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Fall is in the air, which means pumpkin spice everything is back! But while pumpkin-flavored lattes and cookies might not be the healthiest choices, pumpkins themselves are actually packed with nutrients that can benefit your health.
Pumpkins aren’t just for carving jack-o-lanterns or eating pie. This fall gourd has many health benefits that make it worth adding to your diet. From weight loss to improved heart health, pumpkins can have a profound impact on your overall well-being.
Here are just a few of the ways that pumpkins can help you stay healthy this season:
1. Feel Fuller
Pumpkin seeds pack about 1.7 grams of dietary fiber per ounce, while mashed pumpkin has only 50 calories per cup and 3 grams of fiber. “Fiber helps keep you fuller longer, which keeps your appetite at bay so you eat less overall,” says nutrition and fitness expert JJ Virgin, author of The Virgin Diet.
2. Boost Vision
A cup of cubed pumpkin contains almost twice the recommended daily intake of vitamin A, which promotes good vision, especially in dim light, according to the National Institutes of Health. It has also been found to slow the decline of retinal function in those with retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative eye disease that can lead to blindness, according to researchers from Harvard. Bonus: Vitamin A also helps form and maintain healthy skin, teeth and bones.
3. Lower Blood Pressure
Pumpkin seed oil is full of phytoestrogens, which research shows are beneficial for preventing hypertension. When researchers fed rats a diet supplement with the oil, they found that it helped lower both systolic and diastolic blood pressure in just 12 weeks.
4. Sleep Better
Pumpkin seeds are rich in tryptophan, the amino acid that contributes to post-Thanksgiving dinner sleepiness, says Virgin. Tryptophan is also responsible for helping the body make serotonin, the feel-good neurotransmitter that helps you relax and unwind. Not only do pumpkin seeds promote better sleep, the serotonin will improve your mood, says Virgin.
5. Protect Your Package
Pumpkins — especially the seeds — are rich in beta-carotene and other antioxidants with cancer protective properties, says Virgin. And pumpkin seeds could be especially healthy for men. Researchers in Taiwan found pumpkin seed oil blocked unhealthy prostate growth in male rats. A quarter cup of the seeds also contains about 2.75 mg of zinc (about 17 percent of the recommended daily intake for adults), which contributes to male sexual health. When young men in a Wayne State University study restricted their dietary zinc intake, they had significantly lower levels of testosterone after 20 weeks.
6. Have a Healthier Heart
All that fiber can also help protect your ticker, research shows. One Harvard study of over 40,000 male health professionals found that those who ate a diet high in fiber had a 40 percent lower risk of coronary heart disease, compared to those who ate a diet low in fiber. A more recent study by 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. 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, the researchers write.
That means pumpkin-laced desserts won’t quite cut it. For a healthier way to add pumpkin into your diet, adding pumpkin chunks to a roasted vegetable medley, or sprinkling pumpkin seeds on top of your salad. Feeling even more creative? Try pumpkin puree in place of nut butters as a spread, Virgin suggests. And for an energizing morning smoothie, blend a high-quality protein powder (like vanilla DailyBurn Fuel) with coconut milk, chia seeds, pureed pumpkin and pumpkin pie spice. Happy fall indeed!