Pumpkin seed is a chewy snack that doubles up as a phenomenal health food. 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 that gives our health an added boost. Also, because pumpkin seeds are rich source of fiber i.e., 50 grams per 1,000 calories consumed, the seeds facilitate healthy digestion.
Pumpkin seeds—also known as pepitas—are flat, dark green seeds. Some are encased in a yellow-white husk (often called the 'shell'), although some varieties of pumpkins produce seeds without shells. Pumpkin seeds have a malleable, chewy texture, and a subtly sweet, nutty flavor. Pumpkins and pumpkin seeds belong to the gourd or Cucurbitaceae family. The most common species of pumpkin used for its seeds are Cucurbita maxima, Cucurbita pepo, Cucurbita mixta, and Cucurbita moschata.
Pumpkin seeds are rich in fiber and have various nutrients and minerals. They have fiber: 1.7 grams, Carbs 5 grams, protein: 7 grams, fat: 13 grams (6 of which are omega-6s), Vitamin K: 18% of the RDI, Phosphorous: 33% of the RDI, Manganese: 42% of the RDI, Magnesium: 37% of the RDI, Iron: 23% of the RDI, Zinc: 14% of the RDI, and Copper: 19% of the RDI.
Plants that have a close relationship with the soil are often special sources of mineral nutrients, and pumpkin is no exception. Subsequently, pumpkin is a good source of minerals like zinc, iron, phosphorus, magnesium, manganese, and copper. Zinc is important for our body in many ways, including immunity, cell growth and division, sleep, mood, our senses of taste and smell, eye and skin health, insulin regulation, and male sexual function. Magnesium participates in a wide range of vitally important physiological functions, including the creation of ATP, the synthesis of RNA and DNA, the pumping of heart, proper bone and tooth formation, relaxation of your vessels, and proper bowel function.
Most of the evidence we've seen about pumpkin seeds and prevention or treatment of diabetes has come from animal studies. Subsequently, people consider research in this area to be preliminary. However, recent studies on laboratory animals have shown the ability of ground pumpkin seeds, pumpkin seed extracts, and pumpkin seed oil to improve insulin regulation in diabetic animals. Further pumpkin seeds prevent bad effects of diabetes on kidney function. Decrease in oxidative stress has played a key role in many studies that show benefits of pumpkin seeds for diabetic animals.
Pumpkin seeds and extracts, and pumpkin seed oil are believed to offer anti-microbial benefits including anti-fungal and anti-viral properties. The lignans in pumpkin have also been shown to have antimicrobial and especially anti-viral properties. Impact of pumpkin seed proteins and pumpkin seed phytonutrients like lignans on the activity of a messaging molecule called interferon gamma is likely to be involved in the antimicrobial benefits associated with this food.
Since oxidative stress is believed to play a role in the development of some cancers, and pumpkin seeds are unique in their composition of antioxidant nutrients, it's not surprising to see some research based evidence that indicates reduced cancer risk upon its regular consumption. The research focuses on prostate and breast cancers when we talk about pumpkin seed intake, and much of that attention has been limited to the lignan content of pumpkin seeds.
Pumpkin seed oil and extracts are usually used in treating Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia (BPH). BPH is a health problem that involves non-cancer enlargement of the prostate gland, and it usually affects the middle-aged and older men in the U.S. Studies show that various nutrients in the pumpkin seeds show beneficial effects on BPH, and have phytosterols, lignans, and zinc. Further, research on phytosterols holds great value, and it focuses on three phytosterols found in pumpkin seeds namely beta-sitosterol, sitostanol, and avenasterol. The phytosterols campesterol, stigmasterol, and campestanol have also been found in pumpkin seeds in some studies.
Pumpkin seeds are one of the best sources of plant-based omega-3s. We all need ALA; however, ALA should be converted by our body into the far more essential omega-3 fats EPA and DHA. So, while pumpkin seeds are an excellent source of ALA, it is essential to get some of our omega-3 fats from animal sources, such as krill oil, as well.
Pumpkin seeds are considered good for men's health. This is because they have more zinc content, which is important for prostate health where it is found in the highest concentration in the body. Further, pumpkin seed oil and extracts help in treating benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH, or enlarged prostate). Research suggests that both pumpkin seeds and oil may be helpful in supporting prostate health. Further, Pumpkin seeds help improve sperm quality and fertility in men.
Pumpkin seed oil is rich in natural phytoestrogens and studies suggest it may lead to a significant increase in good 'HDL' cholesterol along with decrease in blood pressure, hot flashes, headaches, joint pains and other menopausal symptoms in postmenopausal women.
Pumpkin seeds have anti-oxidants and fibers. They also have healthy fats, and may provide benefits for heart and liver health, particularly when mixed with flax seeds.
Serotonin, the rest hormone of the human body induces the feeling of well-being. Pumpkin seed oil contains tryptophan. Tryptophan is easily broken down to serotonin in the human body. Thus, it induces peaceful sleep. Subsequently, pumpkin seed oil is an amazing therapy for people suffering from depression, anxiety and sleeplessness. Our body converts Tryptophan into serotonin, which in turn is converted into melatonin, the 'sleep hormone.' Eating pumpkin seeds a few hours before bed may be especially beneficial in providing body the tryptophan needed for melatonin and serotonin production to help promote a restful night's sleep.
Pumpkin seed oil has been found to exhibit anti-inflammatory effects. One animal study found it worked as an anti-inflammatory drug in treating arthritis, but without the side effects.
Pumpkin seeds are very good for skin care. They moisturize skin. The zinc in them fights acne and reduces the redness with its anti-inflammatory properties. With the vitamin A, they help to heal wound fast. Also, they prevent premature skin aging. They lower the risks of skin cancer. Besides skin, the nutrients like L-lysine, iron and omega 3 fatty acids improve hair growth and quality. They stop hair fall, prevent dandruff and keep hair healthy.
Since pumpkin seeds are highly portable and require no refrigeration, they make an excellent snack to keep with us whenever we're on the go, or they can be used as a quick anytime snack at home, too. While roasted pumpkins seeds are probably best known for their role as a perennial Halloween treat, these seeds are so delicious and nutritious that they can be enjoyed throughout the year. In many food markets, pepitas are available in different forms—raw and shelled, raw and unshelled, roasted and shelled, roasted and unshelled.
Though pumpkin seeds have no side effects, some people do face issues such as stomach pain. These are not recommended for infants, and pregnant and breastfeeding women. Some people also sometimes get allergy. Some even gain weight. These are also risky for low blood pressure.