Extremely popular in East and Central European countries, pumpkin seeds rival the healthiest foods on the planet. Not only do they contain 237% of the RDI, recommended daily intake of vitamin E, which prevents skin aging and protects against free radical damage, but they are also an incredible source of minerals such as zinc, magnesium, iron and copper in particular. Only a handful of pumpkin seeds every two days or so can help strengthen the immune system, reduce the frequency and severity of colds and possibly other respiratory infections, manage or even prevent anemia, palpitations and premature hair graying, while providing good amounts of healthy fats and antioxidants.
They are absolutely incredible, cheap and readily available throughout the world. Why eat pumpkin seeds? Because they hold several wonderful and very real health benefits. Pumpkin seeds are what you scoop out of your Halloween decorations every year and discard without knowing how healthy they can be for muscles, bones, metabolism, brain and nervous system health, cardiovascular and immune system as well as mental health.
What do pumpkin seeds look like? They are oval, slightly pointy at one end and rounded at the other. The flat seeds have creamy white shells or hulls with light green kernels inside. The seeds can be eaten whole, both creamy white hulls and light, green, nutty kernels, provided they are more immature and still chewy in texture. However, they are best not eaten whole since the shells or hulls are not digested well and may cause gastrointestinal problems in some people. What do pumpkin seed kernels taste like? The kernels have a slight sweet, pregnant nutty taste and are usually consumed either raw or oil-roasted and salted. Both hulled and unhulled pumpkin seeds are typically available.
Nutrition facts and benefits
While the seeds contain a lot of zinc, the thin peel found between the seed and its hull is said to concentrate most of the mineral. Only a handful of pumpkin seeds eaten every day or every other day can easily replace the best zinc supplements in both quality and quantity. Why is zinc good for us? In addition to strengthening the immune system against disease and infections, zinc helps regulate blood sugar levels and thus may help prevent or even keep diabetes under control.
Also, a diet rich in zinc maintains prostate health and improves fertility in men. It is a well-known fact that diet plays a crucial role in improving fertility in men and pumpkin seeds appear to be one of the best dietary choices alongside sesame seeds, venison and beef. Lastly, zinc contributes to hair and nail health and can help improve acne by preventing breakouts.
Due to their incredibly high mineral content, pumpkin seeds increase bone mineral density and thus can help prevent osteoporosis. Bones are made of minerals such as calcium, phosphorus, magnesium and, depending on how much minerals they contain, they may be either thicker or thinner (a.k.a. more porous, less dense). A poor bone mineral density leads to fractures and osteoporosis.
It is estimated that early 30% of hip fractures occur in men and 1 in 8 people over the age of 50 will suffer a fracture due to osteoporosis. All women over 65 and all men over 70 taking corticosteroids such as prednisone for longer periods of time are at risk of developing osteoporosis due to poor bone mineral density. Similarly, both men and women taking proton pump inhibitors (acid reflux and gastritis medication) are at risk for serious vitamin and mineral deficiencies and frail bones and osteoporosis.
It is important to note that a diet rich in vitamins and minerals will promote bone health and reduce fracture risks considerably, not to mention sky-high medical bills. Zinc-rich foods such as pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds are a must. Other impressive health benefits of pumpkin seeds concern their powerful anti-inflammatory properties. Pumpkin seeds are a potent natural anti-inflammatory food capable of reducing swelling and chronic inflammation caused by arthritis.
Moreover, they appear to significantly reduce blood cholesterol levels due to their high phytosterol content. Pumpkin seeds contain phytosterols, a sort of natural, plant form of cholesterol. Although very similar in structure with the latter, phytosterols appear to efficiently reduce high cholesterol levels, improve the immune system response and may even offer protection against some forms of cancer. However, more evidence is needed to support the anticancer claims. When compared to other nuts and seeds, pumpkin seeds are the most abundant in phytosterols: 265 mg/100 g.
Pumpkin seeds are a great source of fiber: 6.5 g/100 g of roasted kernels. Dietary fiber prevents cholesterol from food from being fully absorbed by the intestines and promotes regular bowel movements. If you have problems with constipation, make sure you get enough fiber on a daily basis and drink sufficient water to help the process along. Whole grains, oat, barley, rye and wheat especially, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, flax seeds, almonds and most nuts are all great sources of dietary fiber. Relieving constipation is one of the most important steps in managing hemorrhoids.
Special polyphenolic substances called lignans are also found in fiber-rich foods. Lignans boast great antioxidant properties and preliminary research indicates they may prove a powerful tool in the battle against some forms of cancer. Because they act similar to the hormone estrogen, lignans appear to reduce the risk of breast and prostate cancer in particular. Although research has yet to provide irrefutable proof, it would appear that prevention by means of a natural, varied diet is the best protection against any disease, cancer included and may even increase survival chances of cancer patients and life expectancy in general.
Because they contain 110% of the RDI of iron, pumpkin seeds are a great natural method of preventing anemia. Consuming them on a regular basis will improve energy levels naturally because of the incredibly high iron content which increases the amount of oxygen transported to tissues. Pumpkin seeds contain about 148% of the RDI of magnesium, a mineral which improves muscle and heart function as well as calcium absorption in bones.
By maintaining strong, healthy bones, magnesium, in combination with other minerals and vitamins such as calcium, zinc, phosphorus and vitamin D can efficiently prevent osteoporosis. Copper, which is also found in great amounts in pumpkin seeds (149%), prevents premature hair graying. Manganese (198%) is a powerful antioxidant. Pumpkin seeds are a great source of vitamin E (237%), protecting the skin against UV damage and premature aging and our lungs from free radicals.
Overall, pumpkin seeds are an excellent source of B vitamins and minerals, fiber and antioxidants and provide a wide range of outstanding health benefits. They can be added to refreshing salads, oatmeal cookies a even ground into burgers for a unique flavor. If you prefer roasted pumpkin seeds to raw ones, remember to never cook them over 20 minutes or else you risk losing much of their nutritional content.