevention of cancer. Vitamin A is important for regulating cell growth and differentiation. Some studies have examined the association between vitamin A and certain cancers including prostate and lung cancer. 

According to National Institutes of Health, the relationship between beta-carotene and lung cancer in people who smoke has been studied, although research does not yet show a clear connection and trials are ongoing. There is also some evidence that a higher intake of vitamin A may lead to a decreased risk of prostate cancer. But the relationship between vitamin A and cancer risk is also not firmly established. There are also safety concerns about taking high levels of vitamin A (particularly in supplement form).

Allergies

According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (ACAAI), pumpkin is not a food usually associated with allergic reactions. However, there have been some cases of pumpkin allergy. Symptoms can occur after carving or eating pumpkin and may include itchy eyes, sneezing, eyelid swelling, and chest tightness.

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

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.

There is also some limited evidence that because pumpkin may have diuretic properties, it may also 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 pumpkin 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 decor and carving jack-o-lanterns (as opposed to cooking).

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

Canned pumpkin is also widely available, but it may include additional ingredients such as sugar, spices, or added fat, which greatly impact nutritional value. Many times, canned pumpkin pie filling contains some of these added ingredients, making it less healthy than fresh pumpkin. But some canned pumpkin contains no added ingredients and is just as healthy as the fresh vegetable—although many cooks still prefer to use the fresh variety.

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 those 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 1–2 inches in length to avoid early decay.

Storage and Food Safety

Whole, fresh pumpkins can usually be stored for 30–90 days if kept in a cool, dry place. Wash the pumpkin first and dry thoroughly before storage. Many people store them on a dry board or piece of cardboard to delay rotting. Do not place them on carpet or concrete as they may rot and stain these surfaces. If your pumpkin develops a soft spot, it has started to rot.

You can store cut raw pumpkin in the refrigerator for use within a week. It can also be frozen. Generally, it is best to cook the pumpkin in a microwave or in the oven before freezing. Simply remove the flesh from the pumpkin, cook it until it is soft, then place in airtight bags in the freezer for up to a year.

How to Prepare

Cooking pumpkin is easy. Simply remove the stem and split it open with a sharp knife. Remove the pumpkin seeds (and roast them for a delicious and nutritious treat) and cut the flesh into two halves or into large chunks depending on how you plan to prepare it. Rinse well under cold water.

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

Recipes

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