Skip the Pumpkin Spice Latte: 10 Benefits of Adding Natural Pumpkin to Your Fall Diet
Fall is in the air, which means cozy sweaters, leaves changing colors, apple picking and — you guessed it! — pumpkin everything! While many people celebrate the arrival of the pumpkin spice latte this time of year, the artificial ingredients and preservatives, and the fact that they do not contain any real pumpkin, leave others looking for more natural ways to add pumpkin to their diet.
Pumpkin is commonly thought of as a vegetable, but is scientifically a fruit, as it contains seeds. It is nutritionally more like a vegetable than a fruit and a fall favorite that’s packed with many health benefits.
"Many studies have suggested that eating more plant foods, such as pumpkin, decreases the risk of obesity, helps individuals avoid diabetes and heart disease, and can even increase energy," noted BayCare’s VP/Chief Quality Officer Dr. Laura Arline, MD, FACP, FAAP.
Here’s why you should incorporate more of this nutritious, versatile type of winter squash into your diet.
- It’s rich in vitamin A and highly nutritious. Pumpkin is over 94% water, making it low in calories but packed with essential nutrients. A single serving (about one cup) of pumpkin can provide over 200% of your daily recommended intake of vitamin A. Vitamin A is an essential vitamin for healthy vision and immune system performance. It also supports hair and skin health and organ functionality.
- It’s easy to add it to foods you’re already cooking. Its sweet flavor makes it a popular ingredient in desserts, smoothies, energy bars, pies, pancakes or custards. However, it works just as well in savory dishes like roasted vegetables, soups and pastas. The easiest way to eat pumpkin is to season it with salt and pepper and roast it in the oven. Many people also enjoy making it into pumpkin soup, especially during winter. Arline added, "When you’re baking, you can replace oil or butter with pumpkin puree. It will be healthier for you and taste just as yummy!"
- It contains lutein and zeaxanthin. These compounds protect your eyes from age-related macular degeneration and cataracts. Additionally, beta-carotene helps keep your vision sharp by helping the retina absorb light.
- It’s heart healthy. A cup of pumpkin contains 16% of your daily recommended amount of potassium and it also has vitamin C, fiber and antioxidants, which can help prevent heart disease.
- Its seeds are edible, too! You can clean, spice and roast pumpkin seeds for a nutritious snack. The health benefits of pumpkin seeds include a reduced risk of cancer, improved bowel and prostate health, and a lower risk of heart disease. They also make for a tasty, protein-packed addition to a salad, oatmeal, granola or sprinkled over yogurt for a bit of crunch.
- It can aid in weight loss. If you’re looking to shed a few pounds, pumpkin is rich in fiber, aiding your body in digestion and helping you feel full longer.
- It improves sleep quality. Since pumpkins are rich in tryptophan, a type of amino acid that is the building block of the mood-lifting neurotransmitter serotonin, it can also act as a sleep stimulant. Tryptophan produces serotonin and this, in turn, relaxes and calms you, so you eventually fall asleep.
- Its juice is recommended for patients with hepatitis A. Pumpkin juice contains active agents that some experts say act as natural liver cleansers, which may help to reactivate lost liver function from the disease. Pumpkin juice functions as an assistant to toxic waste disposal in the kidney and urinary systems.
- It’s a low glycemic index food. The glycemic index (GI) is a value used to measure the effect that consuming a particular food has on the body’s blood glucose (sugar) levels. Glycemic load (GL) takes this one step further, considering not only the speed of glucose conversion, but also the amount of carbohydrates contained in a food. Glycemic load values range from 0 to 100 and are classified as follows: low GL: 0 to 10 (low GL), 11 to 19 (moderate GL) and 20+ (high GL). The low GL of pumpkin (4.5) means that you can safely eat pumpkin without worrying about an increase in your blood glucose levels.
- It’s good for hair growth. Pumpkin is also a good source of folate, a B vitamin that helps improve blood circulation which stimulates hair growth. Pumpkin has the power to penetrate deep into skin to provide many benefits. It’s full of antioxidants, including vitamin A and vitamin C, that both help to soften and soothe dry skin.
The best way to get pumpkin’s health benefits is to add it naturally to your diet and to avoid the sugar and processed ingredients in pumpkin-flavored baked goods, drinks and snacks. So, skip the pumpkin spice latte this year and opt for more wholesome choices for a delicious, healthy and colorful addition to your fall diet.