Pumpkin for Constipation: Its Gentle and Evidence-Based Benefits

Fresh pumpkin sliced on a wooden cutting board with seeds with wording Pumpkin for Constipation: Its Gentle and Evidence-Based Benefits by The Healthy RD

Constipation is a pain in the butt, so does something as simple as adding pumpkin to the diet help? A popular idea is that pumpkin for constipation is very beneficial.  

But does pumpkin truly help with constipation? 

Let’s take a look at the evidence and the best way to use fresh pumpkins, canned pumpkins, and pumpkin seeds for digestive health. 

And, unlike many laxative medications out there, pumpkin is good for bowel regularity and won’t cause unintended side effects. In other words, no explosive diarrhea! 

SO does pumpkin make you poop?

Truly, there are no direct scientific studies to directly support this.  Rather, there are a lot of reviews and supporting evidence that it does help.  

And there are some good reasons that people use pumpkins to make their bowel movements more regular. 

What’s more, people even give pumpkin puree to their dogs to help regulate their bowel patterns (been there, done that too). 

Pumpkin is so gentle for constipation that many people also use pumpkin puree to help ease their infant’s constipation. 

The following are reasons why pumpkin likely does help you be more regular!

Pumpkin is a prebiotic

Pumpkin contains compounds called polysaccharides that function as a prebiotic. 

Just so we are all on the same page, these polysaccharides in pumpkins are prebiotics that helps nourish your beneficial gut bacteria to grow.

Prebiotic foods like pumpkins also help your gut bacteria to be diverse (also a beneficial thing). 

Canned and fresh pumpkin promotes the growth of beneficial bacteria including species of Bacteroidetes, also known as the good guys of bacteria in the gut [R, R]. 

If you have constipation, odds are that you also have an imbalance in healthy gut bacteria.  Pumpkin helps constipation because it helps restore your healthy bacteria and gives you a more healthy microbiome [R]. 

Prebiotics often help restore normal bowel function, so it’s not much of a stretch to think that pumpkin helps act as a safe and natural laxative. 

While pumpkin serves as a prebiotic, it is important to get a wide variety of prebiotic foods to help promote a healthy gut. 

Other prebiotic foods include mushrooms, onions, garlic, seaweed, chicory root, artichokes, bananas, asparagus, leafy greens, and berries. 

Tip: soluble fibers often serve as prebiotics in the body. 

Related post: The Best Fiber Supplement for IBS-Diarrhea

Pumpkin antioxidants promote bowel function

It should come as no surprise that pumpkin is rich in antioxidants.  After all, its bright color should give it away.

Antioxidants may help relieve constipation in people with ulcerative colitis, according to an observational research study [R].  The antioxidants that pumpkin contains, called lutein and zeaxanthin, are related to lower chances of constipation too [R].   

Diets rich in antioxidants tend to also have higher stool weights, along with higher antioxidant levels in the stool [R]. 

And constipation itself likely causes an imbalance in antioxidants called oxidative stress.  

That may be why long-term constipation is related to an increased risk of dying [R].  So, it is incredibly important to keep your bowels moving normally with antioxidant foods like pumpkin. 

Pumpkin has fiber

Pumpkins definitely have fiber, which can help with constipation.  However, it doesn’t contain as much fiber as people think. 

A common misconception is that canned pumpkin contains 7 grams of fiber per serving.  

This might be true if you eat a whole cup of canned pumpkin, but a more common (and realistic) serving size is 1⁄2 cup.  

I’ve never met anyone who can eat a whole cup of canned pumpkin at a time.  However, you may find yourself eating a cup of freshly roasted pumpkin because it’s just that GOOD tasting. 

A realistic ½ cup serving of canned pumpkin and 1 cup fresh pumpkin both provide around 3 grams of fiber per serving [R].  As you can see, the canned variety is more concentrated in fiber.

As a reference, a ½ cup serving of canned pumpkin or 1 cup of fresh pumpkin provides around 10% of the daily value for fiber.

