Where I live, fall is just around the corner. It’s my favorite season, so I can’t wait. I love the colors of fall and, of course, the food. But can my love of fall food fit with low FODMAP eating? That’s what I’ve been researching lately. And today we’ll look at one of my fall favorites: pumpkin.
(Let’s be real: my fall favorite is actually pumpkin pie, but we’ll cover that, too.)
Fresh pumpkin is likely low FODMAP at servings of one-half cup or less (cubed or pieces). Canned pumpkin is likely low FODMAP at smaller servings of one-fourth to one-third of a cup. Servings larger than these may contain excess polyols or fructans, though the research on this isn’t clear.
In this post, we’ll learn more than you probably ever wanted to know about pumpkin. But, determining whether pumpkin is low FODMAP is really difficult. To understand why, we need to know more about both pumpkins and the way pumpkin is usually treated by food science researchers.
Is Pumpkin a Low FODMAP Food?
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Determining whether pumpkin is low FODMAP isn’t easy, regardless of FODMAP food lists and apps that make it appear otherwise. Classifying pumpkin as high or low FODMAP is difficult for two reasons. First, there are lots of different types of pumpkin and which type is tested isn’t always clear. Second, published research has conflicting data on the FODMAP content of pumpkin. Let’s look at each of these issues now.
A Short Pumpkin Primer
Let’s start with a common question: are pumpkin and squash the same thing? Technically, yes. Pumpkin is a type of squash, so it’s correct to refer to pumpkin as squash. This is why, for example, what’s called butternut squash in the United States is called butternut pumpkin in Australia.1 Both are names are correct.
There are three main categories, or species, of squash eaten in the United States. The scientific names for these categories are maxima, moschata and pepo. The letter “C” appears before each of these names. It stands for Cucurbita, the genus to which all squashes belong.2
C. maxima consists mostly of cool weather squashes, commonly called winter squashes. Buttercup and Hubbard squashes belong to the C. maxima species, as do certain kinds of pumpkins.
C. moschata is also a winter squash species. The best known C. moschata squash is butternut squash. Dickinson squash, also called Dickinson pumpkin, belongs to C. moschata, too. We’ll learn more about Dickinson pumpkin later.
C. pepo is a more diverse squash species, since it includes both summer and winter squashes. C. pepo summer squashes include zucchini, yellow squash and squash with scalloped edges, like pattypan squash. Winter varieties of C. pepo include acorn squash, spaghetti squash and field pumpkins, the round, orange pumpkins we typically associate with Halloween.
Note: you can learn more about the different varieties of squash in this post on FODMAPs in popular squashes.
Difficulties Determining Pumpkin FODMAP Status
Some food studies list squash by its common name. For example, it’s fairly easy to find data for zucchini. But most studies use scientific names. A study may show that a C. pepo was tested, but it doesn’t provide enough information to determine if it was an acorn squash or a pattypan squash.
This is one reason it’s difficult to determine the FODMAP status of pumpkin. I found several studies that simply list “pumpkin,” but there’s no indication if it’s a pumpkin that belongs to C. maxima or C. pepo. And this matters because studies have shown that nutritional content is different for each pumpkin species.3, 4
The second reason it’s difficult to determine the FODMAP status of pumpkin is conflicting data among published sources.
A study of FODMAP food lists produced in different countries reported that pumpkin appeared on five of the lists. Pumpkin was listed as low FODMAP on four of these, but high FODMAP on the fifth, due to polyol content.5
And a National Institutes of Health study of three FODMAP food lists produced in the United States specifically lists pumpkin as an item of disagreement among the lists. In other words, some lists classified pumpkin as high FODMAP, while others classified it as low FODMAP.6
So, there isn’t a clear answer on whether pumpkin is low FODMAP. It depends on the source you consult and the type of pumpkin tested. Unfortunately, the type of pumpkin tested isn’t always disclosed in studies.
Fortunately, we can get some data on FODMAPs in different types of pumpkin. This can provide a starting point when testing whether pumpkin can fit in our low FODMAP eating plan.
FODMAPs in Pumpkin
Pumpkin, like all squash, is a fruit. That means we need to check the fructose content of pumpkin. We also need to consider polyol and fructan content, since some (but not all) studies and data sources show these FODMAPs are present in pumpkin.
Fructose in Pumpkin
Honestly, I had difficulty finding data on the fructose content in pumpkin. I suspect this is because pumpkin is often studied along with vegetables, even though it’s technically a fruit. Vegetables generally have low fructose content, so there just aren’t as many studies on fructose in vegetables.
