The Wonderful Benefits of Nutritious, Delicious Pumpkin Seeds
Ahhh- the magical season of Autumn has finally arrived, and along with cooler weather we get to enjoy the bounty of the colorful fall harvest.
Corn, sweet potatoes, and of course pumpkins can be found at every grocery store and farmer’s market. While pumpkins are incredibly rich in beta carotenes and antioxidants such as leutin and xanthin, their seeds are considered one of man’s original superfoods.
Modern medicine is just beginning to learn what native cultures suspected for thousands of years- that pumpkin seeds may benefit your heart, liver and immune system, help fight diabetes, and that they offer unique benefits for men’s prostate health and as well as women’s relief of menopause symptoms. This is because pumpkin seeds are nutritional powerhouses wrapped up in a very small package, with a wide variety of nutrients ranging from magnesium and manganese to copper, protein and zinc. They also contain a wide array of beneficial plant compounds known as phytosterols and free-radical scavenging antioxidants.
A Mineral Mega-Food
Just One-quarter cup of pumpkin seeds contains nearly half of the recommended daily amount of magnesium- which has been shown to benefit your blood pressure and help prevent sudden cardiac arrest, heart attack, and stroke, yet an estimated 80 percent of Americans are deficient in this important mineral.
Pumpkin seeds are also a rich source of zinc - one ounce of pumpkin seeds contain more than 2 mg of this beneficial mineral. Zinc is important to your body in many ways, including immunity, cell growth and division, sleep, mood, your senses of taste and smell, eye and skin health, and insulin regulation. Many of us are deficient in zinc due to mineral-depleted soils, drug effects, plant-based diets, and other diets high in grain. This deficiency is associated with increased colds and flu, chronic fatigue, depression, acne, low birth weight babies, learning problems and poor school performance in children, among others.
Pumpkin seeds have long been valued as an important natural food for men’s sexual health. This is in part because of their high zinc content, which is important for prostate health (where it is found in the highest concentrations in the body), and also because pumpkin seed extracts and oils may play a role in treating benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH, or enlarged prostate). Research suggests that both pumpkin seed oil and pumpkin seeds2 may be particularly beneficial in supporting prostate health. We are now learning that pumpkin seed oil, which is rich in natural phytoestrogens, is also beneficial for menopausal women. Studies suggest it may lead to a significant increase in good “HDL” cholesterol along with decreases in blood pressure, hot flashes, headaches, joint pains and other menopausal symptoms.5
Heart Healthy Anti-Inflammatory Effects
Raw nuts and seeds, including pumpkin seeds, are one of the best sources of plant-based omega-3s (alpha-linolenic acid or ALA). We all need ALA, however, ALA has to be converted by your body into the far more essential omega-3 fats EPA and DHA - by an enzyme in which the vast majority of us have impaired by high insulin levels. So, while pumpkin seeds are an excellent source of ALA, I believe it is essential to get some of your omega-3 fats from animal sources, such as krill oil, as well. Pumpkin seeds, rich in healthy fats, antioxidants and fibers, may provide benefits for heart and liver health, particularly when mixed with flax seeds.6 Pumpkin seed oil has been found to exhibit anti-inflammatory effects. One animal study even found it worked as well as the anti-inflammatory drug indomethacin in treating arthritis, but without the side effects.8
Soak, Dry, Roast or Sprout Them!
The best way to preserve the healthy fats present in pumpkin seeds is to eat them raw. If you choose to purchase seeds from a bulk bin, make sure they smell fresh – not musty, spoiled or stale, which could indicate rancidity or the presence of fungal mycotoxins. Organic pumpkin seeds are preferred, as they will not be contaminated with pesticides or other harmful chemicals.
However, most nuts and seeds have anti-nutrients like phytic acid that can make all the previously discussed important nutrients less bioavailable when you consume them. So if you plan on consuming seeds or nuts on a regular basis, to soak or sprout them. To make them more palatable, you can then dehydrate them in your oven, or better yet and more cost effectively in a dehydrator.
If you prefer to eat the seeds roasted, do so yourself so you can control the roasting temperature and time. Raw pumpkin seeds can be roasted on a low heat setting in your oven (no more than 170 degrees F or 75 degrees Celsius), sprinkled with Himalayan or other natural salt, for about 15-20 minutes.
* Urol Int. 2011;87(2):218-24.
* 2 Nutrition Research Reviews / Volume 23 / Issue 02 / December 2010, pp 184 ¬ 190
* 3 Journal of Diabetes and Its Complications Volume 25, Issue 5 , Pages 339-345, September 2011
* 4 Climacteric. 2011 Oct;14(5):558-64.
* 5 Food Chem Toxicol. 2008 Dec;46(12):3714-20.
* 6 Nutr Neurosci. 2005 Apr;8(2):121-7.
* 7 Pharmacol Res. 1995 Jan;31(1):73-9.
* 8 Food Research International Volume 42, Issues 5–6 June–July 2009, Pages 641–646