It’s finally pumpkin spice latte season, which makes it the perfect time to learn why pumpkin is such an important dietary staple for the fall.
So ditch that Starbucks cup and make room for this delectable little squash.
High in fiber, full of vitamins, and easy to roast, bake, or stew, pumpkin’s about to become your new fall BFF. (You didn’t think we’d let you get away with just drinking lattes, did you?)
Fiber Makes You Feel Full
While you’ll probably encounter pumpkin-flavored everything between now and Christmas, there’s more to this vegetable than Starbucks would have you believe.
Fiber isn’t as sexy as romantic fall leaves and sweater season, but it does help keep you full and consume fewer calories.
Good thing pumpkin has enough fiber to keep you satisfied long after dinner. "Pumpkin keeps you feeling fuller longer," dietitian Caroline Kaufman told CNN.
"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," Kaufman added.
Bonus? Recent studies from Harvard and Sweden both found that increasing your fiber intake can also help lower your risk of heart disease.
“Swedish researchers found that women who ate a diet high in fiber had a 25 percent lower risk of heart disease compared with women who ate a low fiber diet,” writes Kristen Domonell at Daily Burn.
“Men benefitted less, likely because they’re more likely to get their fiber from breads, while women are more likely to get their fiber from healthier sources, like fruits and vegetables,” Domonell explained.
Even if you’re not dieting, pumpkin works wonders for your heart, which makes this a win-win in our book.
Add more fiber to your diet with this hearty pumpkin risotto from The Food Network. If you’re looking for a healthy, fulfilling snack, whip up some cannellini beans and pumpkin puree for a delicious take on hummus.
Amp Up Your Defenses with Antioxidants
We all know how important antioxidants are for fighting cancer and eliminating free radicals.
Pumpkin seeds contain these vital nutrients, in the form of carotenoids, along with a healthy dose of Vitamin A.
According to Marissa Conrad at Self, some carotenoids found in vegetables like pumpkin and sweet potatoes “protect against eye disease like macular degeneration and cataracts, while others have targeted specific cancers of the body.”
What’s more, including pumpkin seeds in your diet can also help you pump it up in the weight room. These little powerhouses contain crucial minerals like iron and magnesium, says dietitian Amy Gorin at Fitness.
Pumpkin seeds “provide iron, which your body needs to create oxygen-transporting hemoglobin [...], magnesium, a mineral necessary for 300-plus biochemical reactions in the body, [and] the immunity-helping mineral zinc,” writes Gorin.
Follow along with celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, as he takes you through the process of roasting the perfect batch of pumpkin seeds.
Take Your Vitamins
In each serving of pumpkin, you’ll get a double whammy of Vitamins A and C. These crucial nutrients help boost your immune system and keep your systems running - the better for you to crush your workout.
“The vitamin A family plays a key role in immunity, reproductive behaviors, and especially vision,” explains Amanada MacMillan at Health.
“The A vitamins, which include beta-carotene, help the retina, cornea, and membranes of the eye to function properly,” she adds.
Vitamin C, meanwhile, helps your body metabolize protein and serves as an important antioxidant, says MacMillan. (Protein shake fans, take note!)
Since these vitamins are often some of the most sought after supplements, eating pumpkin can be a natural way to increase the amount of Vitamin A and C in your diet.
Supplementing with Vitamins A and C can also be dangerous, if taken to extremes, writes Steven Salzberg at Forbes.
“Although Vitamin C is generally safe, megadoses of 2000 mg or more can increase the risk of kidney stones, which can be excruciatingly painful,” Salzberg reports.
Consuming too much Vitamin A can also be toxic, says Salzberg.
Better to stick to foods rich in vitamins you need, like - you guessed it - pumpkin, sweet potatoes, carrots, and spinach.
Whip up Pumpkin, Spinach, and Walnut Spaghetti for a healthy dose of Vitamin A - and a super filling supper.
Master Your Minerals
Rich in minerals like magnesium, potassium, and zinc, pumpkin is the perfect antidote to mineral deficiency - something many of us suffer from, even if we’re good about taking iron and calcium supplements.
According to Men’s Health, half of all Americans don’t meet their daily required needs for magnesium, topping out at only 80%.
“According to a new review of research in the journal Nutrition Reviews, low levels of [magnesium] are linked to big problems like anxiety, depression, ADHD, schizophrenia, type 2 diabetes, and colon cancer,” writes Jessica Levine for the magazine.
And while you might associate potassium with bananas, pumpkins have plenty of this electrolyte, too.
It’s crucial for “build[ing] proteins and muscle, and…[breaking] down carbohydrates into energy,” explains Amanda MacMillan at Health.
Zinc is a little harder to come by, especially if you’re a vegetarian or vegan.
Found primarily in red meat and poultry, this mineral “[plays] a role in immune function...and it's also important for your senses of taste and smell,” writes MacMillan.
Incorporating more pumpkin in your diet is a perfect way for vegetarians and meat lovers alike to stay on top of minerals this fall.
Cozy up with a bowl of this seven-ingredient pumpkin soup - it’ll ring all your clean-eating, #veganlife bells and whistles.
Chase Away the Winter Blues
If gray skies activate your seasonal affective disorder, you might need a little bit more pumpkin in your diet.
Pumpkin seeds are chock-full of tryptophan, the chemical best known for making you feel full and sleepy on Thanksgiving.
“While experts agree that it’s likely the overeating rather than the tryptophan lulling you to sleep, the amino acid is important in production of serotonin, one of the major players when it comes to our mood,” writes Sarah Klein at Huffington Post.
Nothing like a mood boost to help you feel more cheerful as the winter months grind on and the snow piles up!
But, we would argue, getting enough sleep can also help you feel like you’re ready to conquer the world - so we wouldn’t kick pumpkin seeds out of bed for making us sleepy, either.
A few handfuls of homemade Pumpkin Seed Dried Cherry Trail Mix will put you in a good mood this winter. You’ll benefit from mood-boosting pumpkin seeds, along with the healthy fats in sunflower seeds and almonds. Not to mention the slightly sour sweetness of dried cherries, which round out this delicious, nutty fix.
Grocery stores from here to Timbuktu will try to sell you on pumpkin-flavored goods this fall, but accept no substitute!
A chemical concoction of pumpkin “flavor” is no match for this perfect, fall superfood. (And if you’re really not sure, Health has gone ahead and found the pumpkin-flavored products ruining your diet.)
Rich in nutrients - even hard-to-find minerals like magnesium - real pumpkin contains enough fiber to keep you satisfied long into those frosty nights.
This makes it a perfect staple for a post-workout meal - especially after you crush it on leg day!
Don’t forget to roast or bake pumpkin seeds to reap the benefits of mood-boosting tryptophan or fortifying zinc, either.
Almost every part of the pumpkin can be used and savored, long after you’ve taken your Jack-O-Lantern off your front porch.
Are you as obsessed with pumpkin as we are? Tell us about the recipes, tips, and tricks we missed in the comments below :