As the air gets cooler and leaves change color, we start to become aware of the changing season. However, it’s not until the farmer’s markets, roadside stands and grocery stores start sporting bright orange pumpkins that we become fully immersed in the fall season.

Perhaps you purchase pumpkins for decorative carving or to beautify your home’s landscape. You may even start thinking of pumpkin pies and festive family gatherings. Amidst all of this, though, we often forget that these multi-functional fruits (yes, they are technically a fruit) are nutritional treasure pots that support good health and wellness.

Carving into the tough, outer shell reveals the orange, squash-like inner pulp. Before tossing this into the trash or adding it to the compost pile, consider including it in your next meal. One cup of cooked, mashed pumpkin provides a whopping 14,100 IUs of vitamin A. Vitamin A and its various components, known as carotenoids, create the vivid yellow, orange and red colors of various fruits and vegetables such as pumpkin. These nutrients are powerful antioxidants, working to support the body in its fight against damaging free radicals.  Vitamin A and carotenoids are especially useful in supporting the health of the skin and eyes, and protecting against premature aging.

Alongside vitamin A, vitamins C and E are also abundantly found in pumpkin. As a literal storehouse of these antioxidant-rich vitamins, pumpkin can be a valuable dietary tool in helping the body cope with the free radicals that are generated regularly from exposure to environmental pollutants and American’s substandard dietary habits.

At only 49 calories per 1 cup serving, pumpkin may be considered a superior, low-calorie, nutrient-rich food that supports healthy weight management. Within those few calories, you will find nearly 3 grams of fiber and only 5 grams of sugar. This unique low-sugar/high-fiber combination supports healthy insulin levels and therefore helps the body maintain optimal blood sugar levels.

More popular than the pumpkin pulp, pumpkin seeds (also known as pepitas) are a favorite among many Americans and justly so! Not only are they a tasty treat, but they also have a nutritional profile that surpasses almost any other seed known to man. The protein profile alone makes pumpkin seeds shine. A mere 2 ounces of pumpkin seeds will provide almost 17 grams of protein, almost the equivalent of many animal-based proteins.  As such a high protein snack, pumpkin seeds are a great choice for growing children, weight-conscious adults, or dedicated bodybuilders just after a workout.

The micronutrient profile of pumpkin seeds is equally impressive. Every ounce of this nutritious snack provides 14 to 42 percent of the daily value for vitamin K, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, copper and manganese.  In fact, pumpkin seeds are known to be one of the richest dietary sources of magnesium. Inadequate intake of magnesium is a growing problem in America and can be a health concern because magnesium plays critical roles in multiple functions of the body, including supporting healthy cardiovascular and immune systems, and optimal bone development. It is even considered a powerful nutrient for aiding relaxation and optimal sleep habits. Individuals suffering from gastrointestinal conditions or alcohol dependence are particularly at risk for a magnesium deficiency.

Pumpkin seeds are also well-known for being a great source of zinc, a mineral often lacking in American diets, yet one that is vital to men’s health. Zinc appears to play a role in maintaining a healthy prostate, as a zinc deficiency increases a man’s risk for oxidative DNA damage in prostate cells.

Any size pumpkin can be utilized as a nutritious addition to meals; however, smaller pumpkins and pie pumpkins are often the preferred types for cooking and baking. Whether baked like squash, mashed like potatoes, or used as part of a creative casserole, make this season especially healthy by serving pumpkin frequently…and don’t forget to roast the seeds for a quick, nutritious snack.