The adage “Great things come in small packages” holds very true for pumpkin seeds.
[pullquote] 100 g whole (unshelled), roasted, unsalted pumpkin seeds contains:
- 446 Calories
- 18.55 g protein
- 19.4 g fat
- 53.75 g carbs
- 73% dietary fiber (DV)
- 65% magnesium (DV)
- 68% zinc (DV)1[/pullquote]
Pumpkin seeds, also called pepitas, are flat oval green seeds covered by a whitish yellow external shell. The seed with the shell is edible and can do you a world of good. Pumpkin seeds have been used in folk medicine to treat kidney, bladder, and prostate disorders for centuries now.
Pleasing to the palate, especially when roasted, you probably don’t need much convincing to eat more pumpkin seeds. However, we hope the following benefits of pumpkin seeds will give you the nudge you need.
1. Supplies A Mixed Bag Of Antioxidants
Antioxidants protect our cells from free radical damage and, thus, inhibit inflammation. As many diseases involve some or the other form of inflammation, pumpkin seeds can prove themselves more than just worthy.
Pumpkin seeds are a mixed bag of antioxidants – vitamin E, phenolic compounds, zinc – which, fortunately, happen to work in our favor as opposed to only one type. For instance, pumpkin seed extracts can inhibit the oxidation-promoting enzyme lipoxygenase, something which phenolic acids alone cannot do.
Roasted pumpkin seeds contain different forms of vitamin E – alpha-tocopherol, gamma-tocopherol, delta-tocopherol, alpha-tocomonoenol, and gamma-tocomonoenol – which may be more beneficial to us health-wise than one form alone.2 So, though its alpha-tocopherol content may not be significantly high, the combined supply of different forms of the vitamin make it a good and, more importantly, effective source of vitamin E.
2. Supports Heart Health
Pumpkin seeds are well endowed with arginine.3 L- arginine prevents arterial thickening and plaque formation, while also lowering blood pressure – indicators of a well-protected heart.
One hypothesis is that pumpkin seed oil generates nitric oxide, a vasodilator.4 By encouraging blood vessels to expand, it may prevent blood clots from forming and blood pressure from skyrocketing.
Pumpkin seeds also lower total cholesterol and LDL-cholesterol, additional threats to the heart.5 6 As existing research involves rats and postmenopausal women only, more expansive research is required to make sense of how exactly pumpkin seeds alter cholesterol levels. It is possibly due to its essential fatty acid content.7
3. Keeps Diabetes In Check
Preliminary studies showed that pumpkin seeds possess blood sugar lowering properties. The compounds trigonelline, nicotinic acid, and D-chiro-inositol in pumpkin seeds may be responsible for its glycemic control.8 Pumpkin seeds can, thus, be used as a convenient, economical tool to keep blood sugar levels in check in diabetics.
4. Retards Skin Aging
Pumpkin seeds are a rich source of essential fatty acids – omega-3s and omega-6s – that our bodies need but cannot manufacture themselves.9 The more omega-6 or linoleic acid you ingest, the lesser likely is it for your skin to dry out or get damaged by the sun. Pumpkin seeds, thus, show potential in stalling the process of aging.
5. Controls Hair Loss
Affecting 7 in 10 men, particularly older than 50, androgenetic alopecia (common baldness) continues to be an aesthetic worry in society.10
In one study, 400 mg of pumpkin seed oil capsules were consumed daily by 76 men suffering from common baldness. At the end of 6 months, hair growth had increased by an extra 30% in comparison to the control group.
This is possibly due to the effect of phytosterols, the equivalent of human cholesterol in plant cell membranes. Phytosterols inhibit the enzyme 5α-reductase in hair follicles.
6. Promotes Sleep
Pumpkins are a rich source of tryptophan, zinc, and magnesium – all of which improve sleep.
- Tryptophan: Consuming about 1 gm of tryptophan a day may help you fall asleep faster and better.11 To obtain this dosage of tryptophan, you would have to eat about 200 gm (or 7 oz) of pumpkin seeds daily.
- Zinc: Each seed contains about 10% zinc. Zinc facilitates the conversion of tryptophan to serotonin to melatonin, the sleep hormone.12 13
- Magnesium: Magnesium plays a role in the cell signaling pathways involved in the sleep-wake cycle. In support of this finding, previous studies have proved that magnesium supplements can benefit insomniacs.14 Fortunately enough, pumpkin seeds are a good source of magnesium, too.
7. Relieves Arthritic Pain
Pumpkin seed oil supplements reduce inflammation caused by arthritis in rats.15 The powerful mix of antioxidants probably plays a key role. While clinical trials are pending, it is safe to test and see if pumpkin seeds can relieve you of your arthritic pain.
