By Valerie Ivanova, Food Scientist and Nutritionist
Why was the pumpkin left feeling sad? Because he felt empty inside! On that note, lets dive into pumpkin, and the nutrient-dense seed it contains – the pumpkin seed!
Pumpkin is a staple in every household come Thanksgiving. But often the valuable seeds found inside are scooped out and thrown away.
Pumpkins are a large fruit variety that are characterised by bright orange flesh. They are also known by their Latin name Cucurbita pepo L. (Pumpkin, 2008).
Pumpkin seeds, as the name suggests, are the edible seeds found within the pumpkin fruit. They resemble small, flat, and oval seeds coated by a fibrous white husk. They can be consumed both without or with the husk, raw or toasted, or they can even be ground up into a powder or pressed into pumpkin seed oil.
A Little Bit of History
Pumpkin seeds, or pepitas as they are called in Spanish (meaning the little seed of the squash), draw their origin from The Americas: North America, Central America, and South America (Reilley, 2015). Pumpkin was originally cultivated by Native Americans, who valued pumpkin seeds for their medicinal and nutritious properties.
Even The Aztecs cherished pepitas and The Mayans used the entire pumpkin. Originally, only the flesh was used for cooking. The Mayans incorporated pumpkin into sauces, and the pumpkin seeds were hulled, toasted, then ground up into a sauce.
There are records showing that when The Spaniards came to Yucatán, they were served corn tortillas with pumpkin seed sauce, a dish The Mayans revered as “food for the lords” (Reilley, 2015). This visit spread pumpkin to the rest of the world.
On The Day of The Dead, Calabaza en Tacha is prepared (Reilley, 2015). The name of the dish translates to “candied pumpkin” and it is essentially pumpkin with cane sugar. Unrefined cane sugar is added to a pot containing pumpkin. This is reduced to a dark syrup, after which guava and cinnamon sticks are added. The dessert that forms is a symbol of Mexico’s history and autumn harvest.
How Healthy Are They
Pumpkin seeds are an important plant-based source of healthy fats, proteins, and vitamins and minerals.
They are renowned for the fact that they are rich in zinc, which is contained in the seed itself. Zinc is important for many biological processes in the body, including cell division, immunity, and even sleep!
Whole pumpkin seeds contain a lot of fiber, thanks to their outer husk. Eating pumpkin seeds whole with the shell makes it easy to reach the daily recommended fiber intake of 25-30g from food. Fiber is a non-digestible carbohydrate found only in plant foods. Fiber is important for our digestion because it makes us feel fuller, improves gastric motility, and can even improve “bad” cholesterol levels in our blood and maintain blood sugar at healthy levels.
Pumpkin seeds are an awesome plant-based source of the monounsaturated fatty acid oleic acid and polyunsaturated essential fatty acid linoleic acid.
Oleic acid, also called the omega-9 fatty acid, is usually present in animal and plant fats. In some studies, oleic acid has been shown to reduce CRP –which is an inflammatory factor in our body (Yoneyama et al. 2007). Oleic acid has even been shown to reduce the risk of cancer by decreasing the expression of an oncogene (Menendez & Lupu, 2009).
Linoleic acid, also called the omega-6 fatty acid, is usually found in plant oils such as flaxseed oil, walnut oil, and pumpkin seed oil. Increasing consumption of Linoleic acid has been shown to reduce the event of cardiovascular events and even decrease the risk for cardiovascular disease (Pan et al. 2012).
The following nutritional information is for one cup of pumpkin seeds.
- Vitamin K: 90% of our daily value.
- Pumpkin seeds contain 90% of our daily value of Vitamin K, a vitamin important for blood-clotting.
- Iron: 115% of our daily value
- Magnesium: 185% of our daily value
- Phosphorus: 162% of our daily value
- Zinc: 69% of our daily value
- Copper: 96% of our daily value
- Manganese: 208% of our daily value. Pumpkin seeds have a whopping amount of magnesium and manganese. Double the amount required daily.
- Carbohydrates: 24.6 g
- Protein: 33.9 g
- Fat: 63.3 g
These are just some of the conditions that pumpkin seeds can improve.
- Nocturia: Patients with hyperactive bladders were given pumpkin seed oil in one study for 6-12 weeks (Nishimura et al. 2014). The study concluded that pumpkin seed oil helped alleviate urinary dysfunction in patients with overreactive bladders.
- Reduce inflammation: Pumpkin seeds contain a great deal of antioxidants, such as carotenoids, which are yellow, red, and orange plant pigments. One study showed that these antioxidants eliminate free radicals and inhibit lipoxygenase, an enzyme in our body that breaks down polyunsaturated fatty acids into inflammatory factors (Xanthopoulou et al. 2009).
- May Improve Sleep: Pumpkin seeds are also high in the mineral magnesium. An adequate intake of magnesium has been shown to improve sleep quality, and Magnesium is essential for sleep regulation (Rude et al. 2009).
- Supports Prostate: Pumpkin seed oil is high in polyunsaturated fatty acids, sterols, and tocopherols, all of which have a positive effect on the prostate (Ramak & Mahboubi, 2019). Pumpkin seed oil works as a tonic and relaxes the bladder’s sphincter and inhibits inflammatory factors. All of which helps to decrease the symptoms of an enlarged prostate.
- Helps Maintain Healthy Bones: Pumpkin seeds are a great plant source of magnesium, a mineral that is need for many biological processes in our body to occur. Magnesium supports bone health since it is essential not only for absorption of calcium, but also for its metabolism. One study showed that there was even bone loss and a decrease in bone growth when magnesium deficiency occurred (Rude et al. 2009).