Pumpkin Seeds: The Tiny Seeds That Pack An Incredible Healthy Punch
Megan Fahey, MS, RD, CDN is a Registered Dietitian, Functional Medicine Nutritionist and Registered Yoga Teacher. She holds her Masters of Science in Nutrition and Dietetics from Bastyr University, where she was trained to artfully blend eastern and western healing modalities.
Pumpkin seeds are tiny, yet they pack a big punch. These small seeds are a good source of magnesium, iron, and fiber, and it's about time we take them seriously for their incredible health benefits.
You may have heard pumpkin seeds being referred to as pepitas, and technically they are both pumpkin seeds, but there's a key difference between the two. Pepitas, meaning, "little seeds of squash" in Spanish, are pumpkin seeds without the shell and are only found in certain pumpkins like oilseed pumpkins and Styrian pumpkins.
Pumpkin seeds are found in pumpkins like the ones you carve at Halloween and are encased in a white shell. So if you're hoping to have unshelled pumpkin seeds, you'll have to crack the shells yourself. Luckily, pepitas and shelled pumpkin seeds are sold in the store ready to go so you won't have to do the work yourself.
What are the health benefits of pumpkin seeds?
Pumpkin seeds are loaded with nutrients, including protein, fiber, omega-3 fats, magnesium, zinc, iron, copper, B vitamins, and antioxidants. In an ounce of hulled pumpkin seeds, about 85 seeds, you'll get about 18 percent of the recommended daily dose of magnesium, and 19 percent of the daily recommended dose of zinc.
High in iron.
Iron is an essential nutrient for us as it's necessary for the body to make hemoglobin, a protein that is responsible for circulating oxygen in your body. Not enough iron can lead to things like fatigue, anemia, and immune system problems. These issues may be avoided if you're getting enough iron in your diet. Pumpkin seeds are high in iron with an ounce of seeds giving you 11 percent of the recommended daily intake.
A good source of fiber.
It's recommended that men eat about 38 grams of fiber per day and women about 25 grams. Unfortunately, the stats show Americans are only eating about half of what's recommended. More fiber could contribute to better colon health, a stronger immune system, and may help prevent diabetes and cardiovascular disease. If you're looking to up your fiber intake, you can look to pumpkin seeds. Just an ounce of pumpkin seeds will give you 20 percent of the recommended daily intake for fiber.
Improve heart health.
Research suggests that pumpkin seeds may help improve heart health due to their high amount of essential fatty acids, antioxidants, magnesium, and zinc. Some studies also found that eating pumpkin seeds may help lower blood pressure and increase "good" HDL cholesterol, which may help reduce your risk of developing heart disease.
May help you sleep better.
Eating pumpkin seeds may improve sleep thanks to an essential amino acid called tryptophan. Pumpkin seeds contain a high level of tryptophan, which is necessary for our body to prepare for sleep. Tryptophan is also in turkey, which could explain the food coma after Thanksgiving dinner. The body turns tryptophan into a B vitamin called niacin, which helps the body create serotonin. This is important because serotonin is a chemical that plays a critical role in sleep and regulating our melatonin levels. So, incorporating more tryptophan into our diet via pumpkin seeds may improve our sleep quality.
Wondering how much you need to eat for quality zzz's? A study found that consuming 1 gram of tryptophan may be enough to improve sleep quality. This is beyond what you could reasonably eat in one sitting (it means you'd need to eat about 200 grams of pumpkin seeds, or almost 1 cup of seeds)!
You could consider incorporating small amounts of pumpkins seeds into your meals throughout the day and see how far you get. If you can't quite reach a cup, you can feel good knowing that pumpkin seeds are also high magnesium, which is also known to help improve sleep quality.
Promote hair growth.
Taking pumpkin seed oil may be beneficial in preventing hair loss, according to some limited research. One study found that men with pattern baldness who took pumpkin seed oil in the form of capsules had significantly more hair growth than those who did not.
While more research is needed to determine if, in fact, it was the pumpkin seed oil doing the trick, it may be worth trying out. If you're interested in taking pumpkin seed oil for hair loss, you can take it orally in the form of supplements or straight oil. You can also apply it directly to your scalp. Eating pumpkin seeds will up your intake of zinc, magnesium, and omega-3s, which could help slow hair thinning.
