This is the perfect time of year for a post about all the great benefits of eating pumpkins, as well as their seeds. So nice that something so tasty is also so nutritious!
With fall in the air, at least here in the eastern US, and Halloween just around the corner, pumpkins are turning up everywhere, so it seems like the perfect time to spotlight this low-calorie, super-nutritious vegetable. Pumpkins provide a variety of nutrients, including important minerals such as calcium, which helps build strong bones and teeth, and iron, which is important for blood cell function and many biochemical reactions in your cells. Pumpkins also contain magnesium, potassium, zinc and selenium, along with vitamins C and E and two B-complex vitamins, folate and niacin.
And their bright orange color is a sign that pumpkins are rich in carotenoids, which the body converts into vitamin A. Carotenoids are antioxidants and protect the body from free radicals and the by-products of metabolism and toxin breakdown. So a diet high in pumpkin may help prevent cardiovascular disease, certain cancers and some eye problems. And interestingly enough, canned pumpkin is actually more nutritious than fresh pumpkin because it has been cooked down and the water removed, so it’s nutrients are more concentrated than in fresh, plus they are easier for the body to absorb. Here’s a short video about how canned pumpkin is the top food when it comes to carotenoids:
Pumpkins also provides a healthy dose of fiber. A 1-cup serving of canned pumpkin contains up to 5 grams of dietary fiber, which helps food move through the digestive tract, lessening the risk of constipation and intestinal inflammation conditions such as diverticulitis. Fiber also helps reduce your blood cholesterol level and slows glucose uptake after a meal, reducing the demand on your body to produce insulin, which can help reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes.
More about the benefits of pumpkin and a recipe for pumpkin hair conditioner:
Seven benefits to eating pumpkin, including healing the pancreas and helping stabilize insulin levels, as well as treating inflammation and reducing your risk of arthritis:
And if you still have any doubt about how good pumpkin is, just watch this adorable porcupine chowing down on a mini pumpkin:
So pumpkins are clearly a great all-natural health food, but the seeds they produce are real powerhouses in and of themselves….
Pumpkin Seed Benefits
If you’re in the mood for a chewy snack that doubles as a phenomenal health food, look no further than pumpkin seeds. With a wide variety of nutrients ranging from magnesium and manganese to copper, protein and zinc, pumpkin seeds are nutritional powerhouses wrapped up in a very small package. They also contain plant compounds known as phytosterols and free-radical scavenging antioxidants, which can give your health an added boost.
Best of all, because pumpkin seeds are highly portable and require no refrigeration, they make an excellent snack whenever you’re on the go, or they can be used as a quick anytime snack at home, too.
9 Top Health Benefits of Pumpkin Seeds by Dr. Mercola
1. Heart Healthy Magnesium
One-quarter cup of pumpkin seeds contains nearly half of the recommended daily amount of magnesium, which participates in a wide range of vitally important physiological functions, including the creation of ATP (adenosine triphosphate, the energy molecules of your body), the synthesis of RNA and DNA, the pumping of your heart, proper bone and tooth formation, relaxation of your blood vessels, and proper bowel function.
Magnesium 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.
2. Zinc for Immune Support
Pumpkin seeds are a rich source of zinc (one ounce contains 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, insulin regulation, and male sexual function.
Many 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.
3. Plant-Based Omega-3 Fats
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.
4. Prostate Health
Pumpkin seeds have long been valued as an important natural food for men’s 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 seeds may be particularly beneficial in supporting prostate health.
5. Anti-Diabetic Effects
Animal studies suggest that pumpkin seeds may help improve insulin regulation and help prevent diabetic complications by decreasing oxidative stress.
6. Benefits for Post-menopausal Women
Pumpkin seed oil is rich in natural phytoestrogens and 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 in post-menopausal women.
7. Heart and Liver Health
Pumpkin seeds, rich in healthy fats, antioxidants and fibers, may provide benefits for heart and liver health, particularly when mixed with flax seeds.
