This seasonal favorite packs a lot of nutrition into its beautiful orange shell.

Pumpkin pies, pumpkin breads, pumpkin spice coffees — few foods gain more seasonal notoriety than this indigenous fruit, but pumpkin is a Thanksgiving staple that has more benefits than just curbing a sweet tooth. Pumpkins are low in calories, a great source of fiber and loaded with nutrients that can help fight several diseases.

Pumpkins are believed to have originated in Central America, but their popularity and familiarity date back centuries. Native Americans introduced pumpkins to the Pilgrims, and the squash quickly became a crucial food. Pumpkins store well, so the Pilgrims had a good source of nutrition in the cold winter months.

Native Americans and Pilgrims consumed pumpkin flesh in a number of ways, including boiled, dried, parched, baked and roasted. In fact, the origins of the now-famous pumpkin pie can be traced back to colonists who cut off pumpkin tops, removed the seeds and filled the insides with milk, honey and spices. The concoction was then baked over an open fire to create a tasty treat.

A one-cup serving of raw pumpkin contains only 30 calories, yet it contains 171 percent of the recommended daily value intake of vitamin A, while also adding healthy vitamin C, fiber, zinc, potassium and iron.

What really makes pumpkin stand out is its high levels of carotenoids. These compounds help create a pumpkin’s typical orange-yellow hue, and they’ve also been linked to helping fight cancer and heart disease, while supporting healthy immune functions and vision. Zeaxanthin and lutein, for example, have been shown in many studies to help reduce the risk of macular degeneration and prevent cataract formation. Alphacarotene and beta-carotene serve as antioxidants that your body can convert into vitamin A.

In addition to pumpkin flesh, the seeds are a great way to consume essential nutrients such as manganese, phosphorous, magnesium, copper, zinc, protein and iron. They are also full of phytosterols, which are substances that can help lower cholesterol, improve the immune system and reduce the risk of breast, lung, ovarian and stomach cancers. If you’re looking to boost your mood, pumpkin seeds are also an excellent source of plant-based tryptophan, an amino acid the precursor to serotonin that helps calm the body and mind.

Did you know?

The nutritional value of canned pumpkin has a similar profile to that of fresh pumpkin. However, canned pumpkin has significantly higher fiber and vitamin A by volume thanks to its concentration levels as a result of the canning process.

Need a Superfood recipe? Try one of these:

Pumpkin salsa

Frozen pumpkin mousse pie

Creamy pumpkin soup