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October is Pumpkin

Fall, the season of pumpkins!

October is the National Pumpkin month, with the 26th considered as National Pumpkin Day [i]. Pumpkins, harvested as the leaves begin to fall, are noticeable additions to the markets right around the Autumnal season.  The pumpkin hype extends into the grocery stores, with pumpkin products lining the stocked shelves, and decorative gourds piling up on feast laden tables and grinning mischievously from windows and porch steps during Thanksgiving and Halloween.  But they are more than a sight and symbol of the season, they are also a highly nutritious and versatile fruit (yes, fruit) packed with healthy perks, similar in taste to the Kabocha Squash.


Pumpkin is Squash is Fruit. 

They are in the same family as cucumbers, squash and melons, and, yes, they are a fruit [ii]. Within the many varieties of pumpkins, the good ol’ Jack-O-Lantern pumpkin is easily identified as being shapely and round, with a bright orange, coarse peel.  Although this is the most commonly seen variety, pumpkins range in size and color, from 1 pound to more than 1000 pounds, with peels of orange, white blue and red.  Miniature pumpkins are usually used for decorative purposes.


They are Global.

Cultivated all around the world except for Antarctica, the pumpkin is truly a globe traveler.  The United States produces at least 1.5 billion pounds of pumpkin each year [ii]. In fact, Illinois, Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and California are considered as the top six pumpkin producing states.  80% of the total pumpkin production is available during the month of October in the US and they can be bought fresh at the local farmer market’s, in the pumpkin patches themselves, or at the local store, either canned and pureed or whole.  If time is a concern, the canned and pureed are easier to use when preparing soups, sides and spicy treats.


Reduces Cancer Risk and Great During Treatment.  

Pumpkins are excellent sources of nutrients, essential options for reducing the risk of cancer, and also excellent choices for those dealing with side effects of treatment [iii]. They can be mashed, pureed, made into hot or cold soups and are great sources of antioxidants to reduce inflammation induced from treatment modalities.  One cup of cooked pumpkin provides more than 200% of the total recommended daily intake of vitamin A, 20 % of the recommended vitamin C and 142 mg more potassium than a banana [iv]. Pumpkins are also rich sources of fiber with 3 grams per serving. Fiber is not only good for a healthy bowel system but it also helps create a feeling of satisfied fullness to reduce unnecessary eating and shed some extra pounds, because simply keeping a healthy weight through nutrition and exercise greatly reduces your chances for certain types of cancer.   

The bright orange pigments in the pumpkin, known as carotenoids, act as powerful antioxidants and aid in prevention of certain types of cancers by reducing the damage of free radicals, which are highly reactive chemicals.  Just one more reason to scoop and serve the pumpkin dishes this Thanksgiving [v].


Roast the Seeds!  

The pumpkins tiny light green seeds are amazing sources of iron, magnesium, zinc and the amino acid tryptophan [iii] [vi].  Tryptophan helps to boost our mood through the production of serotonin, one of the four ‘happy hormones’ [iii]. The vitamins and minerals in the seeds are good for heart health, they lower blood sugar levels, and within a healthy diet, they help reduce the risk of certain cancers while improving the health of the prostate and bladder [iii] [vi] [vii].


[i] October Holidays. Foodimentary – National Food Holidays. 2017. Available at: https://foodimentary.com/october-holidays/. Accessed October 8, 2017.
[ii] Pumpkins | Agricultural Marketing Resource Center. Agmrcorg. 2017. Available at: https://www.agmrc.org/commodities-products/vegetables/pumpkins/. Accessed October 8, 2017.
[iii] Klein S. 8 Impressive Health Benefits Of Pumpkin. HuffPost. 2017. Available at: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/09/04/pumpkin-health-benefits_n_1936919.html. Accessed October 9, 2017.
[iv] Nutritional Comparison: Pumpkin, raw vs Squash, winter, butternut, raw. Skipthepieorg. 2017. Available at: https://skipthepie.org/vegetables-and-vegetable-products/pumpkin-raw/compared-to/squash-winter-butternut-raw/#nut. Accessed October 9, 2017.
[v] Antioxidants and Cancer Prevention. National Cancer Institute. 2014. Available at: http://ttps://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/diet/antioxidants-fact-sheet. Accessed October 9, 2017.
[vi] Brown M. Top 11 Science-Based Health Benefits of Pumpkin Seeds. Healthline. 2017. Available at: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/11-benefits-of-pumpkin-seeds#section4. Accessed October 9, 2017.
[vii] Xanthopoulou M, Nomikos T, Fragopoulou E, Antonopoulou S. Antioxidant and lipoxygenase inhibitory activities of pumpkin seed extracts. Science Direct. 2017.
Jessica Iannotta, MS, RD, CSO, CDN

Jessica is a registered dietitian and certified specialist in oncology nutrition (CSO). She studied nutrition at Cornell University and completed her dietetic internship at New York Presbyterian Weill Cornell Medical Center. She obtained her Master's degree through the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. Jessica has worked in inpatient and outpatient oncology settings since 2001 in the North Shore-LIJ Health System. Jessica is in charge of all operations including clinical and culinary operations ranging from menu development to evidence-based website content, relationships with registered dietitians and social workers and developing processes and protocols for intake, management and outcomes analysis of patients.

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