8. Tryptophan for Restful Sleep
Pumpkin seeds are a rich source of tryptophan, an amino acid (protein building block) that your body converts into serotonin, which in turn is converted into melatonin, the “sleep hormone.” Eating pumpkin seeds a few hours before bed, along with a carbohydrate like a small piece of fruit, may be especially beneficial for providing your body the tryptophan needed for your melatonin and serotonin production to help promote a restful night’s sleep.
9. Anti-Inflammatory Benefits
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.
What’s the Best Way to Consume Pumpkin Seeds?
In order to preserve the healthy fats present in the seeds, pumpkin seeds should be eaten 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, it would be wise 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. There are many dehydrators on the market, but Excalibur is generally considered the best. I have used one for over 20 years. They are readily available on Amazon.
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.
*More on phytic acid at the end of this post. Also see this Self-help Health post.
And that’s not all pumpkin seeds are good for. Check out this article about the ability of pumpkin seeds to wage war on intestinal parasites….
(from NaturalHealth365 by Jonathan Landsman) According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one-third of the world’s population is infected with parasites. They can enter the body through food or water, mosquitoes, intimate contact and through the nose or mouth after touching an animal or any contaminated surface. The question is – how do we get rid of them.
Parasites find friendly environments and automatically settle in for the long haul. When our immunity is low and our digestive system is not in good working order they can take refuge in our body. But dietary changes can help improve this health problem.
These tiny critters are often difficult to get rid of, and also hard to diagnose. The symptoms of parasitic infestation are very general and may not be that different from other conditions. The intestinal symptoms are bloating, gas, diarrhea, constipation, irritable bowel syndrome, fatigue, allergies and poor immunity.
Pumpkin seeds are known for their nutritional content along with their ability to get rid of intestinal parasites. Roasted pumpkin seeds are not only a great snack, the University of Maryland Medical Center recommends consuming pumpkin seeds, along with plenty of fluids to help both protect against and get rid of any parasites you may have. The seed doesn’t kill the worms but paralyzes them, which in turn prevents them from holding on to the wall of the intestine as they commonly do during a bowel movement.
Since pumpkin seeds are easy to eat with or without the shells, and make a delicious topping for salads, a garnish for casseroles, and can be used in breakfast cereals, it is easy to incorporate them in your meals or as a snack.
Want to know even more about the uses and benefits of pumpkin seeds? Here’s a good resource that has a number of articles about health issues pumpkin seeds can help with, including hair loss, acne, and prostate problems, plus there’s a tasty-sounding recipe for pumpkin seed pesto:
And in the article by Dr. Mercola it mentioned that pumpkin seeds, like grains, nuts and seeds, contain phytic acid that can cause a number of health problems and render nutrients less bio-available. That’s why whenever you eat any of these types of foods you should really soak and/or sprout them first to help lower phytic acid.
A great way to get around the phytic acid issue with pumpkin seeds is to buy Go Raw Organic Sprouted Pumpkin Seeds. That way the work is already done for you and they are the best tasting seeds I’ve ever had. The only problem is you may have a hard time stopping with just a handful! They aren’t cheap, but they are nutrient dense, so a little goes a long way. If you shop at Vitacost, you can get them at a discount price.
And even though the seeds are better for you raw, they are awfully tasty toasted, especially if they are being used as a garnish on soups or salads. Check out this link for some “how to” tips on toasting. The only thing I wouldn’t do is use a microwave (as mentioned in the directions) to heat the water for soaking the seeds. Microwaves create “dead” water and a number of other changes in whatever is heated in them. My suggestion? Use structured water that’s been heated on the stove to give the seeds an extra infusion of vital energy during the soaking process.
And stay tuned for some recipes that will give you tasty ways to incorporate more pumpkin into your diet!
2/11/14 Update: Check out this post for an Abundance Bowl recipe that has a yummy pumpkin seed sauce you could use on lots of different foods:
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Disclaimer: Please note that any information here is provided as a guideline only, and is not meant to substitute for the advice of your physician, nutritionist, trained healthcare practitioner, and/or inner guidance system. Always consult a professional before undertaking any change to your normal health routine.