• En

India is the second-largest producer of pumpkins in the world after China. These yellow and green fruits (yes, they are technically fruits because they contain seeds) are favoured for their mild to sweet taste that goes really well in vegetable and soup preparations.

Pumpkin seeds have also lately become a daily must-have for the health-conscious: when eaten fresh, these seeds can be juicy and nutty at the same time.

There are dozens of varieties of pumpkins that grow in India. Of these, the most popular commercial varieties are Arka Suryamukhi, Ambili, Arka Chandan, Saras, Suvarna, and Sooraj. Here are some things you might like to know about the (seemingly) humble pumpkin:

Scientific name: Cucurbita maxima

Family: Cucurbitaceae family, the same family as cucumbers, watermelons, zucchinis.

Common name: Depending on which part of India you’re in, a pumpkin may be known as gummadi kaya (Telugu), poosanikai (Tamil), kumbalakai (Kannada), mathanga (Malayalam), lal bhopala (Marathi), kaddu (Hindi), petha (Punjabi) or kollaano velo (Gujarati).

Native region: Central America and Mexico

Geographical distribution: Now, pumpkins are grown all over the world, including in India.

There’s an interesting story around the name pumpkin: it comes from the word pompion meaning large (gros) melon. The 16th century French explorer Jacques Cartier gave the pumpkin this name after he saw it for the first time in the Americas.

Another fun fact: The tradition of carving pumpkins for Halloween, observed each year on 31 October, began when Irish immigrants arrived in North America—before that, the Irish were making Jack O’Lanterns with potatoes and turnips.

Pumpkins have many health benefits, including weight loss and keeping the eyes healthy. On Halloween day, we bring to you an article on all the reasons why you should include this delicious fruit in your weekly meal plans. So, read on.

  1. Pumpkin nutrition
  2. Pumpkin health benefits
  3. Pumpkin side effects

A low-calorie and high-nutrition food, pumpkin is rich in vitamins like vitamin C and vitamin E. It also contains beta carotenes (a type of carotenoid) that become vitamin A in the body—100 grams of raw pumpkin has about 426 micrograms of vitamin A-retinol activity equivalents. (The recommended amount of vitamin A-retinol activity equivalents for adult men is 900 micrograms a day and for women, 700 micrograms. Adults should not consume more than 3000 micrograms of vitamin A in a day.)

Additionally, researchers have isolated compounds such as para-aminobenzoic acid; 11E-octadecatrienoic acid; g-aminobutyric acid; D-chiro-inositol; 13-hydroxy-9Z;
b-sitosterol from pumpkins that give them many health benefits.

According to a review article published in Nutrition & Food Science in August 2019, pumpkin has "abundant amount of active compounds such as carotenoids, alkaloids, flavonoids, polyphenols, tannins, tocopherols, phytosterols and cucurbitacin, accounted for numerous health benefits, namely, antidiabetic, antioxidant, anticarcinogenic, hypotensive, hyper protective activities."

Here’s a look at some of the key nutrients in 100 grams raw pumpkin, as per the US Department of Agriculture data:

Nutrient

Quantity

Water

91.6 grams

Protein

1 gram

Fat

0.1 gram

Carbohydrate

6.5 gram

Fibre

0.5 gram

Potassium

340 mg

Calcium

21 mg

Phosphorus

44 mg

Magnesium

12 mg

Vitamin A

426 micrograms

Vitamin C

9 mg

Vitamin E

1.06 mg

Researchers writing on the US Centers for Disease Control website have classified pumpkin as a powerhouse food, giving it a nutrient density score of 33.82. For comparison, carrots have a nutrient density score of 22.6 and spinach, 86.43.

According to the research, done at CDC's National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, powerhouse fruits and vegetables (PFV) are "foods most strongly associated with reduced chronic disease risk... (these are) foods providing, on average, 10% or more daily value per 100 kcal of 17 qualifying nutrients". The nutrients taken into account were potassiumfibreproteincalciumiron, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folate, zinc, and vitamin A, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, vitamin Cvitamin Dvitamin E and vitamin K.

Pumpkin also has trace minerals like selenium, manganese, zinc and copper, and tiny amounts of vitamin B such as thiamine, niacin, pantothenic acid, riboflavin, vitamin B6 and folate. It also contains amino acids like tryptophan, Isoleucine, threonine, arginine, leucine and lysine.

