You can’t go anywhere right now without stumbling over something pumpkin-flavored. But, with all of its seasonal tie-ins and ability to show up in every dish imaginable—from soups and pastas to lattes and desserts—it’s important to remember that pumpkin is actually, well, a fruit.
But whether your refuse to believe that and address the squash as a vegetable (we don’t blame you!), the important thing is that you simply enjoy it as much as possible while the air is crisp and leaves transform into their autumn hues.
Yes, pumpkin itself is healthy—but what kind of benefits does it really dish up? And how does eating the stuff straight from the gourd compare with the canned version? We asked dietitians to answer all of our questions about the seasonal favorite, so you can maximize its benefits.
What are the health benefits of pumpkin?
1. Consider it a vision booster.
“Pumpkin is an excellent source of the antioxidant vitamin A, which is important for eye health and may slow the development of macular degeneration,” says Keri Gans, RD, CDN, author of The Small Change Diet. One cup of pumpkin packs a whopping 197 percent of your daily recommended value for vitamin A.
2. It may increase your immunity.
Pumpkin is also a good source of vitamin C (you get 17 percent of your daily recommended value from one cup), which helps strengthen your immune system, Gans says, and even lowers your risk of developing certain cancers.
3. Your skin will love it.
The carotenoids (organic pigments that give pumpkin its color) in the gourd also act as antioxidants, “which help boost skin health,” says Beth Warren, RDN, founder of Beth Warren Nutrition and author of Secrets of a Kosher Girl.
4. It keeps your heart and stomach happy.
Pumpkin is a good source of potassium and magnesium, heart-healthy minerals most people don’t get enough of. What’s more, it offers gut-filling fiber, which might help lower your cholesterol and, of course, helps keep you regular, Gans says.
5. Fill up on it for fewer calories.
Because pumpkin is so high in satiating fiber but so low in calories, it’s a great option to turn to if you’re trying to lose weight, or simply want to swap out a starchy side (say, mashed potatoes or a bread roll) for something a little lighter.
Wait, so is canned pumpkin just as healthy?
It can take time and effort to break down a pumpkin, so it’s completely understandable that you might simply prefer to open a can and call it a day—and that’s still great when it comes to nutrition. “Both canned pumpkin and fresh pumpkin are loaded with relatively comparable vitamins and nutrients,” Warren says. You just need to make sure that the canned version is 100 percent from pumpkins and that “nothing is added,” like sugar, Gans says.
What’s the healthiest way to enjoy pumpkin?
By now, you probably know that the PSL isn’t exactly a portion of health food. And sure, pumpkins are featured pretty heavily in desserts this time of year, but there’s way more to the gourd than that. “Recognizing that pumpkin is not always associated with a pastry, cookie, or dessert is a nice way to re-brand the way you see pumpkin overall,” Keatley says.
That’s why he recommends grilling your pumpkin. “Use this time to introduce some fall favors to your grill,” he says. Add grilled slices or cubes to your salads, kebabs, or simply pair it with your favorite protein.
Gans is a fan of making pumpkin soup, roasting the gourd to create “fries,” or blending it into a smoothie, oatmeal, or hummus.