6 Health Benefits of Snacking on Pumpkin Seeds

Pepitas for the win!

Until now, your only interaction with pumpkin seeds might be scooping them as you carve a Halloween pumpkin or prepare an epic holiday pie. But you might want to reconsider before you toss those insides into the trash (or compost).

"Pumpkin seeds are one of the foods I categorize almost medicinally because of all their benefits," says Carolyn Brown, M.S., R.D., co-founder of Indigo Wellness Group. Pumpkin seeds (often sold in stores as pepitas) offer a broad and seriously impressive range of health benefits from reducing stress to improving fertility.

As it turns out, pumpkin seeds aren't the only seed that packs a superstar nutritional punch. "Seeds are powerhouses that you can actually grow an entire plant from," explains Brown. "They have so many nutrients, and oftentimes they're even more nutrient-dense than nuts." Intrigued? Keep reading to learn the top health benefits of pumpkin seeds and how you can incorporate them into your diet.

Top Pumpkin Seed Nutrition Facts

01 of 06

Improve Stress, Sleep, and Mood

Pumpkin seeds are an excellent source of magnesium, which Brown calls our "chill-out mineral" because of the important role it plays in regulating our stress response system. "Magnesium helps promote relaxation and deep restorative sleep by maintaining healthy levels of GABA, a neurotransmitter that calms the body and mind," explains Charlotte Martin M.S., RDN, author of The Plant Forward Solution.

Pumpkin seeds also contain tryptophan, an amino acid that helps with sleep. While more research is needed, high-tryptophan foods (like pumpkin seeds) are believed to help remedy depression, according to Amy Shapiro, M.S., R.D., CDN, and founder of Real Nutrition.

02 of 06

Contain Micronutrients and Antioxidants

Magnesium isn't the only nutrient that pumpkin seeds supply. "Pumpkin seeds are a good source of potassium, manganese, iron, zinc, and copper, and one serving can supply 14 to 42 percent of the daily target for these micronutrients," says Shapiro.

These key vitamins and nutrients help with everything from promoting skin and bone health (thank you, manganese and vitamin E) to energy production thanks to iron and copper. Zinc supports vision health and immunity, and potassium aids cardiovascular health.

As if that weren't enough, the mighty seeds also have antioxidants that protect cells from free radicals, according to Shapiro. The World Health Organization (WHO) even announced pumpkin seeds as the best food to eat to obtain zinc and magnesium, which has made their popularity as a healthy snack skyrocket.

03 of 06

Provide a Great Source of Fiber

"Pumpkin seeds have about 2 grams of fiber per 1-ounce serving, which is really important for getting things moving in our bodies," says Brown. The plant-based fiber in pumpkin seeds comes paired with dietary lignans, which help reduce the risk of breast cancer and the growth of prostate cancer.

If high-fiber foods cause you gastrointestinal distress, Shapiro recommends eating shelled varieties (such as pepitas).

04 of 06

Contain Heart-Healthy Fats

"Pumpkin seeds are a good source of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)—the plant-based, unsaturated omega-3 fat that evidence suggests may reduce heart disease risk," says Martin. She explains that the fiber in the seeds may also help lower cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and inflammation, all of which play a role in heart health.

05 of 06

Help With Male Fertility

We already mentioned that pumpkin seeds are a good source of zinc, but there's more to this micronutrient than just immune support. "Zinc is also really important for hormone health, especially for men's hormones and sperm health," explains Brown. "Low zinc levels are associated with lower sperm quality and an increased risk of infertility in men." By including good sources of zinc every day, men can take steps to protect and improve their fertility.

06 of 06

Can Flush Parasites

Parasites might not be something that you've spent much time thinking about, but Brown has seen the number of people with parasites increasing recently, and it's worth mentioning the role that pumpkin seeds can play here. "There's a compound in pumpkin seeds called cucurbitacin that helps get rid of tapeworms and roundworms," she explains.

If you suspect that you have a parasite, you should go to the doctor to confirm, but eating raw pumpkin seeds can help flush the parasites out.

The Best Ways to Eat Pumpkin Seeds

A serving of pumpkin seeds is considered 1 ounce, or a little less than a 1/4 cup. To reap many of the benefits listed above, aim to consume that amount three to four times a week. Listen to your body, though: If you start experiencing gastrointestinal distress, cut your portion size down.

Want to supercharge the health benefits? Brown recommends buying sprouted seeds or sprouting at home, which helps break down and metabolize the fibers and nutrients, making them more available for your body.

Both raw or roasted versions are generally good, but Brown suggests reading ingredient labels well. "If you're going for roasted seeds, either make them yourself at home using a high-quality oil, like avocado, coconut, or olive oil. If you're buying, avoid seeds roasted with vegetable oils and with added sugars."

Wondering how to start to include more of these little wonders into your diet? Shapiro recommends toasting pumpkin seeds in a dry (no oil) saute pan and adding them to salads or soups for an added crunch, or baking them into muffins or crackers. Martin suggests replacing pine nuts in pesto with pumpkin seeds or using them to top a warm bowl of oatmeal. Or, follow Brown's advice to blend them into a seed butter (similar in taste and texture to a sunflower seed butter) or add raw or roasted pumpkin seeds to a trail mix of dried fruit, nuts, and other seeds.

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