Few foods embody the culinary spirit of autumn more than the pumpkin, a versatile winter squash that shows up in a wide range of food products for a few short months each year. If the only pumpkin you consume comes in the form of bread, muffins, pies or flavored lattes, however, you’re missing out on most of the health benefits provided by this seasonal favorite -- pumpkins are a flavorful, low-calorie source of vitamins, minerals and dietary fiber.
For just under 50 calories, a 1-cup serving of cooked fresh pumpkin provides 2.7 grams of fiber, or 11 percent of the daily value. Because it supplies more than 10 percent of the daily value per serving, fresh pumpkin qualifies as a “good source” of fiber. Canned pumpkin, on the other hand, is an excellent source of fiber. For about 80 calories, a 1-cup serving of plain, canned pumpkin delivers 7 grams of fiber, or 28 percent of the daily value. This is because fresh pumpkin -- which is roughly 93 percent water -- is cooked down into a highly concentrated form prior to canning.
Like other types of winter squash, pumpkin is especially high in soluble fiber. The health benefits associated with this type of fiber can be credited to its high viscosity -- it dissolves in water to form a sticky, gel-like substance. Soluble fiber contributes to long-term satiety and helps keep blood sugar levels under control by delaying the rate at which digested food leaves your stomach. Soluble fiber also binds to fatty acids, making it useful for reducing high cholesterol levels.
Pumpkins provide a lesser but significant amount of insoluble fiber, as well. Your body uses insoluble fiber to generate larger, softer stools that are easier to pass, which promotes bowel regularity.
Ounce for ounce, fresh pumpkin is actually lower in fiber than other commonly available winter squash varieties. Hubbard, acorn and butternut squash are about 78 percent, 75 percent and 66 percent higher in fiber, respectively, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. These varieties contain less water, however, so they’re also higher in calories -- 1 cup of acorn squash provides 115 calories and 9 grams of fiber. Although spaghetti squash is actually 20 percent higher in fiber than pumpkin, it delivers less fiber by volume because it’s not as dense. One cup of spaghetti squash has about 40 calories and 2.2 grams of fiber.
Canned pumpkin is the obvious choice if you’re looking to get as much fiber as possible. It’s also significantly higher in vitamin A and iron -- 1 cup delivers 760 percent and 19 percent of the daily values for vitamin A and iron, respectively -- almost three times as much vitamin A and more than twice as much iron as a cup of fresh pumpkin. The fresh variety, however, is a slightly better source of potassium and vitamin C. Avoid pumpkin that’s been canned with salt. According to the USDA, such products provide about 50 times as much sodium as those that simply contain pumpkin.
By adequate intake guidelines, everyone -- regardless of age or gender -- should get 14 grams of fiber for every 1,000 calories consumed. This amounts to about 25 grams of fiber per day for most women through the age of 50.
- Colorado State University Extension: Dietary Fiber
- USDA Nutrient Data Laboratory: Pumpkin, Canned, Without Salt
- Wellness Foods A to Z; Sheldon Margen, M.D., et al.
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