8. Improves Sperm Quality
Azothiopine is a drug used to suppress the immune system in patients who have undergone organ transplants or who have autoimmune diseases. It can adversely affect sperm count and cause abnormalities in sperm cells.
One study on mice proposes that pumpkin seed oil can be used to counteract azothiopine-induced sperm damage.16 Pumpkin seed oil may improve sperm quality and sperm count.
Low concentrations of zinc in semen have been associated with low-quality sperm and infertility, while the reverse is true for high concentrations of seminal zinc.17 Now knowing that pumpkin seeds are a good source of zinc, we can imagine the positive effects on sperms. Couples trying to conceive may want to consider increasing their pumpkin seed intake.
9. Improves Urinary Function
- Controls An Overactive Bladder: In one study, 10 gm of an extract of pumpkin seed oil was consumed by 45 individuals with an overactive bladder daily for about 3 months.18 A significant improvement in urinary function was observed. Pumpkin seeds, thus, show promise in the treatment of overactive bladders.
- Treats Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia (BPH): BPH is a condition where a man has difficulty urinating because of an enlarged prostate gland. A year-long study was conducted that required men suffering from BPH to consume 320 mg of pumpkin seed oil daily.19 The symptoms of BPH improved and the test subjects reported a better quality of life within the first quarter of the year itself.
Pumpkin seed oil inhibits the enzyme 5-α-reductase which converts testosterone into DHT (dihydrotestosterone), inhibiting unregulated proliferation of prostate tissue.
10. Lowers Risks Of Certain Cancers
Extracts from pumpkin seeds inhibit the growth of prostate, breast, stomach, and colon tumors.20
Diets rich in pumpkin seeds can reduce the risk of breast cancer in postmenopausal women.21 This is most likely due to the plant chemicals called lignans in pumpkin seeds.22 This effect may be exploited in the future to even treat breast cancer.
Most studies on the effects of pumpkin seeds on cancer have focused on prostate and breast cancer alone. They also restrict the experiments to lignans, ignoring other potential key players. There is huge scope for future studies by shifting focus to include other types of cancers and antioxidants as well.
11. Eliminates Intestinal Parasites
Pumpkin seeds have been traditionally used in the treatment of intestinal worms. Adding a basis to this belief, a study showed that pumpkin seed extracts possess compounds – cucurbitine, fatty acids, berberine, and palmatine –that adversely affect worm egg hatching, larval development, and adult worm motility.23
So, though pumpkin seeds may not outright kill intestinal worms, they can paralyze them. The worms are deterred from latching on to the intestinal wall during bowel movement, facilitating their evacuation from the body. This information is of immense value as parasites continue to become immune to synthetic anti-parasitic drugs.
12. Reduces Menopause Symptoms
In addition to reducing the risks of breast cancer in postmenopausal women, pumpkin seed oil also decreases the severity of menopause symptoms.24 Women hitting menopause may have less severe hot flushes, fewer headaches, and less joint pain. This is bound to make a positive impact on their quality of life.
13. Encourages Weight Loss
There are no direct proven benefits of pumpkin seeds for weight loss. However, its high fiber content (18%) can curb hunger, helping in appetite control in your weight loss journey. Its nutrient reserves will also ensure your body is fit enough to exercise and survive intense workouts.
How To Consume Pumpkin Seeds
[pullquote]While there are no known or recorded side effects of pumpkin seeds, exercise caution if you are on blood sugar lowering medications. Discuss it with your doctor.[/pullquote]
Dry the seeds: The next time you eat pumpkin, don’t throw away the seeds. Instead, separate them from the pulp. Use a paper towel to wipe away pulp that clings to the seeds. Place the seeds on a paper towel to dry overnight.
You may refrigerate the dried seeds in an airtight container for a couple of months, though beyond 2 months the seeds lose their freshness.
Alternatively, you may buy readily available dry, unshelled, pumpkin seeds. It is better to opt for organic seeds to minimize pesticide exposure.
The endosperm envelope, beneath and sticking to the shell of a pumpkin seed, contains a good amount of zinc. Though the shell doesn’t contain significant amounts of zinc, it is best to eat unshelled seeds to obtain the mineral. Often, while removing the shell, the zinc-containing endosperm gets removed as well.
Don’t salt them: While there is no hard-and-fast rule that you must not salt pumpkin seeds, it’s best you avoid it. This will ensure you don’t overshoot your recommended sodium intake as these seeds can be quite addictive.