Compare this to an avocado, which has 5 grams per half-cup serving. Or chia seeds, which have 10 grams per oz (about 3 tablespoons). 

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t eat the pumpkin flesh for fiber; it just means that the reason that pumpkin helps with constipation is likely related to many of its compounds.  

Synergy baby. 

Luckily, 60% of the fiber in pumpkin flesh is soluble fiber, which is known to often be a better prebiotic.  Not surprisingly, the fiber content can vary depending on the type of pumpkin too [R].

Bonus: high fiber foods help with healthy weight loss by keeping you fuller longer.  

What about pumpkin seeds for constipation?

Shelled pumpkin seeds in a wooden bowl on a wooden counter top by The Healthy RD

Pumpkin seeds have a different set of nutrients than pumpkin flesh and may also be helpful for a healthy stool. 

I recommend using hulled or shelled pumpkin seeds.  Even though they have less fiber than the whole seeds, they taste better and they don’t have sharp edges.

The shelled seeds of pumpkins contain 1 gram of fiber per ounce according to Healthline

The sharp points on whole pumpkin seeds can actually be irritating to the gut, even when chewed well.  

While rare, bowel blockage has occurred from eating whole pumpkin seeds [R].  So, when in doubt, avoid the seed shells and eat shelled pumpkin seeds.

Related post: Magnesium for IBS Constipation 

High in potassium

Potassium-rich foods can definitely help with bowel movements and pumpkin is no exception.  

In fact, people who are constipated tend to have a low intake of potassium in their diet [R]. 

Low blood potassium levels (hypokalemia) are also related to symptoms of constipation [R].

A ½ cup serving of pumpkin contains 250 mg of potassium [R]. 

While pumpkin has less potassium than foods like potatoes, bananas, or tomatoes, pumpkin certainly helps people reach the Recommended Daily Intake of around 3500 mg per day. 

Helps IBS?

Because shelled pumpkin seeds and pumpkin flesh have a lot of beneficial compounds for the gut, it makes sense that pumpkin is also good for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

As reviewed above, it is rich in protective antioxidants, healthy fiber, and prebiotics. All of these factors are undoubtedly good for healing IBS. 

Pumpkin even fits into the low FODMAP diet if you eat ⅓ cup of it. 

But, if you have IBS, odds are, you are confused about what to eat.  Some experts recommend a low FODMAP diet, but this comes with some potential long-term consequences [R].  

The only way to know if you can tolerate pumpkin if you have IBS is to try it and start with a small serving.

And, pay close attention to the paragraph next of avoiding processed sugars, which are definitely NOT good for IBS!

Related post: Do You Need a Low FODMAP Tea for IBS?

Avoid adding processed sugars

Picture of a fresh pumpkin with an orange and white spotted mug with black stripes, fresh coffee beans below the mug, and a wooden counter top by The Healthy RD

Many pumpkin recipes have a lot of sugar in them, making some of the health benefits disappear.  

This is because sugar can increase inflammation in the body [R]. Sugar also causes an imbalance in your microbiome, or dysbiosis, if eaten in excess.

If you have a hankering for a sweet pumpkin dessert, try to cut back the sugar and use real maple syrup or raw wildflower honey instead of sugar to increase the antioxidant content of the pumpkin dish!

Some boutique coffee shops now offer honey as a sweetener instead of sugar so you could opt for that in your sweetened pumpkin spice latte instead of sugar. 

Tip: honey and maple syrup serve as prebiotics so they are a much better choice for gut health than sugar. 

Good for skin health

Pumpkin is good for the skin and that should come as no surprise.  

Anything good for the gut is also helpful for a healthy skin glow, so go ahead and serve up some roasted pumpkin as a side dish. 

Early research even shows that oral and topical pumpkin may help reduce symptoms of dermatitis by dampening skin inflammation too [R]. 

Helps blood pressure

Like most vegetables, eating pumpkin helps to lower blood pressure or keep blood pressure normal.  

The pumpkin seeds are best known for their blood pressure benefits because they can help boost the production of nitric oxide [R]. 