My usual source for food composition data is the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) food database. The USDA database has an entry for raw pumpkin, but it only lists total sugar content and doesn’t break it down by component (fructose, glucose and such). Of course, the USDA also classifies pumpkin as a vegetable.
My second source for food composition data is the database at CSIDCares.org. This is a website for people with congenital sucrase-isomaltase deficiency, a genetic condition that, among other things, often leaves them unable to digest the sugars sucrose and maltose.
The CSID database doesn’t have an entry for raw pumpkin, but does have an entry for cooked fresh pumpkin. As discussed later, cooking doesn’t seem to significantly affect FODMAP content of foods. So, we can use this data as a proxy for fresh, raw pumpkin. And realistically, most people cook pumpkin before eating it, so this data is probably more helpful, too.
The following table summarizes the sugar content for a half-cup of cooked pumpkin.
Sugar Content in Fresh, Cooked Pumpkin
Remember that it’s not the fructose content that determines the FODMAP status of a food. Rather, we look at the ratio of glucose to fructose, or excess fructose. If a food doesn’t have any excess fructose, it’s considered low FODMAP.
As shown in the table above, there’s more glucose than fructose in fresh pumpkin. That means pumpkin, at least the type tested for this study, is low FODMAP for fructose.
Of course, we don’t know the type of pumpkin tested, which is a drawback of many studies. It’s very likely a variety of C. pepo was tested, since that’s the most commonly eaten variety in the United States. And, generally speaking, studies have shown that C. pepo squash have fructose and glucose values that fall within acceptable low FODMAP guidelines.4
So, if you’re interested in adding squash to your diet, it seems best to stick with C. pepo varieties. With the exception of butternut, most of the squashes commonly sold in the US fall into this category. As always, watch portion size. But C. pepo squash seems the best option, at least when it comes to fructose.
Polyol Content in Pumpkin
I actually had an easier time finding sources for polyols in pumpkin than for fructose. Unfortunately, these sources disagree on pumpkin’s polyol content.
One published study on sugar content in fruits and vegetables included polyol content. This study found that 100 grams (about 3.5 ounces) of fresh, raw pumpkin contains an average of .06 grams of sorbitol and .09 grams of xylitol. No mannitol was detected.8 This means total polyols in the sample were .15 grams, which is below the published low FODMAP guideline of .40 grams of total polyols per serving or less.9
The French government’s food database also lists polyol content for many foods. In this case, the database contains data for cooked pumpkin, showing that 100 grams of cooked pumpkin contains less than .5 grams of polyols.10 Unfortunately, that’s not very helpful if you need to monitor polyol intake, since it doesn’t give an exact amount.
But unlike other sources, the French database does give the type of pumpkin tested. This data is for red kuri squash, a pumpkin that belongs to the C. maxima species. Since most squash commonly eaten in the US belongs to C. pepo, we can’t draw many conclusions from the French data.
The bottom line here is that pumpkin likely does contain small amounts of polyols, probably below levels recommended by low FODMAP researchers. But, there’s no clear scientific consensus on this. If you’re sensitive to polyols, you’ll have to test your tolerance to different kinds of squash and pumpkin.
Fructans in Pumpkin
I haven’t run across any FODMAP-specific sources indicating fructans are an issue with pumpkin. There really isn’t much research on the fructan content of pumpkin, actually, but what I did find is contradictory.
One study found no detectable to only trace amounts of fructans in pumpkin.8 This study did not list the specific type of pumpkin tested. A separate study, on a C. pepo variety of pumpkin, found that 100 grams of raw pumpkin had .6 grams of fructans.11 This is more than the low FODMAP recommendation for fructans, which is .20 grams per serving.9
Beyond this, I was unable to find information on fructan content in pumpkin. There’s just not enough evidence to stake out a definitive position on the topic.
FODMAPs in Pumpkin Conclusion
Pumpkin contains fructose, a known FODMAP. However, the fructose content of pumpkin generally falls below suggested low FODMAP guidelines.
Pumpkin also likely contains polyols, but in small enough amounts to be FODMAP friendly. The status of fructans in pumpkins is undetermined. Some sources report no detectable fructans, while others report fructan content in excess of low FODMAP guidelines.
So, fructose doesn’t seem to be an issue. But if you’re sensitive to polyols or fructans, you may want to go slow when introducing or re-introducing pumpkin into your diet.
