Is Pumpkin Good for People with Diabetes?
By Lauren Panoff, MPH, RD on November 21, 2019 — Medically reviewed by Jillian Kubala, MS, RD, Nutrition
Pumpkin seems to be on everybody’s minds and tables these days, especially during the fall and early winter months.
It not only offers a pop of bright color but also boasts a delicious flavor and plenty of nutrients.
Still, you may wonder whether pumpkin is suitable if you have diabetes.
If you live with this condition, it’s important to manage your blood sugar levels, as doing so can help prevent diabetes-related complications, such as nerve damage, heart disease, vision disturbances, skin infections, and kidney issues (1Trusted Source, 2Trusted Source).
Therefore, understanding how certain foods like pumpkin affect blood sugar is especially important if you have diabetes.
This article reviews whether people with diabetes can safely enjoy pumpkin.
Pumpkin is a low calorie food containing many nutrients that support overall well-being and healthy blood sugar levels.
One-half cup (120 grams) of cooked pumpkin provides the following nutrients (3Trusted Source):
- Calories: 50
- Protein: 2 grams
- Fat: 0 grams
- Carbs: 11 grams
- Fiber: 3 grams
- Sugar: 4 grams
- Calcium: 4% of the Daily Value (DV)
- Iron: 4% of the DV
- Vitamin C: 8% of the DV
- Provitamin A: 280% of the DV
Fiber plays a beneficial role in managing blood sugar levels, and eating fiber-rich foods has been shown to improve blood sugar control. One-half cup (120 grams) of pumpkin contains 12% of the DV for fiber (3Trusted Source, 4Trusted Source).
Effect on blood sugar
The glycemic load (GL) is a ranking system for carb-rich foods. It indicates the number of carbs in a serving of food and to what extent that food raises your blood sugar levels. A GL of less than 10 indicates that a food has a minimal impact on blood sugar (5Trusted Source).
On the other hand, the glycemic index (GI) is a scale from 0–100 that indicates to what extent a food may cause your blood sugar levels to rise. Higher numbers mean that a food will cause a larger blood sugar spike (6Trusted Source).
However, the GI doesn’t take the carb content of the food into account. Thus, the GL is a better assessment of how much a realistic serving of a particular food will affect your blood sugar.
Pumpkin has a high GI at 75, but a low GL at 3 (7).
This means that as long as you stick to eating a single portion of pumpkin, it shouldn’t significantly affect your blood sugar levels. However, eating a large amount of pumpkin could drastically increase your blood sugar.
As with any carb-rich food, portion control is key when managing blood sugar levels.
A typical serving of pumpkin is high in fiber and low in carbs. While pumpkin has a high glycemic index, it has a low glycemic load, meaning that it’s unlikely to have a significant effect on your blood sugar as long as you exercise portion control.
Pumpkin and diabetes
Research shows that pumpkin has many potential benefits specific to people with diabetes.
One animal study found that compounds in pumpkin reduced the insulin needs of mice with diabetes by naturally increasing insulin production (8Trusted Source).
Another animal study observed that two compounds in pumpkin — trigonelline and nicotinic acid — may be responsible for its blood-sugar-lowering and diabetes-preventing effects (8Trusted Source).
What’s more, in another study in mice with type 2 diabetes, a combination of pumpkin carbohydrates called polysaccharides and a compound isolated from the Pueraria mirifica plant called puerarin was shown to improve blood sugar control and insulin sensitivity (9Trusted Source).
Though these results are promising, human research is needed to confirm these effects.
Animal studies suggest that pumpkin contains compounds that could benefit people with type 2 diabetes by reducing their blood sugar levels and insulin needs. Still, human research is lacking.
Pumpkin in other foods
Some of the most common ways to enjoy the flavor of pumpkin include drinking pumpkin spice lattes and eating pumpkin pie or pumpkin bread.
However, though these foods contain pumpkin, they also pack ingredients that are not beneficial for blood sugar control.
Pumpkin-flavored beverages and baked goods like pumpkin pie are often made with ingredients like added sugar and refined grains, both of which have a high GI and offer minimal nutritional value (10Trusted Source).
These foods do not offer the same health benefits as eating pumpkin in its natural form and may negatively affect your blood sugar control.
Some of the most common ways to enjoy pumpkin are drinking flavored coffee and eating baked goods like pumpkin pie. While these foods contain pumpkin, they also pack less healthy ingredients and don’t offer the same benefits as eating pumpkin.
Diabetes-friendly pumpkin pie chia pudding
If you crave a pumpkin-flavored treat but worry about ingredients that could impede your ability to manage diabetes, such as added sugar and refined grains, there are a variety of diabetes-friendly pumpkin recipes.
For example, the higher protein, higher fat, whole-foods-based recipe below for pumpkin pie chia pudding uses real pumpkin and minimizes the use of added sugars.
- 1 1/2 cups (350 ml) of almond milk
- 1/2 cup (120 grams) of pumpkin purée
- 1 scoop (30 grams) of protein powder
- 2 tablespoons (30 grams) of a nut or seed butter of your choice
- 1 tablespoon (15 ml) of raw honey
- 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
- 1 1/2 teaspoons of pumpkin pie spice
- pinch of salt
- 1/4 cup (40 grams) of chia seeds
- extra almond milk for topping
In a mixing bowl, blend all of the ingredients (except the chia seeds) until smooth. Next, place the mixture in a resealable large jar (or 2 smaller jars), add the chia seeds, seal the jar, and shake.
Place the jar in the refrigerator overnight (or for at least 3 hours) before topping the mixture with the extra almond milk and enjoying it.
This diabetes-friendly dessert recipe uses 100% pumpkin purée and is sure to satisfy your cravings for a pumpkin-flavored treat.
The bottom line
Pumpkin is a healthy food rich in nutrients and compounds that can support blood sugar control.
Several animal studies have shown that it may lower blood sugar, potentially improving diabetes management and helping slow the progression of the disease in some cases.
However, most people eat pumpkin in the form of less healthy foods like sugary beverages, baked goods, and holiday pies, which don’t offer the same benefits as eating pumpkin itself.
Though most research has been conducted in animals, the findings suggest that adding pumpkin to your diet could benefit blood sugar control if you have diabetes — as long as you enjoy a typical serving size and eat it in its least processed form.
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