Good for eye health

If eating antioxidant-rich foods like pumpkins for gut health wasn’t enough, they also help with eye health too. 

Not surprisingly, lutein and zeaxanthin-rich food like pumpkin helps improve eye health, specifically age-related macular degeneration [R]. 

The healthy fats in pumpkin seeds also help keep the bladder and prostate healthy. 

May help manage diabetes

Insulin resistance is common and so is Type 2 diabetes, so is it ok to eat pumpkin if you have diabetes?

The answer is an absolute yes. 

While this study had some flaws, such as lacking a control group, it definitely suggests that pumpkin is likely beneficial for diabetes. 

Using pumpkin may help diabetes because it improves the gut microbiome and improves blood cholesterol levels as well [R, R]. 

A ½ cup serving of pumpkin contains 10 grams of carbohydrates, with 3 grams of those carbs coming from fiber, so it is a relatively low-carbohydrate food too [R]. 

Myths about pumpkin

There is a fair amount of misinformation about pumpkins and the nutrition they contain out in the world.

Here are some myths about this squash and what is true.

Pumpkin is high in magnesium

Here’s the truth: pumpkin is not high in magnesium: people need around 400 mg of magnesium a day and a serving of pumpkin only contains 23 mg of magnesium.  This doesn’t qualify as a high-magnesium food.  

However, pumpkin seeds are VERY high in magnesium with over 500 mg per 100 grams of pumpkin seeds [R]. 

Pumpkin’s high vitamin A content

Contrary to popular opinion, and sometimes “expert” opinion, pumpkin doesn’t contain vitamin A.  Rather, it contains provitamin A (carotenes), which has the potential to turn into vitamin A in the body.  

However, some people have certain genes that don’t allow for the adequate conversion of provitamin A into active vitamin A in the body [R].

When in doubt, try to get retinol or active vitamin A on a regular basis as your source of vitamin A.

This means getting vitamin A from grass-finished liver, cod liver oil, wild-caught fish like sardines, and, you guessed it: grass-fed butter!

Better yet, cook your pumpkin in grass-fed butter to increase the chances that the carotene from the pumpkin will absorb into your body. 

Tip: most of the provitamin A in pumpkin is from antioxidants called alpha-carotene and beta-carotene. 

Ways to use pumpkin for constipation

When it is autumn, the market becomes bursting with pumpkin-laden drinks, pumpkin pie, and treats. 

These treats are also filled with sugar and other processed ingredients, which definitely are NOT good for gut health. 

Better ways to use pumpkin and pumpkin seeds are:

Does pumpkin cause constipation in some people?

No. Pumpkin doesn’t directly cause constipation. However, if you are already constipated and add a bunch of pumpkin puree to try to fix it, it likely won’t help and could make things worse. This is because you would be adding bulk to an already bulky situation.  

Using a pumpkin for constipation is better suited to prevent constipation, not treat constipation.

The same goes for any fiber-rich foods.  Once your bowels are moving, feel free to slowly increase your dietary fiber to keep you regular.  

And, a very important point is to make sure to stay hydrated while increasing fiber in your diet.  There is no quicker way to get backed up than to get behind on drinking water and fluids. 

Summing it up re: pumpkin for constipation

In review, pumpkin is definitely good for people who are prone to constipation because it contains lots of healthy compounds, including prebiotic fibers, potassium, and antioxidants.  

Looking for more magnesium to help you “go”?  Increase your intake of shelled pumpkin seeds. 

Not only do pumpkin and pumpkin seeds help with constipation relief, but they are also good for the whole body, including the eyes, and the skin, and even may help with diabetes and blood pressure. 

The information on this website has not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration or any other medical body and is shared for educational purposes only. While The Healthy RD’s posts are backed by research, you are unique, so you must seek care from your own dietitian or healthcare provider. This post is not meant to diagnose or treat any conditions. Consult your doctor or healthcare provider before making changes to your supplement regimen or lifestyle.

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