Being rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, pumpkin is suggested to improve overall health and as a remedy for some health conditions such as:

Pumpkin for diabetes patients

Research (mostly in animal models) has shown that pumpkin may exert a hypoglycaemic effect. Though scientists don’t yet know exactly how this happens, they suggest a few possible mechanisms for this effect:

  • It may help in the secretion of more insulin from b-cells in the pancreas or it could help to release insulin from its “bound form”.
  • One research found D-chiro-inositol in the seeds of Cucurbita ficifolia, a specific variety of pumpkin. D-chiro-Inositol is said to be a component of an insulin mediator, in other words, it could help improve sensitivity to insulin (read more: prediabetes, diabetes and diabetes in children)
  • The phenolic compounds and protein-bound polysaccharides in pumpkin flesh are also said to have anti-diabetic properties. 

A very small study with 10 patients who had type 2 diabetes with moderately high blood sugar found that the raw extract of Cucurbita ficifolia could help decrease blood glucose levels, “from 12.07+/-1.69 mM (217.2+/-30.4 mg/dl) to 9.42+/-1.96 mM (169.6+/-35.3 mg/dl) 3 h after and to 8.37+/-1.74 mM (150.8+/-31.3 mg/dl) 5 h after the extract administration”.

It is important to prepare pumpkin without added sugar for these benefits, though.

Pumpkin for heart health

A study on the effect of carotenoids, found in pumpkins but also other fruits and vegetables that are red or yellow, in 1,073 people found that it reduced the risk of metabolic syndrome including obesity, diabetes and hyperlipidemia.

High body-mass index (obesity), high blood sugar (diabetes) and high levels of lipids like cholesterol and triglycerides in the body increase the risk of cholesterol plaque build-up in the blood vessels (atherosclerosis). This can make the blood vessels narrower, so the heart has to work harder to pump the blood through. Anything that counters this, then, is good for the heart, too.

According to an animal study, replacing cooking oil with virgin pumpkin seed oil could reduce cholesterol—this is because it has unsaturated (good) fatty acids as well as phytochemicals (plant chemicals that can sometimes be good for the body). Pumpkin seed oil is also said to improve high blood pressure, which is a common comorbidity (diseases that exist together and are often risk factors for each other) with diabetes and heart disease.

Pumpkin for weight loss

Pumpkin has over 90% water and next to no fat. Raw pumpkin has roughly 6.5% carbohydrates, but it is still low-cal. The high vitamin and mineral content of pumpkin also ensure that you get all the important nutrients while on a calorie-restricted diet.

A hundred grams of raw pumpkin has 26 kilocalories.

Pumpkin is good for the skin

Pumpkin is a good source of vitamin C and vitamin E, both of which are important for healthy skin. Vitamin C helps to make procollagen, which becomes collagen, a protein that makes the skin supple and aids in faster wound healing in addition to supporting various structures in the body.

Vitamin E is a known antioxidant that helps to prevent damage from the sun’s UV rays and slow down skin ageing.

Pumpkin seed oil is also said to reduce acne when applied to the skin for one to three months.

Pumpkin for good eyesight

Pumpkin is high in beta carotenes which become vitamin A in the body. Nutritional deficiencies affect all parts of the body. Vitamin A deficiency is specifically linked to night blindness. Eating pumpkin and other vegetables and fruits rich in beta carotene can help to reduce the risk of night blindness.

Pumpkin is also rich in vitamins C and E. Together vitamins A, C and E help to delay macular degeneration, an age-related vision problem.

Pumpkin for immunity

Being high in minerals like zinc and selenium and in vitamins like vitamin C and vitamin D, which are all very important for our immune system, pumpkin helps to builds up immunity.

Read more: Vitamin D deficiency linked to poorer outcomes in COVID-19

Pumpkin may help prevent cancer

The carotenoids in pumpkins are also said to protect against some types of cancer like breast cancer and lung cancer. Pumpkin seeds are also said to be beneficial to prevent cancer. The American Institute for Cancer Research has listed pumpkins among foods that can prevent cancer.

Pumpkin improves sleep and mental health

Pumpkin contains small amounts of an amino acid called tryptophan which improves sleep, improves the mood and can even guard against mental health problems like depression.

Read more: Sleep and mental health

Antimicrobial properties of pumpkin

Researchers have isolated some phytochemicals from pumpkin (including from the leaves, fruits and seeds of the pumpkin plant) that are said to have antibiotic and antifungal components. Among the anti-fungal proteins are a-moschins and b-moschins. More research needs to be done on these properties, and on the proper ways to deliver this benefit in humans.

