Pumpkins, or winter squash, may be thought of only as pie filling by many people, but they are much more than a sweet treat in the fall – they actually are chock-full of vitamins and minerals and could be incorporated into a healthy diet in a variety of ways.

Used by some cultures in soups, salads and as confections, these plump orange fruits are full of beta-carotene (a strong antioxidant that may help fight certain cancers, heart disease and aging while offering protection against asthma) contain about 40 calories per cup, almost 2 grams of protein, 12 grams of carbohydrate and 11 percent of the daily recommended amount of fiber. A single serving of pumpkin has almost 37 mg of calcium. Vitamins found in pumpkin include 100 percent of the recommended daily consumption of vitamin A, 20 percent of vitamin C, and 10 percent of vitamin E, and minerals that include phosphorus, copper, potassium, manganese, thiamin, B-6, folate, niacin and iron.

So grab a pumpkin, skin it and use the flesh in health. Here is a list of how you are helping your body:

Weight loss: A diet rich in fiber can help the body flush unwanted pounds, and fill you up faster so you don’t eat empty calories.

LDL cholesterol reduction: Eat pumpkin seeds because they are rich in phytosterols, which some studies have shown to help reduce “bad” cholesterol.

Blood pressure control: With its high vitamin C and potassium, pumpkin naturally supports good cardiovascular health.

Cancer fighting: Beta-carotene is naturally beneficial in fighting prostate cancer, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Eyesight improvement: Antioxidants in vitamins C and E along with beta-carotene naturally help prevent degenerative damage to the eyes. A cup of cooked pumpkin provides 200 percent of the recommended daily intake of vitamin A, which aids vision—especially in dim light.

Increased fertility: Women trying to become pregnant who naturally consume iron through plant sources such as leafy greens, beans, pumpkin, and tomatoes improve their fertility rates, according to medical research.

Boosted immunity: Foods high in vitamin C and beta-carotene offer a natural boost to the immune system.

Skin protection: Rich in carotenoids – those free-radical neutralizing elements – that can help keep skin wrinkle-free.

Mood improvement: Feeling grumpy? Mix pumpkin seeds into your diet because the amino acid tryptophan in them helps produce serotonin – a happiness booster.

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