At the early onset of fall, pumpkin products are easily spotted everywhere. Cafés serve pumpkin-spice beverages; pumpkin cookies fill pantries; and pumpkins take their place on doorsteps. Kids carve jack-o’-lanterns; carwashes offer pumpkin-scented soaps; and pumpkin inflatables dot front lawns throughout the city. In some ways, the appearance of pumpkins marks the beginning of the holiday season and the conclusion of summers well-spent.
Outside of their cultural influence, pumpkins have a rich history. According to the Truckee Meadows Parks Foundation, pumpkins, native to Central America, are reported to have first been cultivated as early as 3500 B.C., making them one of the oldest crops. At the time, Indigenous peoples used pumpkins for nutritional and utility purposes until European peoples began incorporating them into sweet desserts. From then until now, pumpkins have become quintessential to fall culture and seasonal cuisine.
Unfortunately, although idealized for their significance in culture, pumpkins are seldom referenced in terms of their health benefits, which are many.
Pumpkins and other orange vegetables and fruits contain a nutrient called beta-carotene, “aprecursor to vitamin A,” stated the Harvard School of Public Health. Vitamin A can help “[stimulate] the production and activity of white blood cells, [take] part in remodeling bone, [help] maintain healthy endothelial cells (those lining the body’s interior surfaces)” and provide other benefits, including potential protection from cancer, cognitive decline, and age-related vision diseases, Harvard continued.
“The main [benefit] of Vitamin A is for your eye health,” explained Kayla Jacobson, UVU’s on-campus dietician. “That’s why you always hear ‘Eat your carrots!’” However, pumpkins, also rich in beta-carotene, can help provide the same effects.
Pumpkins also contain a lot of potassium. Jacobson explained, “Potassium helps with muscle contractions. For example, it helps your heart contract as well as other muscles.” This is why it is often prescribed to athletes struggling with muscle cramps and spasms. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, winter squashes are classified as rich sources of potassium, along with “leafy greens, beans, nuts, dairy foods, and starchy vegetables.”
According to OSF Healthcare, pumpkins are effective in naturally reducing the body’s blood pressure because of their high potassium content. OSF Healthcare also stated that ten percent of potassium in a daily diet can be found in only a half-cup of canned pumpkin.
As the weather turns cold, Jacobson suggests students take advantage of seasonal produce. “What I think is great about all of the squashes that are in season is that they are all going to be high in different nutrients, so it’s nice to just have that variety,” Jacobson stated. “People say ‘Eat what is in season’ because if it is [in] season locally, then the fruits or vegetables do not have to travel as far [and] they don’t lose as many nutrients.” Students can also support community farmers by shopping locally, Jacobson reminded.