Contrary to popular tradition, pumpkin pie was not part of the Thanksgiving feast in 1621. The colonists didn't have butter or wheat flour to make crusts for pies and tarts. You also might not be aware that pumpkins are 90% water, and they're not always orange. Whatever the color, this superfruit is super good for you.

painting of the first Thanksgiving

(Above: The First Thanksgiving 1621 / J.L.G. Ferris. Prints and Photographs Online Catalog, Library of Congress)

big orange pumpkin

What is a Pumpkin?

The name is frequently used for cultivars of Cucurbita pepo, but may also be used for Cucurbita maxima, C. argyrosperma, and C. moschata. A pumpkin is a cultivar of round winter squash with thick, smooth, slightly ribbed skin that's usually deep yellow or orange color.

Native to northeastern Mexico and the southern United States, pumpkins were cultivated as early as 7500-5000 B.C. and are one of the oldest known domesticated plants. They're grown for food, decoration, and other commercial purposes on every continent except Antarctica.

Of course, pumpkin pie is a traditional part of Thanksgiving dinner in the United States and Canada. Commercial pumpkin purée and pie fillings are often made from different varieties of winter squash than those used for carving.

little boy sitting on a pile of pumpkins

They're Highly Nutritious

While they might not be as popular as other immune boosters like oranges or elderberries, pumpkins provide lots of immune support. One cup of pumpkin contains more vitamin A than a cup of kale, more potassium than a banana, and more fiber than a half cup of quinoa.

Pumpkins are an excellent source of beta-carotene, which gives them their bright orange color. Your body converts this nutrient into vitamin A, helping maintain lung and immune cell health. Only a small percentage of the more than 600 carotenoids can be converted into vitamin A, making this pumpkin compound a big bonus for your health.

Per serving, pumpkin contains almost 20% of the recommended daily amount of vitamin C. It's an easy way to incorporate an essential vitamin into your diet and help neutralize damaging free radicals while providing extra support for immune cell production.

man holding a giant pumpkin

Eat Those Seeds

Pumpkin seeds are loaded with immune boosters like vitamin E that enhance immune response. The average pumpkin contains around 500 seeds. These can be eaten raw but are especially delicious toasted.

One important mineral found in pumpkin seeds is magnesium, a vital nutrient for many body processes. These include regulating muscle and nerve function, blood sugar levels, and blood pressure, as well as building protein, bone, and DNA.

pumpkin seeds in a bowl

There's Lots of Goodness Inside that Punkin'

Don't throw away the pulp inside. One cup of pumpkin has about 7 grams of fiber (20% of the RDA). In comparison, kale has a little less than 3 grams. The fiber content of pumpkin fills you up, stabilizes blood sugar, and helps keep your energy high throughout the day.

The minerals in pumpkin are good for heart health and blood pressure. A single cup of pumpkin contains 14% of the recommended daily amount of potassium. That's even more than the 12% found in a banana.

Antioxidants boost immunity. Pumpkin has ample beta-carotene, the precursor to vitamin A. This nutrient is important for vision as well as skin health. It also contains vitamins C and E, important antioxidants for repairing cell damage. Diets rich in antioxidants and potassium are linked to reduced cancer and heart disease risks.

harvest meal with pumpkin pie

What About Canned Pumpkin?

It doesn’t need to be fresh to have the same benefits. Unlike many other canned fruits and veggies, pumpkin is still loaded with nutrition after canning.

Mix a half cup of canned pumpkin into plain, low-fat Greek yogurt topped with cinnamon, nutmeg, and a drizzle of honey for a great protein snack that will also satisfy your sweet tooth.

A cup of canned pumpkin contains a mere 83 calories. It's a perfect ingredient swap for cheese or cream and can cut back calories and saturated fat in a recipe. Pumpkin contains abundant fiber to keep you fuller longer and may aid in losing weight.

row of carved jack-o-lanterns

No-Bake Pumpkin Bites

Prep time: 1 hour
Yield: 10

Crust

1 cup dates

1/2 cup pecans

1/2 cup cashews

1/4 cup shredded coconut

1/4 cup coconut oil, melted

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

1/4 teaspoon salt

Filling

3/4 cup raw cashews

1/4 cup water

1 15 oz. can pumpkin puree

1/3 cup coconut milk

1/4 cup maple syrup

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

2 tablespoons chia seeds, ground

Dash of nutmeg

Crust

  1. Add pecans and cashews to a food processor and blend on high until crumbly. Add the rest of the crust ingredients and blend until the dates are crumbly and the mixture begins to stick together.
  2. Line a muffin tin with individual pieces of parchment paper to prevent from sticking (or use silicone baking cups). Scoop a heaping spoonful into the bottom of each mold.
  3. Press the crust into the bottom of the mold while pushing the mixture up onto the sides to form a well. Press lightly with your fingers to make sure the crust is tightly packed. Place in the freezer while you make the filling.

Filling

  1. Add cashews and water to a high speed blender and blend until smooth and creamy. Add the rest of the filling ingredients and blend until thoroughly mixed.
  2. Remove the muffin tin from the freezer and fill the cups with the filling. To do this, spoon the filling into a plastic baggie and squeeze the filling to one corner. Snip the corner off and pipe into the crust.
  3. For an optional garnish, sprinkle with coconut flakes and a pecan on each individual pie.
  4. Return the muffin tin to the freezer and chill for at least another 30 minutes.

Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to one week or in the freezer up to several months.

Adina Dosan's Romanian Pumpkin Soup

1 pound pumpkin, peeled and cut in small chunks
1 small carrot, peeled and cut in chunks
1 onion, peeled and cut in 4 chunks
2 tablespoons rice
salt & pepper
1 tablespoon butter
1 egg yolk
2 tablespoons sour cream

Boil all vegetables and rice in water or any broth you like. Add about 1 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. When the rice is tender, the vegetables should be too. Puree them in a blender until smooth. Add some of the cooking liquid for easier blending. Mix the puree and rest of the soup together. Add the butter and egg yolk mixed with the sour cream and stir into the soup. Serve with croutons.

pumpkin soup

(Photo: Valeria Boltneva)