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Next Halloween season, when you’re carving out your pumpkins (if you’re awesome and old-school like that), please hold on to those precious raw pumpkin seeds and put them to good use. Dry pumpkin seeds have a very long shelf-life, and researchers have found that protein levels in the seed are actually more potent after a few months of storage. The seeds have a ton of nutritional value and offer great taste, so they’re a total pantry staple for me. Give em’ a chance, and I’m sure they can become one for you!
What are Pumpkin Seeds? Where do Pumpkin Seeds Come from?
Pumpkin seeds are exactly what they sound like; seeds found in the center of a pumpkin. They’re edible, flat, oval seeds with a cream colored soft shell and a green center. You can eat the shell, but they’re tough and very chewy, so you may want to just stick to the green part. Pumpkin seeds are very popular in Latin American countries and in the Southwestern region of America. Not surprisingly, they are commonly referred to as Pepita (from pepita de Calabaza which means the little seed of squash in Spanish.) The pumpkins themselves are primarily grown in North America.
The Nutritional Value of Pumpkin Seeds
Pumpkin seeds are a good source of zinc, magnesium, manganese, dietary fiber, potassium, Omega 3 (ALA), Omega 6, selenium, amino acids, B-complex vitamins (such as riboflavin, folate, and pantothenic acid,) antioxidants (like Vitamin C and Vitamin E) and proteins (there’s a whopping 30 gr of protein in 100 gr of seeds).
The Health Benefits of Pumpkin Seeds
There are a myriad of health benefits to be gained from all of that nutritional goodness. The high concentration of zinc in pumpkin seeds benefits the immune system, helps regulate insulin levels, helps energize the metabolism, calms the skin for sufferers of acne, psoriasis and other skin conditions, reduces stress levels, and improves prostate health. The average modern diet is filled with hyper-processed foods, saturated fats, white sugar, and other components that result in excess acidity levels in the body. One way to balance your pH levels is to eat foods with high levels of alkalinity. Pumpkin seeds are highly alkalizing.
The antioxidants and cholesterol improving capabilities of pumpkin seeds make them a powerful liver protector and cleanser. Liver health is often neglected by people aiming to lead a healthier lifestyle, but holistic doctors place a great amount of importance and emphasis on liver health. This is because a less-than-optimally functioning liver can lead to toxins building up dangerously in the body, which will inevitably cause problems.
Tryptophan, an amino acid found in pumpkin seeds, is a building block that the body needs to produce serotonin. Serotonin balances and improves mood, and depression is often caused by a serotonin deficiency. Tryptophan also increases melatonin levels in the body AND serotonin can be converted into melatonin in the body. Basically, that’s a nice amount of melatonin, so pumpkin seeds can be used as a natural method to treat insomnia and help you get peaceful, uninterrupted sleep. Nutritional Neuroscience actually published a study suggesting that eating a carbohydrate (like a fruit) and tryptophan before bed can be just as effective for a good night’s sleep as pharmaceutical insomnia medications. Stress, anxiety and irritability can also be improved by the presence of amino acid glutamate, so these little seeds can do a lot in terms of mental stability and well-being.
Magnesium is a mineral that takes part in over 300 enzyme systems in the body, affecting everything from energy levels to heart health. It can help regulate blood pressure, increase bone and tooth density and strength, and promote healthy immune system function. Pumpkin seeds contain magnesium as well as selenium, which also help the immune system and can improve cognitive function. It’s a highly digestible protein source – you can even find protein powders containing ground pumpkin seeds!
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What is Pumpkin Seed Oil?
Oil extracted from pumpkin seeds is perfect for enhancing nutrition and flavor in salads, soups and even desserts (pour some on top of vanilla ice cream or pie to add a complex, nutty flavor.) It’s a major exporting asset of Central European countries where it is known as a delicacy. This oil has a low smoke point, and cooking it ruins it as a source of essential fatty acids so it should not be used for frying. Pumpkin Seed Oil is more suited for salad dressing – it tastes amazing when combined with some honey or apple cider vinegar.
Health Benefits of Pumpkin Seed Oil
Pumpkin Seed Oil is an amazing source of polyunsaturated fats. The oil contains most of the benefits offered by the seeds themselves, and is also an anti-inflammatory. A placebo-controlled study proved that the oil fights hair loss – especially in men. Many women have found that pumpkin seed oil reduces menopausal symptoms such as headaches and hot flashes. It can also have a positive effect on urinary health and help regulate an overactive bladder. It’s best to find a cold-pressed oil for the most potent nutritional value.
Fun fact: Pumpkin seed oil is dichromatic. The way light passes through the oil is pretty unique, and it appears either red or green depending on the concentration of oil. A thin layer of oil looks green and a thick one will look red.
How to Eat Pumpkin Seeds
There are a few really nice, quick ways to add pumpkin seeds to your diet. Pumpkin seed oil is a great asset because you can add it to smoothies for rich flavor and consistency, add it to yogurt, or use it as a salad dressing. As with most natural ingredients, pumpkin seeds are best consumed raw. Raw pumpkin seeds so good and healthy, but my favorite way to eat the seeds is roasted.
Roasted pumpkin seeds are easy to prepare and great to have around. You can throw them into a homemade trail mix, on top of salad, or just snack on the go. To prepare fresh pumpkin seeds for eating, just rinse them off and dry them completely. Lay them flat on a cookie sheet or baking tray (covered with aluminum foil for easy cleaning) and spice to your liking. I like to brush them with olive oil or melted butter, and spice with sea salt, cayenne pepper, and garlic powder.
To retain as much nutritional value as possible, bake at 160 F for 15-20 minutes max to protect the healthy fats. For a more roasted, crunchy texture, bake for about 30 minutes at 300 F. Butter may not be the healthiest additive, and the higher baking time/temperature isn’t perfect, but it’ll make your pumpkin seeds a golden brown, crispy treat. I’m a big believer in the idea that healthy foods should be thoroughly enjoyed so that you are more likely to instinctively and consistently make healthy choices instead of viewing healthy eating as a chore.
Roasted half of these pumpkin seeds in melted butter, cinnamon and sugar and half in melted butter and lawry's. Tossed them together and holy craaaaaaaaaap. To make: Toss pumpkin seeds in butter and whatever seasoning and spread onto a foil-lined and greased baking sheet – thin layer. Roast at 350 for 20-30 mins, giving a good toss halfway through. They burn out of fucking NOWHERE so be sure to keep your eyes (and nose) open. Xx
Now that we’ve gotten all pumped up about pumpkin seeds, let’s take it down one notch. Pumpkin seeds are very high in Omega-6 fatty acids, which are good for the body but only needed in small amounts and found in a lot of other foods you’re probably eating. The seeds are also very calorically-dense. Please don’t be deterred from reaping the amazing benefits of these seeds, but try not to go overboard with portion size.
Pumpkin seeds are a real game changer. With their far-reaching beneficial effects, the seeds are capable of improving health and bodily functioning in a large number of ways. As they continue to grow in popularity, pumpkin seeds have become easier to find, so incorporating these seeds into your diet is affordable and accessible – no more excuses! Lastly, pumpkin seeds make the tastiest snack – everyone loves enjoying snacks that are nutritious and delicious.