Pumpkin seeds are high in anti-inflammatory properties, including antioxidants like vitamin E, vitamin K, magnesium, and B vitamins like folate. Reducing inflammation may help prevent chronic illness, boost metabolism, and balance blood sugar.
How many should I be eating?
So, this all sounds great, but how many pumpkin seeds should we eat to get these benefits? As we mentioned, an ounce of pumpkin seeds, about a handful has a high nutritional content and is a great place to start. With any food that is high in fiber, you'll want to start slow and begin by incorporating small amounts of pumpkin seeds into your diet and seeing how your body reacts. If you experience bloating, discomfort, or gas, you may want to pull back on the amount. Remember that in the context of a balanced diet, pumpkin seeds are a great addition to your overall intake of anti-inflammatory vitamins and minerals.
Should I be eating them raw?
Pumpkin seeds can be eaten raw, roasted, or sprouted. With any of these options, you'll want to decide if you're going to eat the pumpkin seeds with the shell or without. Pumpkin seeds in the shell have more fiber than unshelled, but the shells are chewy and may take some extra time to break down.
Once you decide whether you'll eat the shell or not, it's time to decide on preparation. Eating pumpkin seeds raw is a healthy option, but you should know they have a high phytic acid content when not roasted or sprouted. Phytic acid is found in foods like beans, seeds, nuts, and grains and can make nutrients like iron and zinc less bioavailable. It also may inhibit the production of digestive enzymes, which help us break down food.
How to eat them.
Now that we've learned a ton about pumpkin seeds, it's time to think about how to prep them. If you're eating a lot of raw pumpkin seeds, get creative from time to time and try roasting them and experimenting with spices or sweeter flavors. Another option is to sprout or soak your pumpkin seeds. To do so, you'll put the seeds in water for 12 to 24 hours before use. During this time, all of the nutrients and goodness inside becomes more available, and you may find the seeds are easier to digest. Here are some fun ways to add some more pumpkin seeds into your life:
Are pumpkin seeds particularly beneficial for men's health?
We've seen that pumpkin seeds have significant benefits for both men and women, but they have some health benefits that are specific to men.
Research has found that zinc is an important element for male fertility, and not enough of it could lead to lower sperm production and quality. Therefore eating pumpkin seeds, which are high in zinc (2.1 mg per oz.) may be beneficial in improving sperm quality.
Research also suggests pumpkin seeds may have a positive effect on benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), a condition men may develop as they age, which causes unpleasant urinary symptoms such as frequency of urination. One study showed that men who ate pumpkin seed oil daily for six months had less severe BPH symptoms and improved quality of life. Another study suggests that pumpkin seed extract may reduce or prevent the growth of prostate cancer cells.
How about women's health?
We've heard that eating pumpkin seeds during particular times in your cycle may be beneficial for balancing your hormones and eliminating unwanted period symptoms. Jolene Brighten, NMD, recommends eating pumpkin seeds and flaxseeds from Day 1 through 14 of your cycle, known as the follicular phase. She says to eat 1 to 2 tablespoons of ground flaxseeds and pumpkins daily until Day 14. The high content of fatty acids, zinc, and fiber can contribute to healthier hormones and balanced estrogen metabolism.
Some research also highlights a potential link between pumpkin seeds and reduced risk of breast cancer. One study suggests that the lignans in pumpkin seeds may be beneficial in preventing and treating breast cancer.
Should I consider pumpkin seed oil or supplements?
If you're not into pumpkin seeds, don't worry; there are other ways to get the health benefits. You can try pumpkin seed oil, which is the oil extracted from the pumpkin seeds. If you go this route, you'll want to choose a cold-pressed oil meaning heat hasn't been used in extraction. This makes it so the oil can keep beneficial nutrients like antioxidants. You can also take pumpkin seed oil in the form of capsules. You'll want to check in with your doctor about proper supplementation for your particular need.
Who knew there was so much to love about pumpkin seeds? With all of this delicious information, it's time to head out, grab some seeds, and get cooking.
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