It's a seasonal tradition to carve pumpkins in October and the majority of us scoop out and throw away that stringy inner goop without a second thought. Well, when the season rolls around this year, think twice! Inside that icky orange mess are gems of nutrition— the pumpkin seeds! These guys are anything but garbage. They are loaded with magnesium, vitamin E, copper, protein, antioxidants, fiber and a high zinc content that is especially important for men's health.
While it's fun and easy to roast them while putting the finishing touches on your jack-o-lantern, you surely don't have to wait until October to reap the rewards that these hearty seeds have to offer!
The Top Health Benefits of Pumpkin Seeds
In folk medicine, pumpkin seeds were used to improve health overall and sometimes even to help with preventing kidney stones and as an anti-parasite treatment. Here's how the seeds can best benefit us today:
1. Strengthen Bones
As we age, our bones weaken and that is a big risk to our overall health. Pumpkin seeds have about 17 percent of the recommended daily value for zinc. Zinc is critical for maintaining bone health, according to a Rancho Bernardo Study, which studied the effects of increased zinc levels in men. As the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported, dietary zinc intake and plasma zinc have a positive association with bone mineral density [III].
2. Support the Prostate
Zinc is also highly supportive to prostate health, as the cells within the prostate accumulate more zinc than any other tissue in the body. This mineral, found naturally in pumpkin seeds, had even been found to suppress tumor growth [I].
In a study done in 2006 by the Journal of Medicinal Food, researchers pumped rats full of testosterone and as a result, they developed large prostates. They then fed them the oil extract from pumpkin seed for 21 days. The good news is that the rats given pumpkin seed oil saw a significant reduction in prostate size. Therefore, the study found that the use of this oil can inhibit prostatic hyperplasia [II]
3. Fight Free Radicals
Did you know that pumpkin seeds are one of the best sources of vitamin E? Vitamin E is a super antioxidant that can help to reduce the free radicals within your body that can cause heart disease, stroke and can even make you look older than you are. Vitamin E will change that!
4. Increase Protein Intake
This little seed can be a great source of nutrition for you and especially for those looking for a natural, non-animal source of protein. The pumpkin seed is abundant in many essential amino acids, making it a solid source of protein, ideal for vegans and vegetarians.
5. Lower Cholesterol
If your doctor is on your case about your cholesterol numbers, you may want to ditch those fried foods for pumpkin seeds. In a study done by the Journal of Agricultural Food Chemistry, pumpkin seeds were found to have as much phytosterol content as pistachio nuts and sunflower seeds, which has been found to help to lower your cholesterol numbers [IV].
6. Support the Heart
Pumpkin seeds are rich in plant-based omega-3 fats (ALA) to reduce inflammation, and magnesium to assist your heart's basic functioning. One quarter cup of seeds provides about half of you daily need for magnesium which helps to regulate blood pressure, relax blood vessels and balance your fluids. These benefits help to prevent the risk of heart attack and stroke.
Ways to Include Pumpkin Seeds in Your Diet
You can eat pumpkin seeds either raw and still in their shells (the white variety), or shelled (the green type). While both are high in fiber, the raw seeds are definitely more so, and are chewy and potentially slightly more difficult to digest for some folks with digestive troubles. However, the whole seed (with the shell) does provide about 25 percent more zinc than the shelled version.
If you choose to roast the raw seeds at home, after pumpkin carving, clean the seeds of any pulp, then toss with a bit of olive oil and sea salt. Roast, single-layer, on a baking sheet at 250 degrees for about 20 minutes. Super easy and delicious!
You can find both the whole and shelled versions in most supermarkets or the bulk bins in health food stores. The green shelled versions are great to toss into granola, on top of yogurt, on salads, or anything else your heart desires!
What foods might you top with these little nuggets of goodness?
[I] Franklin RB, Costello LC. "Zinc as an anti-tumor agent in prostate cancer and in other cancers." Arch Biochem Biophys. 2007 Jul 15;463(2):211-7. Web. July. 2016. <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17400177>.
[II] Gossell-Williams M, Davis A, O'Connor N. "Inhibition of testosterone-induced hyperplasia of the prostate of sprague-dawley rats by pumpkin seed oil". J Med Food. 2006 Summer;9(2):284-6. Web. July. 2016. <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16822218>.
[III] Hyun T, Barrett-Connor E, Milne D. "Zinc intakes and plasma concentrations in men with osteoporosis: the Rancho Bernardo Study". Am J Clin Nutr, September 2004. vol. 80 no. 3 715-721. Web. July. 2016. <http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/80/3/715.abstract>.
[IV] Phillips KM, Ruggio DM, Ashraf-Khorassani M. "Phytosterol composition of nuts and seeds commonly consumed in the United States." J Agric Food Chem. 2005 Nov 30;53(24):9436-45. Web. July. 2016. <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16302759>.