Updated: Oct 20
Pumpkin season is officially upon us! As you cozy up with your pumpkin-spiced lattes and creamy pumpkin soups, don’t forget about another key nutritional component in pumpkins this fall season: pumpkin seeds! Pumpkin seeds can often be overlooked when carving jack-o'-lanterns or walking down the grocery aisles, but these nutrient-dense seeds are packed with so many health benefits! Best of all, they can be easily incorporated into your daily diet and enjoyed all year round.
Pumpkin seeds have a long history of nutritional use in many cultures dating back thousands of years. Modern research has shown promising health benefits of pumpkin. See below!
Helping Overall Weight Management
Pumpkin seeds provide dietary fiber that can help overall weight management by increasing satiety and managing appetite. Looking to gain weight, but in a healthy way? Pumpkin seeds can also be used as a calorically-dense snack to promote weight gain in a well-planned diet. Regardless of weight management goals, pumpkin seeds should be consumed in moderation along with a variety of other whole plant-based foods to maintain overall health. The daily recommendation for pumpkin seeds is 1/4 cup to manage weight while providing individuals with ample nutrients.
Promoting Gut Health
Dietary fiber is also vital for a healthy gut. One type of fiber in these seeds acts as a prebiotic, which is food for the bacteria in your gastrointestinal tract (GI tract). One study found that pumpkin seeds were high in a dietary fiber known as fructans, which is more likely to survive in the GI tract and promote a healthy gut. A quarter cup of dried and shelled pumpkin seeds contains 2 grams of fiber. The daily recommendation for dietary fiber for women is a minimum of 25 grams a day. Keep your gut flourishing by incorporating this fiber-fueled seed!
Supporting Heart Health
Pumpkin seeds are packed with minerals such as magnesium, zinc, copper, and selenium. The National Institute (NIH) lists pumpkin seeds as a top source for magnesium with 156 mg in a quarter cup serving, which is 37% of the daily intake value. Magnesium and zinc help maintain normal blood pressure and blood glucose levels. Selenium lowers oxidative stress. Copper supports cellular function. As you can see, a variety of essential nutrients are important for heart health, which is why filling up your plate with a variety of plant-based foods is key!
Helping Regulate Sleep
Magnesium can help regulate sleep, alongside an essential amino acid: tryptophan. Pumpkin seeds have all 9 essential amino acids and are packed with protein. You may have heard of tryptophan during Thanksgiving because of the high levels found in turkey. Well, who needs turkey when you have plenty of plant foods high in tryptophan? (For a plant-centric Thanksgiving celebration, visit this article.) Pumpkin seeds are a great plant-based option that can help you wind down and enjoy the additional nutrient benefits!
Supporting Fertility in Women
Pumpkin seeds have been shown to support fertility in women because of the nutrients found in them. Complex carbohydrates, dietary fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, and zinc are nutrients found in pumpkin seeds. One study reviewed the association nutrition had on fertility and showed positive results due to the stimulation of blood flow to reproductive organs and fluid supply to ovarian follicles supporting egg development.
Reducing the Postmenopausal Risk for Breast Cancer
Women who go through menopause later in life have a higher risk of breast cancer than those who go through menopause earlier in life. Data analysis found that for each year older a woman was when she started going through menopause, breast cancer risk increased by 3%. Regular mammogram screening is essential for early detection. The recommendation for women who have an average risk for breast cancer and discussed past medical histories with their doctor should start annual mammograms at age 40. Women who are at risk and have a significant past medical history should consult with their doctor to determine screening start age and frequency.
While these statistics can lead to some concern, one study found an association between eating pumpkin seeds and a decreased risk of postmenopausal breast cancer. The reason pumpkin seeds showed positive results for reducing the risk of breast cancer was due to the presence of phytoestrogens. There are three types of phytoestrogens including isoflavones, lignans, and coumestans. Pumpkin seeds contain lignans which can be found in seeds and other fiber-rich foods. Research studies have shown a lower risk for postmenopausal breast cancer in women who consumed higher amounts of plant lignans. While these studies hold promising results, future studies are still needed to confirm the exact associations and recommended intake for effectiveness.
Pumpkin seeds may also help protect against several types of cancers because they are high in antioxidants. Antioxidants found in pumpkin seeds include flavonoids, phenolic acids, vitamin E, and vitamin C. These antioxidants reduce inflammation and protect against free radicals in the cells. Free radicals have been associated with health conditions including reducing the risk of cancer. Oxidative stress occurs when there is an increase in free radicals and a decrease in antioxidants in the body, creating inflammation. Damage to DNA in the cells is caused by prolonged oxidative stress and may increase the risk of cancer. These super seeds may add a protective layer to your cells to help reduce the risk of developing cancer.
Tips on How to Eat Pumpkin Seeds
Curious about those little green pumpkin seeds in the supermarket? You may have seen them labeled as “pepitas.” These seeds are pumpkin seeds without their outer shell. They are great for garnishing soups, adding to your favorite granola mix, and blending in your favorite smoothies. You can even make pumpkin seed "milk" by blending one cup of seeds with 3–4 cups of water plus a pinch of salt. Blend and strain the blended seeds before adding them to your favorite cereal.
The white hard-shelled seeds inside the pumpkin that you're carving are the pepitas with their outer shell — which is edible by the way! As you carve your pumpkins this Halloween, make sure to save those seeds (see how to harvest them below!) to enjoy eating them solo or enjoying alongside other foods. A great way to enjoy white pumpkin seeds is to roast them in the oven and enjoy them as is, or with your favorite seasoning or spice. With so many health benefits, you won’t want to skip out on this plant-based snack!
You might be wondering if roasting the seeds will affect the nutrient content, and the short answer is, no – well, at least for phytonutrients, fats, and proteins based on this study. Roasting pumpkin seeds increases total phenols, total flavonoids, and antioxidant properties. Based on the findings, fatty acids were not influenced by temperature and protein availability increased when roasted. The researchers stated that 320℉ (160℃) appeared to be the optimal cooking temperature for roasting pumpkin seeds.
Check out this quick and easy roasted pumpkin seed recipe to enjoy this fall season:
Preheat your oven to 320–350℉.
Collect unshelled seeds from your pumpkin by rinsing the seeds to remove any pumpkin flesh remaining.
Dry the seeds using a tea towel.
Spread the pumpkin seeds on a baking sheet.
Sprinkle them with a little salt, if desired, and any other seasoning you like. I recommend adding a little smoked paprika or cayenne if you like a little kick!
Roast them for 20–25 minutes or until toasty and golden brown. Don’t forget to give them a good toss in between.
Munching on a handful of these pumpkin seeds a day is a delicious and nutritious way to snack. You can keep these roasted pumpkin seeds in an airtight container at room temperature for 2 weeks or in the fridge for 2 months. Enjoy!
Hello everyone! My name is Bruna Sayer. I am graduate student in the Nutrition Coordinated Program at Georgia State University. I am interested in becoming a registered dietitian to help women and their overall health through nutrition. Aside from being a full-time student, I love to explore new restaurants with my husband, play outdoors with our 3 dogs, and practice hot yoga.