The Nutritional Power of Pumpkins

Maylin Rodriguez-Paez, RN

Pumpkins are not just Halloween decorations — they’re also total nutritional powerhouses.

In fact, both the flesh and the seeds of pumpkins contain a number of beneficial nutrients that can help prevent disease and promote health.

So before you trash the remains of that freshly carved pumpkin you’ve put on your porch for Halloween, consider giving both the flesh and the seeds a try.

Don’t be surprised if your taste buds and body thank you for tricking them into a new treat-of-choice.

Pumpkins are a Figure-Friendly Food

If you’re watching your weight, you should definitely work pumpkin in your diet. And no, we’re not just talking about pumpkin pie.

The orange “meat” is very low in calories (30 calories per cup) and carbs, with about 8 grams per serving1. It’s also rich in fiber, which helps to fill you up.

Pumpkin works great as a side dish with your favorite meals and has fewer calories than a serving of rice or potatoes.

Pumpkins are Rich in Antioxidants

The nutrient content of pumpkins, specifically in terms of antioxidants, is another great reason to start eating them. Here are two key antioxidants that make pumpkins such an excellent choice.

1. Carotenoids

The pumpkin’s beautiful orange color is due to beta-carotene, a disease-preventing antioxidant. You should make it a point to get enough daily.

Diets rich in beta-carotene may protect against cancer2 and heart disease3. Also, it plays an important role in the skin, where it helps to guard against sun damage.4

Other carotenoids found in pumpkin flesh include zeaxanthin and lutein,1 which enhance vision.5

2. Gamma-Tocopherol

Pumpkin seeds are a great source of gamma-tocopherol,6 a potent form of vitamin E.

Gamma-tocopherol plays different roles in the human body. Scientists have discovered that it protects the brain from Alzheimer’s disease.7 In addition it’s been shown to prevent LDL oxidation, a risk factor for heart disease.8

Pumpkins Contain Lignans — Powerful Anti-Cancer Compounds

Pumpkin seeds contain lignans,9 which are estrogen-like compounds that are good for your body. Lignans are “weak estrogens” that favorably bind to estrogen receptors to help protect against cancerous growths.

Studies indicate that a diet rich in lignans may prevent different types of cancers, including cancers of the prostate10 and colon.11

One study found that eating pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, and soybeans (all rich in lignans) was associated with a lower risk of breast cancer.12

Pumpkins Protect Prostate Tissue

Pumpkin seed extract blocks the activity of 5-alpha reductase,13 an enzyme that converts testosterone into DHT (dihydrotestosterone), a very potent form of testosterone.

DHT causes prostate tissue to grow and is implicated in conditions like prostate cancer, benign prostatic hyperplasia (non-cancerous prostate growth), and even male pattern baldness. Levels tend to be elevated in aging men.

One study showed that men with benign prostatic hyperplasia had improvements in urinary flow and frequency after taking pumpkin seed extract.14

Recipe: Curried Pumpkin Soup

This fall make it a point to try pumpkin in a few different ways. For example, here's a recipe for a delicious pumpkin soup that will give your taste buds a serious treat, courtesy of the website Epicurious.


  • 2 medium onions, finely chopped (2 cups)
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons minced peeled fresh ginger
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes
  • 2 (15-oz) cans solid-pack pumpkin (3 1/2 cups) or fresh pumpkin puree
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 1/2 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth (12 fl oz)
  • 1 (14-oz) can unsweetened coconut milk (not low-fat)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons brown mustard seeds
  • 8 fresh curry leaves

Cook onions in butter in a wide, 6-quart, heavy pot over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until softened. Add garlic and ginger and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add cumin, coriander, and cardamom and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Stir in salt, red pepper flakes, pumpkin, water, broth, and coconut milk and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes. Purée soup in batches in a blender until smooth, transferring to a large bowl, and return soup to pot. Keep soup warm over low heat.

Heat oil in a small, heavy skillet over moderately high heat until hot. Then cook mustard seeds until they begin to pop, about 15 seconds. Add curry leaves and cook 5 seconds. Then pour mixture into pumpkin soup. Stir until combined well and season soup with salt.

Happy Halloween, everyone - enjoy!


  2. Molecules. 2012 Mar 14;17(3):3202-42.
  3. Ann Epidemiol. 1995 Jul;5(4):255-60.
  4. Dermatology. 2010;221(2):160-71.
  5. Eur J Ophthalmol. 2012 Mar-Apr;22(2):216-25.
  6. Z Lebensm Unters Forsch. 1996 Apr;202(4):275-8.
  7. Nitric Oxide. 2002 Mar;6(2):221-7.
  8. J Cardiovasc Pharmacol Ther. 1999 Oct;4(4):219-226.
  9. J Agric Food Chem. 2003 Feb 26;51(5):1181-8.
  10. Zhongguo Zhong Yao Za Zhi. 2006 Dec;31(24):2021-5, 2093.
  11. Carcinogenesis. 1996 Jun;17(6):1343-8.
  12. Nutr Cancer. 2012;64(5):652-65.
  13. Nutr Res Pract. 2009 Winter; 3(4): 323–327.
  14. Br J Urol. 1990 Dec;66(6):639-41.


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