Pumpkin—quite possibly everyone's favorite fall vegetable—is really, really good for you. Granted, if you're consuming only super-sugary processed foods that claim to deliver pumpkin flavor with zero actual pumpkin added, you're missing out on all the nutrition pumpkin has to offer. Pumpkins and other orange fruits and vegetables, such as carrots, winter squash, sweet potatoes, papayas and mangoes, are bursting with carotenoids. Carotenoids are fierce pigments that multitask to keep you healthy. They gobble up harmful free radicals and reduce inflammation—a known culprit in many chronic diseases, including heart disease, colitis and asthma. They also prevent the buildup of fatty plaques in your arteries that can lead to heart disease and stroke. Carotenoids even filter out UV light that harms your eyes. So, when you think about it, pumpkin is a superfood and one you can feel really good about eating.
Here are 5 surprising health benefits of pumpkin, plus delicious and good-for-you pumpkin recipes to enjoy.
Recipe to Try: Pumpkin-Apple Smoothie
Research suggests eating more high-carotenoid foods may help prevent excess fat storage, especially around your midsection. It's also well-established that leaner people have higher blood levels of carotenoids—plus two recent small studies found that adding beta-carotene-rich juices or supplements to kids' diets decreased their belly fat.
Recipe to Try: Pumpkin Hummus
When scientists analyzed the diets of more than 100,000 men and women who were followed for 35 years in the Nurses' Health Study, they found those who ate the carotenoid equivalent of 2½ cups of carrots each week lowered their risk of advanced macular degeneration (a leading cause of vision loss) by 25 to 35 percent.
Recipe to Try: Four-Bean & Pumpkin Chili
New research shows that getting the carotenoid beta carotene from fruits and vegetables—not from supplements—may ramp up your body's ability to target and destroy cancer cells. Though other studies on carotenoids' cancer-prevention possibilities have been mixed, there is promising research that suggests eating carotenoid-rich veggies could lower your risk of breast and colorectal cancers.
Recipe to Try: Pumpkin Pancakes
The pigment that gives orange veggies their safety-vest color is the same one your body uses to make vitamin A—and this nutrient is vital for immune-system health. It even makes immunizations—like that flu shot you just got—more effective. And emerging research suggests vitamin A may provide some protection against autoimmune diseases, such as type 1 diabetes, lupus and multiple sclerosis.
Recipe to Try: Apple-Pumpkin Muffins
Pumpkin is often paired with sugar (hello, lattes and pie!), but the spices that typically liven up its flavor—namely ginger and cinnamon—are really good for you too. Ginger helps soothe an upset tummy and reduce pain. Cinnamon helps reduce muscle soreness and benefits your blood sugar. Go ahead and spice up your pumpkin treats, just watch the added sugar.