Amazing Benefits of Pumpkin Seeds

When looking for a crunchy and chewy snack that satisfies while it nourishes, consider pumpkin seeds, also known as “pepitas”. When you want your salads and vegetable dishes richer in minerals and antioxidants, top them with pumpkin seeds. You can add them to cereal, chop and add to a cookie recipe, and replace the traditional pine nuts in fresh pesto with these tasty seeds. Another option is to puree soaked pumpkin seeds and add to soup. Get creative! For snacking, you can eat them with the hull (white) or just enjoy the green kernels. The hulls provide extra fiber and zinc.

Pumpkins, like other squash, are actually fruits and evidence indicates they originated in North America. The oldest pumpkin-related seeds dating between 7000 and 5500 BC were found in Mexico.  1.5 billion pounds of pumpkins are currently produced each year. It’s one of the most popular crops in the United States with over 100,000 acres of US farmland planted with pumpkins, but China produces far more pumpkins, and pumpkin seeds than any other country.

Nutrition Breakdown

One-quarter cup (approximately one ounce) of pumpkin seed kernels provides approximately 180 calories, 15 grams of fat, 4 grams of net carbs, 1 gram of fiber and 9 grams of protein. They are also a good source of these important and essential minerals:  iron, potassium, zinc, phosphorus and magnesium.

Pumpkin seeds are known to contain a wide variety of antioxidants including lutein and zeaxanthin, which are famous for supporting eye health. Studies show that a high level of both of these antioxidants in eye tissue relates directly with better vision. Lutein and zeaxanthin protect the eyes from UV sunlight. Research shows that supplements containing these beneficial substances can slow the progress of macular degeneration. People who consume plenty of foods which contain zeaxanthin may have a 50% lower risk of developing cataracts.

Pumpkin seed kernels are also an excellent natural source of phytosterols such as beta-sitosterol, sitostanol and avenasterol. Plant sterols and stanols are known to have powerful cholesterol-lowering properties. They have the ability to prevent “bad” LDL cholesterol from being absorbed into the bloodstream. This may be one reason that pumpkin seeds have been shown in studies to be “heart-healthy”.

Raw pumpkin seeds are a rich source of a wide variety of forms of Vitamin E, which helps prevent LDL cholesterol from oxidizing (which is the beginning of clogged arteries) and helps to keep blood thin by preventing blood platelets from clumping together. Vitamin E has numerous proven benefits beyond heart health:  preventing DNA damage, enhancing the action of insulin therefore improving blood glucose metabolism and protecting the myelin sheath surrounding nerves.*

Before you eat them

Pumpkins are currently not genetically modified.  Even so, we recommend that you always buy certified organic raw pumpkin seeds, in order to avoid accidental exposure to pesticides and other chemicals.  We don’t know what other countries, such as China, may use to grow them. And, unfortunately, pre-roasted seeds contain harmful rancid and damaged fats, and may be covered in excessive and/or poor quality salt.  Organic raw pumpkin seeds usually sell for less than $10 per pound, making them a great value for the nutritional benefits they offer.

It’s best to soak the raw seeds overnight in room temperature water to remove the enzyme inhibitors, a naturally occurring substance that coats all nuts, seeds and legumes. Enzyme inhibitors prevent seeds from sprouting in a humid environment. Soaking seeds significantly improves their digestibility, while enhancing nutritional benefits and reducing the inflammation-triggering lectins. (It’s best to limit your portion size and frequency of eating them, particularly if your health is less than ideal, should you choose not to pre-soak.) You can then lightly roast the seeds in a manner as to prevent damage to the healthy fats present in the seeds. Light roasting also enhances the texture, flavors and aromas to make them crunchier and more delicious.

It’s easy to do- preheat your oven to 160-170 degrees and spread the soaked seeds (pat dry with paper towel first) in a single layer on a lightly oiled cookie sheet. Feel free to add a little bit of quality sea salt or other seasonings as desired. Set the timer for 18 to 20 minutes. Roasting for no longer than 20 minutes prevents unwanted changes in the fat structure (observed by food scientists). Some recipes suggest roasting at much higher temps– please resist the temptation.

Be sure to cool the pumpkin seeds before storing to avoid trapping moisture in the container. Roasted pumpkin seeds go rancid more quickly if left at room temperature or exposed to moisture. It’s important to store them in an airtight container. They will stay fresh for around two months once refrigerated. Considering how often you and your family will reach for this satisfying snack and recipe ingredient, they are unlikely to be around that long.

Beyond the Seeds

Pumpkin seed oil, which is available in both capsules and liquid, shows promise to support issues such as high blood pressure in post-menopausal women; overactive bladder; hair loss in men; prostate health; nonalcoholic fatty liver disease related atherosclerosis; and cancer, as shown in recent published studies. Modern scientists are discovering what Native Americans knew millennia ago– pumpkin seeds are very good for us.

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