By Chris Obenschain
When you think about pumpkins, what comes to mind? Jack-o'-lanterns? Pumpkin pie? Charlie Brown? Pumpkin spice lattes? Well, there's more to these orange gourds than Halloween and sugary (but delicious!) desserts and drinks. Pumpkins have numerous health benefits -- none of which take center stage in autumn's most frequent offerings.
Are you skeptical about taking the pumpkin out of the pie (or cup)? These health benefits may change your mind:
Pumpkin is rich in fiber, which slows digestion. "Pumpkin keeps you feeling fuller longer," says Caroline Kaufman, MS, RDN and an upwave diet and nutrition expert. "There's seven grams of fiber in a cup of canned pumpkin. That's more than what you'd get in two slices of whole-grain bread."
Pumpkin may be filling, but it's also a low-calorie superstar. "Canned pumpkin is nearly 90 percent water, so besides the fact that it helps keep you hydrated, it has fewer than 50 calories per serving," Kaufman says.
Pumpkin's brilliant orange coloring comes from its ample supply of beta-carotene, which is converted to vitamin A in the body. Vitamin A is essential for eye health and helps the retina absorb and process light. A single cup of pumpkin contains over 200 percent of most people's recommended daily intake of vitamin A, making it an outstanding option for optical health.
Pumpkin also contains lutein and zeaxanthin, two antioxidants that are thought to help prevent cataracts and may even slow the development of macular degeneration.
Looking for a way to ward off illness and improve your immune system? Try pumpkin. The large shot of vitamin A the fruit provides helps your body fight infections, viruses and infectious diseases. Pumpkin oil even helps fight various bacterial and fungal infections. Plus, pumpkin is packed with nearly 20 percent of the recommended amount of daily vitamin C, which may help you recover from colds faster.
Sure, eating pumpkin can help you look younger (beta-carotene in pumpkin helps protect us from the sun's wrinkle-causing UV rays), but the pulp also makes a great, all-natural face mask that exfoliates and soothes. All you need is 1/4 cup pureed pumpkin (not pumpkin pie), an egg, a tablespoon of honey and a tablespoon of milk. Mix, then apply it, wait for 20 minutes or so and wash it off with warm water.
Lower Cancer Risk
Beta-carotene is great for your eyes and skin, but you know what else it's good for? Fighting cancer. Research shows people who eat a beta-carotene-rich diet may have a lower risk of some types of cancer, including prostate and lung cancer.
Vitamins A and C are "a kind of cell defense squad," Kaufman says. "[They] are both antioxidants, and they act as shields for your cells against cancer-causing free radicals."
It (May) Help Treat Diabetes
In scientific tests, pumpkin has been shown to reduce blood glucose levels, improve glucose tolerance and increase the amount of insulin the body produces. More testing needs to be done before we can say for sure what pumpkin's benefits for diabetics will be, but if you have diabetes, munching on pumpkin certainly won't hurt.