Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Save Those Seeds! The Amazing Health Benefits of Pumpkin Seeds

When you’re making pumpkin pie for the holidays, don’t toss the seeds.  Popping roasted pumpkin seeds in your mouth is not only an irresistible crunchy-munchy treat but will also treat your body with a health boost!

Pumpkin seeds

The health benefits of pumpkin seeds

Packed inside the pumpkin seed, or pepitas, you’ll find a cornucopia of goodness for your health, including:
  • Immune system boosters – pumpkin seeds are a a mega-source of zinc. In the shell and roasted, you’ll get about 10 milligrams in just 3.5 ounces.  Keeping you safe from illnesses, such as colds and flu, is a prime benefit of zinc, along with aiding the growth of cells, and regulates insulin levels. The highly bioavailable forms of Vitamin E in the seeds is also a boon to immunity.
  • Diabetes relief –  Some studies using animals show that several forms of pumpkin seeds, including ground, extracts, and pumpkin seed oil help regulate insulin levels by decreasing oxidative stresses.
  • Improved sleep - Pumpkin seeds do double-duty toward improving your sleep and overall sense of wellbeing.  Not only are pumpkin seeds loading you up on the amino acid tryptophan, which turns into serotonin and then melatonin during digestion, but the zinc content also aids in restfulness and mood.
  • Joint pain relief – If you are one of those who have difficulty trying to reduce joint inflammation with drugs because of their many side effects, try pumpkin seeds, which have been shown in studies to be nearly as effective in arthritis pain relief as common anti-inflammatory drugs, such as indomethacin, but without the side-effects.
  • Heart health boosters – According to World’s Healthiest Foods, just a quarter cup of pumpkin seeds gives you 190.92 mg of magnesium, which puts you half way to your RDA of magnesium.  Magnesium aids in blood pressure regulation by relaxing the blood vessels, as well as reducing the likelihood of a sudden cardiac arrest or stroke.  
  • Relief from male & female issues – There are several pumpkin seed benefits just for men, and others just for women.  For men, the zinc in pumpkin seeds boosts prostate health.  The zinc content also helps men with bone mineral density support. A study reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition involving 400 men over 44 years old identified a clear connection between zinc intake and hip/spine osteoporosis.  For women, studies have shown that pumpkin seed oil, a good source of natural phytoestrogens, appears to elevate good cholesterol (HDLs) while lowering many common menopausal symptoms in postmenopausal women.
Pumpkin seeds are also a great source of healthy Omega 3 fats, fiber, manganese, copper, and phosphorus.

To get the most zinc benefit, eat the whole seed, including the shell.  The endosperm layer between the shell and the seed is high in zinc, but is often compromised when shelling the seeds.

Pumpkin soup with seeds

Pumpkin seed recipes and pumpkin seed preparation

The pumpkin seed can be eaten shelled or unshelled; raw, dehydrated, toasted, or roasted.  If the omega 3 oils are your main reason to eat pumpkin seeds, choose raw, as the heat from roasting can destroy some of the healthy fats.  Your second-best option is the low-temperature cooking of a dehydrator, or low-temperature drying in an oven. 
How to roast pumpkin seeds at home
While you can buy roasted pumpkin seeds in stores, they are easy to prepare yourself, which also lets you choose what does or does not go in the recipe.  Here are the steps for a basic recipe:
  1. Remove seeds from the pumpkin.
  2. Remove any excess pulp by washing them.
  3. Spread the seeds evenly on waxed paper.
  4. Dry the seeds overnight. 
  5. Arrange the dried seeds in a single layer on a baking tray.
  6. Optionally flavor your seeds at this point.  Popular seasoning options for pumpkin seeds include salt and butter,  butter and lemon-pepper seasoning, or butter with garlic salt and Worcester sauce.
  7. Roast the seeds in a preheated oven for about 15 to 20 minutes using a low oven temperature (~75 degrees C).
After you’ve prepared them, keep your pumpkin seeds freshest by storing them in the fridge in an airtight container. They will be at their peak freshness for about four weeks, but remain edible for several months.
Pumpkin seed recipes
Some wonderful pumpkin seed recipes to try out:
To enjoy the benefits of raw pumpkin seeds in a refreshing beverage, here’s a pumpkin seed milk recipe:
  1. Add one cup of pumpkin seeds and five cups of water in a blender.
  2. Blend on high for one minute.
  3. Strain through cheesecloth.
  4. Flavor with a quarter teaspoon of vanilla extract and a little sweetener (Stevia for a low-carb, low-glycemic option, or a tablespoon of maple syrup, agave, or honey).
If you plan to consume the pumpkin seed milk right away, consider substituting some of the water with ice cubes to get that chilled taste.

To learn more about pumpkin seeds, check out this in-depth nutritional profile for pumpkin seeds. To share your favorite pumpkin seed recipes, or to share your tips on pumpkin seed preparation, please use the comments fields below.

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer

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