Pumpkins are an integral part of the holiday season. From pumpkin carving to sweet pumpkin spice and fresh pumpkin pie, it’s hard to imagine fall without this bright orange fruit. Unfortunately, pumpkin seeds, much like pumpkin seed oil, often get lost in the mix and are frequently discarded or ignored altogether in favor of the vibrant pumpkin pulp.
However, there are many benefits of pumpkin seeds that make them a worthy addition to your diet, both during the holidays and all year round. Pumpkin seeds benefits can include better heart health, improved blood sugar levels, enhanced sleep quality and more.
What Are Pumpkin Seeds?
Did you know that pumpkin seeds were used in many forms of traditional medicine? The pumpkin (Cucurbita maxima Linn.) is a cultivar of the squash plant that is thought to originate in North America thousands of years ago. In fact, archaeologists actually found these seeds in certain areas of Mexico that date back to around 7000 B.C.
They’ve long been prized for both their unique flavor and potent healing properties. For example, indigenous groups in North America often used them for their gut-healing effects as a treatment for parasitic infections and tapeworm symptoms. Meanwhile, Aztec groups used them as both a source of nutrition and a ritual offering for religious ceremonies.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, they are also used to help treat a variety of conditions, such as parasitic infections and stomach pains — plus they’re thought to support lactation in mothers and promote healthy digestion.
What are the benefits of eating pumpkin seeds? They’re a good source of many important nutrients, including
- amino acids
- unsaturated fatty acids
- phenolic compounds
- valuable minerals
Today we know from studies that these valuable seeds contain bioactive compounds that have activities such as anthelmintic, antidiabetic, antidepressant, antioxidant, antitumor and cytoprotective effects.
Pumpkin seed is a highly nutritious ingredient. One ounce (about 28 grams) of dried, hulled pumpkin seeds contains approximately:
- Calories: 163
- Total Carbohydrates: 4.2 g
- Fiber: 1.8 g
- Sugar: 0 g
- Total Fat: 13.9 g
- Saturated Fat: g
- Polyunsaturated Fat: g
- Monounsaturated Fat: g
- Trans Fat: g
- Protein: 8.5 g
- Cholesterol: mg
- Sodium: mg (% DV*)
- Manganese: 0.9 mg (43% DV*)
- Magnesium: 151 mg (38% DV*)
- Phosphorus: 332 mg (33% DV*)
- Iron: 4.2 mg (23% DV*)
- Copper: 0.4 mg (20% DV*)
- Vitamin K: 14.5 mcg (18% DV*)
- Zinc: 2.1 mg (14% DV*)
- Potassium: 228 mg (7% DV*)
*Daily Value: Percentages are based on a diet of 2,000 calories a day.
In addition to the nutrients listed above, pumpkin seed’s nutrition profile also contains a small amount of folate, vitamin B6, thiamine, vitamin A and selenium.
1. Rich in Disease-Fighting Antioxidants
Pumpkin seeds are loaded with antioxidants, which are powerful compounds that can fight free radical formation and protect cells against oxidative stress. Some research also indicates that antioxidants may aid in the prevention of chronic conditions like heart disease, cancer, diabetes and autoimmune disorders.
According to one animal study published in Pharmacological Research, pumpkin seed oil (made from the fat found inside the seeds) was able to reduce inflammation and prevent free radical damage in rats with arthritis.
Another animal study out of South Africa showed that a specific type of protein extracted from pumpkin seed was effective at protecting against liver damage thanks to its powerful antioxidant properties.
2. Boost Heart Health
Because they are a good source of electrolytes, such as magnesium and potassium, plus healthy fatty acids, pumpkin seeds, and pumpkin seed oil in particular, have been shown to boost heart health and help reduce the risk of coronary heart disease in several different ways.
One study found that pumpkin seed oil supplements were able to decrease diastolic blood pressure while increasing levels of beneficial HDL cholesterol in the blood of adults.
3. Stabilize Blood Sugar
One of the top pumpkin seeds benefits is their ability to regulate blood sugar levels, which is important for preventing diabetes symptoms, such as increased thirst, fatigue, frequent urination and nausea.
These seeds are rich in protein and fiber, both of which can slow the absorption of sugar in the bloodstream to promote better blood sugar control. Interestingly enough, a 2011 animal model published in the Journal of Diabetes and Its Complications even reported that combining them with flax not only improved antioxidant status in rats, but was also effective at reducing the risk of diabetes complications.
4. Promote Sleep Quality
Can’t sleep? You may want to consider adding a dose of pumpkin seed to your daily diet. The seeds are a good source of several nutrients that are associated with better sleep quality, including tryptophan and magnesium.
Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that plays a role in the production of “feel good” chemicals in the body, including serotonin, melatonin, niacin and nicotinamide. This explains why tryptophan is well-known for its ability to enhance sleep quality, especially in those with sleep disturbances.
Meanwhile, they’re also a good source of magnesium, an important micronutrient that has been shown to help improve several measures of insomnia, including sleep efficiency, length of sleep and the amount of time that it takes to fall asleep at night.
5. Improve Male Fertility
Some research involving both humans and animals indicates that pumpkin seeds may be especially beneficial for male fertility due to their rich content of phytonutrients, including antioxidants, fatty acids and zinc. Plus, they can promote prostate health.
One 2012 animal model found that supplementing with pumpkin oil was effective at preventing sperm abnormalities and increasing sperm count in rats. Another study showed that pairing the oil with saw palmetto was able to decrease symptoms and improve quality of life in men with benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), a common condition characterized by the enlargement of the prostate gland.