Is Cooked Pumpkin Low FODMAP?
As mentioned earlier, nutritional data for raw pumpkin isn’t very helpful, since we usually cook pumpkin before eating it. You may be wondering, then, about FODMAPs in cooked pumpkin.
Thus far, studies seem to show that cooking a food doesn’t significantly alter its FODMAP content.12
For example, one study compared fructan values in raw and cooked versions of the same food. It found that 100 grams of raw pumpkin (C. pepo) contained .6 grams of fructans. The pumpkin was then steamed and the fructan content was measured again. The same amount of cooked pumpkin contained .7 grams of fructans.11 So, the difference in FODMAP content between raw and cooked versions was minor.
Current research holds that cooked food generally retains whatever FODMAPs are present in the raw version. This means cooked pumpkin contains low FODMAP levels of fructose and may contain a small amount of polyols. It may also contain excess amounts of fructans, but there isn’t enough research to confirm this. So, at this point, it seems cooked pumpkin is likely low FODMAP at normal serving sizes.
Is Canned Pumpkin Low FODMAP?
Canned pumpkin hasn’t been widely tested by FODMAP researchers. The few tests that have been done report canned pumpkin is low FODMAP.5
However, most canned pumpkin eaten in the United States isn’t actually a pumpkin. Instead, it’s a squash known both as Dickinson squash and Dickinson pumpkin.13 Dickinson pumpkin is closely related to butternut squash.
Based on my research into butternut squash, I believe canned pumpkin is likely low FODMAP in servings of one-fourth cup. This serving size may be smaller than that suggested by other low FODMAP sources. But given the unknowns about polyols and fructans in pumpkin, and squash more generally, I’m more comfortable suggesting a smaller serving.
Is Pumpkin Pie Low FODMAP?
I suspect this is the reason most people search the FODMAP content of pumpkin: of course we want to know if pumpkin pie is low FODMAP.
Store bought pumpkin pie is probably not low FODMAP, for a few reasons. First, the crust is likely made from white flour, which is not low FODMAP due to refined flour’s fructan content. Second, most pumpkin pie recipes call for sweetened condensed milk, which is definitely not low FODMAP due to high lactose content.
So, if you’re eating low FODMAP and want pumpkin pie, your best bet is to bake it yourself.
In my area, it’s fairly easy to find gluten-free pie crust mix or frozen gluten free crusts. Gluten itself isn’t a FODMAP, but many low FODMAPers use gluten free products because they don’t contain wheat and, therefore, shouldn’t contain fructans. Be sure to read labels, though. Some gluten free products can contain other FODMAPs, even if they don’t contain fructans.
I’ve seen a few low FODMAP pumpkin pie recipes that call for lactose free heavy cream in place of sweetened condensed milk. I haven’t seen this product in my local stores, so I’m not sure how easy it is to find. I’ve seen other recipes that substitute coconut milk, which is much easier to find in my area, for the condensed milk.
The good news for low FODMAPers is that there are options if you want to include pumpkin pie in your diet. And remember, you only need to avoid FODMAPs that give you issues. If fructans and lactose aren’t major problems for you, then you may be able to eat that store bought pie after all.
Final Thoughts: Is Pumpkin is FODMAP Friendly?
It’s honestly difficult to answer the question of whether pumpkin is low FODMAP. There’s so much variety within the squash family and most studies aren’t clear about the types of pumpkin tested. Based on my research, here’s my take on pumpkin.
Fresh pumpkin is probably low FODMAP at a serving size of one half-cup of cubes or pieces. Canned pumpkin is low FODMAP at smaller servings of one-fourth to one-third cup. Both fresh and canned pumpkin are low FODMAP for fructose, but you may run into issues with fructans or polyols at larger serving sizes.
Hopefully more studies on pumpkin will be done in the future. However, a lot of FODMAP research is conducted in Australia and Europe, where pumpkin isn’t as widely eaten as in the US.15
So, I don’t expect to see much new research just on pumpkin. Instead, pumpkin will continue to be tested as one food within a larger study. That means it will still be difficult to get data specifically for FODMAPs in pumpkin.
About the Author
Amanda Coleman, PhD, studies food culture and teaches a popular Food and Society course. Years of digestive problems led her to live low FODMAP. Now she uses her research and analysis skills to help others understand FODMAP essentials, so they can lead better, healthier lives.