There are no particular side effects of eating moderate amounts of pumpkin. However, you should talk to a doctor if you plan on taking the extract of pumpkin in any form. This is because when we take supplements and nutraceuticals, it is possible to take too much of a good thing.

For example, the body can handle vitamins only within a set range: taking more than 200,000 mcg of vitamin A, even once, can produce side effects like nausea. Vitamin A toxicity can also occur on high dosages and supplements taken over a long time.

Food allergies to pumpkin are very rare, but if you have one, you should obviously avoid it.

Having said that, a bowl of pumpkin sabzi or pumpkin in your sambhar is safe for most people—including pregnant women. (Read more: Vitamins and minerals you need during pregnancy) For that matter, a tiny piece of pumpkin pie or a pumpkin spiced latte won't do you harm either. Mind the sugar, though, as you have a very happy Halloween.


Medicines / Products that contain Pumpkin

References

  1. Sugiura M., Nakamura M., Ogawa K., Ikoma Y., Yano M. High serum carotenoids associated with lower risk for the metabolic syndrome and its components among Japanese subjects: Mikkabi cohort study. British Journal of Nutrition, 28 November 2015; 114(10):1674-82. Epub 2015 Sep 14. PMID: 26365147.
  2. Acosta-Patiño J.L., Jiménez-Balderas E., Juárez-Oropeza M.A., Díaz-Zagoya J.C. Hypoglycemic action of Cucurbita ficifolia on type 2 diabetic patients with moderately high blood glucose levels. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, September 2001; 77(1): 99-101. PMID: 11483384.
  3. History.com [Internet]. 6 things you may not know about pumpkins: which famous French explorer is credited with naming them?, 15 October 2020.
  4. ICAR-Central Coastal Agriculture Research Institute [Internet]. Pumpkin.
  5. Kaur S., Panghal A., Garg M.K., Mann S., Khatkar S.K., Sharma P., Chhikara N. Functional and nutraceutical properties of pumpkin – a review. Nutrition & Food Science, 12 August 2019; 50(2).
  6. Ibrahim A.A., Faeq T., Ibraheem S.J., Al-Noor T.H. Physicochemical properties of pumpkin seed oil and therapy of inflammatory facial acne vulgaris. International Journal of Science and Research (IJSR), August 2017; 6(8): 1747-1754.
  7. Morrison M.C., Mulder P., Stavro P.M., Suárez M., Arola-Arnal A., van Duyvenvoorde W., Kooistra T., Wielinga P.Y., Kleemann R. Replacement of dietary saturated fat by PUFA-rich pumpkin seed oil attenuates non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and atherosclerosis development, with additional health effects of virgin over refined oil. PLoS ONE 25 September 2015; 10(9).
  8. Di Noia J. Defining powerhouse fruits and vegetables: A nutrient density approach. Preventing Chronic Diseases, 2014;11:130390. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, US).
  9. American Institute for Cancer Research [Internet], Foods that fight cancer. Squash (winter): Compounds support the immune system.
  10. Khoo H.E., Ng H.S., Yap W.S., Goh H.J.H. and Yim H.S. Nutrients for prevention of macular degeneration and eye-related diseases. Antioxidants (Basel), 2 April 2019; 8(4): 85. PMID: 30986936.
  11. Xia T. and Wang Q. D-chiro-inositol found in Cucurbita ficifolia (Cucurbitaceae) fruit extracts plays the hypoglycaemic role in streptozocin-diabetic rats. The Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology, 1 November 2006, 58(11): 1527-1532. PMID: 17132216.
  12. Gallicchio L., Boyd K., Matanoski G., Tao X.G., Chen L., Lam T.K., Shiels M., Hammond E., Robinson K.A., Caulfield L.E., Herman J.G, Guallar E., Alberg A.J. Carotenoids and the risk of developing lung cancer: a systematic review. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, August 2008; 88(2): 372-83. PMID: 18689373.
  13. Yadav M., Jain S., Tomar R., Prasad G.B.K.S. 4 and Yadav H. Medicinal and biological potential of pumpkin: an updated review. Nutrition Research Reviews, December 2010; 23(2): 184-190.
  14. US Department of Agriculture/Agricultural Research Service. Pumpkin, raw.
cross
Ask your health query now and get connected with a doctor within 10 minutes!