Why are pumpkin seeds also good for females? The fats they provide support reproductive health in both sexes, since the body requires fatty acids to make certain hormones. Plus they have certain phytoestrogen effects that can benefit some women who have low levels of estrogen.
6. Help Fight Cancer Cell Growth
Thanks to its high content of antioxidants, pumpkin seed may help fight the growth and spread of cancer cells to aid in cancer prevention.
Additionally, according to a review published in Food Research International, diets rich in pumpkin seeds have been linked to a lower risk of several types of cancer, including stomach, lung, colorectal and breast cancer.
7. Improve Bladder Function
Pumpkin seeds have been shown to improve symptoms of benign prostatic hyperplasia, a condition that can cause difficulty urinating in men. Not only that, but pumpkin oil may also help improve other aspects of bladder function.
One study showed that it was able to significantly improve symptoms of overactive bladder and correct urinary dysfunction.
Pumpkin Seeds vs. Sunflower Seeds
Without a doubt, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds are two of the most popular varieties enjoyed for their savory flavor and incredible versatility. Both are high in fiber, protein and heart-healthy fats, plus an assortment of essential vitamins and minerals.
However, there are several unique differences between these two power-packed ingredients.
Pumpkin seeds are flat, oval-shaped and light green. They’re also enclosed in a white hull.
Sunflower seeds, on the other hand, are tan and covered by black-striped shells. Both have smooth textures and light, nutty tastes that work well with just about any spice or seasoning.
In terms of nutrition, a single ounce of pumpkin seeds typically supplies a higher amount of protein and a lower amount of calories, fat and fiber. Pumpkin seeds are also richer in magnesium, iron and manganese, while sunflower seeds are a better source of pantothenic acid, folate and copper.
How to Eat
Pumpkin seeds are easy to find at most online retailers and grocery stores. They are typically located in the snack aisle alongside other seeds like sunflower seeds.
If you have difficulty finding them at your local store, you can also look for “pepitas.” Pepitas are the same thing but without the shell.
If possible, purchase raw seeds or those that are roasted without extra oil. Alternatively, you can also go directly to the source and try seeding a pumpkin at home instead.
Studies show that roasting the seeds can actually improve absorption of their antioxidants and make them easier to digest.
After you get your hands on some of these super seeds, you may wonder how to clean pumpkin seeds, how to dry pumpkin seeds and how to prepare pumpkin seeds for eating. If they’re fresh, start by rinsing them with cold water in a colander, and then shake them dry. Avoid using a paper towel or dish cloth to dry them as they may get stuck.
There are plenty of different methods for how to cook pumpkin seeds. Roasting them in the oven is perhaps the most common:
- Spread them in a thin layer on an oiled baking tray, and bake in the oven at 300 degrees Fahrenheit for about 30 minutes.
- Remove from the oven, and toss with olive oil, salt and your choice of seasoning — such as paprika, oregano, cumin or chili powder.
- Place back in the oven, and bake about 20 more minutes, until they’re crispy with a nice golden color.
After roasting them you can enjoy them as a delicious snack; toss them over salads, cereal or yogurt; or mix them into trail mix alongside a variety of other nuts and seeds. You can also enjoy raw pumpkin seeds as a healthy and delicious no-fuss snack that carries the same assortment of health benefits.
Is it okay to eat pumpkin seeds every day? Yes, as long as you tolerate them well and don’t overdo it.
Stick to about a quarter cup per day, since they are relatively high in calories and also have phytoestrogen effects. (Too much every day may contribute to hormone-related symptoms.)
Risks and Side Effects
Can pumpkin seeds be bad for you? Many processed, prepackaged pumpkin seed products are high in sodium or contain additives and extra ingredients that can be harmful for your health.
Select products that are low in sodium with minimal ingredients listed on the label. Better yet, choose raw varieties, or try making them at home yourself.
Additionally, although the shell of the pumpkin seed is edible, it may irritate the stomach and cause digestive issues for some people. It can also be difficult to chew for those with chewing or swallowing difficulties.
If you find that you’re unable to tolerate shelled pumpkin seeds, opt for hulled ones instead. They carry nearly the same nutrient profile and health benefits.
Be sure to keep intake in moderation. Eating large amounts may cause adverse side effects like constipation, gas or bloating.
Additionally, these seeds contain a concentrated amount of calories, so going overboard could potentially contribute to weight gain.
Many people also wonder: Can dogs eat pumpkin seeds? Whether raw or roasted, they can be safely enjoyed by most pups and are sometimes even added to natural dog treat recipes. However, skip the heavily processed or sweetened varieties you might find at the store.
- The pumpkin seed is a delicious type of seed that has been enjoyed around the globe for thousands of years.
- These seeds are a good source of protein and fiber, plus important vitamins and minerals like manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, copper, iron and zinc.
- Thanks to their stellar nutrient content, some of the potential health benefits of pumpkin seeds include better blood sugar levels, improved heart health, enhanced sleep quality, decreased cancer growth and increased urinary function.
- Although more research is needed, consuming them may also reduce symptoms associated with benign prostatic hyperplasia in men and decrees the chances of developing certain types of cancer, such as breast cancer.
- There are plenty of options for how to roast pumpkin seeds, but you can also enjoy them raw or add them to salads, smoothies, cereals or desserts for a nutritious addition to any recipe.