Roast them: Like all nuts and seeds, pumpkin seeds too contain antinutrients that interfere with the bioavailability of nutrients.25 Heat dried, raw, unshelled pumpkin seeds in an oven to increase antioxidant bioavailability.26 Roast them for no more than 15–20 minutes. Beyond 20 minutes undesirable changes in the fat content of pumpkin seeds occur.
Alternatively, you may soak or sprout the seeds before consumption to make sure your body can make most of its nutrients.
Add them to your meals: If you don’t want to eat pumpkin seeds plain, sprinkle them over your salads and meals, or mix them into your smoothies or cereals.
As most experiments on pumpkin seeds use extracts of pumpkin seed oil, you may be wondering whether the oil is more effective than the seeds themselves. Pumpkin seeds are almost 50% oil, so they can provide you all of the above benefits just like the oil.27 Also, procurement of pumpkin seed oil may be more challenging than raw seeds. Give the seeds a try and see if they do as promised.
|↑1||National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 28. United States Department of Agriculture.|
|↑2||Butinar, Bojan, Milena Bučar-Miklavčič, Carlo Mariani, and Peter Raspor. “New vitamin E isomers (gamma-tocomonoenol and alpha-tocomonoenol) in seeds, roasted seeds and roasted seed oil from the Slovenian pumpkin variety ‘Slovenska golica’.” Food chemistry 128, no. 2 (2011): 505-512.|
|↑3||Abuelgassim, Abuelgassim O., and Showayman IA Al-Showayman. “The Effect of Pumpkin (Cucurbita pepo L) Seeds and L-Arginine Supplementation on Serum Lipid Concentrations in Atherogenic Rats.” African Journal of Traditional, Complementary and Alternative Medicines 9, no. 1 (2012): 131-137.|
|↑4||El-Mosallamy, Aliaa EMK, Amany A. Sleem, Omar ME Abdel-Salam, Nermeen Shaffie, and Sanaa A. Kenawy. “Antihypertensive and cardioprotective effects of pumpkin seed oil.” Journal of medicinal food 15, no. 2 (2012): 180-189.|
|↑5||.Abuelgassim, Abuelgassim O., and Showayman IA Al-Showayman. “The Effect of Pumpkin (Cucurbita pepo L) Seeds and L-Arginine Supplementation on Serum Lipid Concentrations in Atherogenic Rats.” African Journal of Traditional, Complementary and Alternative Medicines 9, no. 1 (2012): 131-137.|
|↑6||Gossell-Williams, M., C. Hyde, T. Hunter, D. Simms-Stewart, H. Fletcher, D. McGrowder, and C. A. Walters. “Improvement in HDL cholesterol in postmenopausal women supplemented with pumpkin seed oil: pilot study.” Climacteric 14, no. 5 (2011): 558-564.|
|↑7, ↑9||Schagen, Silke K., Vasiliki A. Zampeli, Evgenia Makrantonaki, and Christos C. Zouboulis. “Discovering the link between nutrition and skin aging.” Dermato-endocrinology 4, no. 3 (2012): 298-307.|
|↑8||Adams, Gary G., Shahwar Imran, Sheng Wang, Abubaker Mohammad, M. Samil Kok, David A. Gray, Guy A. Channell, and Stephen E. Harding. “The hypoglycemic effect of pumpkin seeds, Trigonelline (TRG), Nicotinic acid (NA), and D-Chiro-inositol (DCI) in controlling glycemic levels in diabetes mellitus.” Critical reviews in food science and nutrition 54, no. 10 (2014): 1322-1329.|
|↑10||Cho, Young Hye, Sang Yeoup Lee, Dong Wook Jeong, Eun Jung Choi, Yun Jin Kim, Jeong Gyu Lee, Yu Hyeon Yi, and Hyeong Soo Cha. “Effect of pumpkin seed oil on hair growth in men with androgenetic alopecia: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial.” Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine 2014 (2014).|
|↑11||Halson, Shona L. “Sleep in elite athletes and nutritional interventions to enhance sleep.” Sports Medicine 44, no. 1 (2014): 13-23.|
|↑12||Peuhkuri, Katri, Nora Sihvola, and Riitta Korpela. “Dietary factors and fluctuating levels of melatonin.” Food & nutrition research 56 (2012).|
|↑13||Kemper, Kathi J., and Scott Shannon. “Complementary and alternative medicine therapies to promote healthy moods.” Pediatric Clinics of North America 54, no. 6 (2007): 901-926.|
|↑14||Abbasi, Behnood, Masud Kimiagar, Khosro Sadeghniiat, Minoo M. Shirazi, Mehdi Hedayati, and Bahram Rashidkhani. “The effect of magnesium supplementation on primary insomnia in elderly: a double blind placebo-controlled clinical trial.” Journal of Research in Medical Sciences 17, no. 12 (2012).|
|↑15||Fahim, Atef T., Amal A. Abd-El Fattah, Azza M. Agha, and Mohamed Z. Gad. “Effect of pumpkin-seed oil on the level of free radical scavengers induced during adjuvant-arthritis in rats.” Pharmacological research 31, no. 1 (1995): 73-79.|
|↑16||Elfiky, S. A., I. A. Elelaimy, A. M. Hassan, H. M. Ibrahim, and R. I. Elsayad. “Protective effect of pumpkin seed oil against genotoxicity induced by azathioprine.” The Journal of Basic & Applied Zoology 65, no. 5 (2012): 289-298.|
|↑17||Colagar, Abasalt Hosseinzadeh, Eisa Tahmasbpour Marzony, and Mohammad Javad Chaichi. “Zinc levels in seminal plasma are associated with sperm quality in fertile and infertile men.” Nutrition Research 29, no. 2 (2009): 82-88.|
|↑18||Nishimura, Mie, Tatsuya Ohkawara, Hiroji Sato, Hiroshi Takeda, and Jun Nishihira. “Pumpkin seed oil extracted from Cucurbita maxima improves urinary disorder in human overactive bladder.” Journal of traditional and complementary medicine 4, no. 1 (2014): 72-74.|
|↑19||Hong, Heeok, Chun-Soo Kim, and Sungho Maeng. “Effects of pumpkin seed oil and saw palmetto oil in Korean men with symptomatic benign prostatic hyperplasia.” Nutrition research and practice 3, no. 4 (2009): 323-327.|
|↑20||Medjakovic, Svjetlana, Stefanie Hobiger, Karin Ardjomand-Woelkart, Franz Bucar, and Alois Jungbauer. “Pumpkin seed extract: Cell growth inhibition of hyperplastic and cancer cells, independent of steroid hormone receptors.” Fitoterapia 110 (2016): 150-156.|
|↑21||Zaineddin, Aida Karina, Katharina Buck, Alina Vrieling, Judith Heinz, Dieter Flesch-Janys, Jakob Linseisen, and Jenny Chang-Claude. “The association between dietary lignans, phytoestrogen-rich foods, and fiber intake and postmenopausal breast cancer risk: a German case-control study.” Nutrition and cancer 64, no. 5 (2012): 652-665.|
|↑22||Richter, Dagmar, Sibylle Abarzua, Mareike Chrobak, Thomas Vrekoussis, Tobias Weissenbacher, Christina Kuhn, Sandra Schulze et al. “Effects of phytoestrogen extracts isolated from pumpkin seeds on estradiol production and ER/PR expression in breast cancer and trophoblast tumor cells.” Nutrition and cancer 65, no. 5 (2013): 739-745.|
|↑23||Grzybek, Maciej, Wirginia Kukula-Koch, Aneta Strachecka, Aleksandra Jaworska, Andrew M. Phiri, Jerzy Paleolog, and Krzysztof Tomczuk. “Evaluation of Anthelmintic Activity and Composition of Pumpkin (Cucurbita pepo L.) Seed Extracts—In Vitro and in Vivo Studies.” International Journal of Molecular Sciences 17, no. 9 (2016): 1456.|
|↑24||Gossell-Williams, M., C. Hyde, T. Hunter, D. Simms-Stewart, H. Fletcher, D. McGrowder, and C. A. Walters. “Improvement in HDL cholesterol in postmenopausal women supplemented with pumpkin seed oil: pilot study.” Climacteric 14, no. 5 (2011): 558-564.|
|↑25||Ertaş, Nilgün, and Nermin Bilgiçli. “Effect of different debittering processes on mineral and phytic acid content of lupin (Lupinus albus L.) seeds.” Journal of food science and technology 51, no. 11 (2014): 3348-3354.|
|↑26||Saavedra, M. J., A. Aires, C. Dias, J. A. Almeida, M. C. B. M. De Vasconcelos, P. Santos, and E. A. Rosa. “Evaluation of the potential of squash pumpkin by-products (seeds and shell) as sources of antioxidant and bioactive compounds.” Journal of food science and technology 52, no. 2 (2015): 1008-1015.|
|↑27||Murkovic, M., A. Hillebrand, J. Winkler, E. Leitner, and W. Pfannhauser. “Variability of fatty acid content in pumpkin seeds (Cucurbita pepo L.).” Zeitschrift für Lebensmittel-Untersuchung und Forschung 203, no. 3 (1996): 216-219.|