What Are the Health Benefits of Pumpkin Seeds?
For one, they’re packed with protein.
Pumpkin seeds come in several varieties, but you may best recognize them in two forms: the white, puffy, creamy type that comes straight from your jack-o-lantern, and smaller, green ones, known as pepitas, or “little seeds” in Spanish, more often found in nut-free granola bars and whole grain breads. All pepitas are pumpkin seeds, but not all pumpkin seeds are pepitas.
Pepitas come from special varieties of pumpkins – ones that naturally produce pumpkin seeds without a hard, fibrous shell and are often called “hull-less” seeds. Seed pumpkins are packed full of seeds and have less flesh and a thinner rind than a jack-o-lantern pumpkin, which has fewer seeds and a thicker rind with more flesh.
Whichever variety you enjoy, pumpkin seeds make for a reliable snack. And yes, they’re healthy! Here’s a breakdown of all they can do for you.
What Nutrients Are In Pumpkin Seeds?
All seeds are rich in nutrients because they contain all the components to nourish a brand new plant. Pepitas are rich in healthy fats, protein, magnesium, potassium, iron, zinc, copper and a variety of antioxidants.
A one-ounce (about 1/4 cup) serving of pumpkin seeds contains:
- 160 calories
- 9-10 g protein
- 14 g fat
- 3 g carbohydrates
- 2-3 g dietary fiber
- 168 mg magnesium
- 243 mg potassium
- 3 mg iron
- 2 mg zinc
- 0.4 mg copper
- 0.6 mg vitamin E
Pumpkin seeds are packed with 9 grams of protein per serving, compared to about 7 grams in the same amount of almonds (which clocks in at 200 calories).
What Health Benefits Can Pumpkin Seeds Provide?
Rich in Magnesium: The National Institutes of Health list pumpkin seeds as a top source of magnesium. Most Americans don’t get enough magnesium, and getting higher amounts may help with headaches. Magnesium may also improve symptoms of stress and sleep. A serving of pumpkin seeds has about half of the daily value (DV) for magnesium for women and almost half for men.
High in Healthy Fats: Pumpkin seeds contain monounsaturated fatty acids and polyunsaturated fatty acids, including ALA which are the omega-3 fats found in plants. Not as much research has been done on the benefits of ALA as the omega-3 fats in fish, but eating more plant foods with ALA may improve heart health.
Almost a Complete Protein: Pumpkin seeds are packed with protein and even contain all nine essential amino acids to be a complete protein, but they’re usually not technically considered a complete protein because they have very low amounts of amino acids methionine and tryptophan. However, simply eating other nuts and seeds with pumpkin seeds can complete the protein package.
Low in Carbs: Like most other nuts and seeds, pumpkin seeds are low in carbohydrates, with only about 3-4 grams per serving. Unless the pumpkin seeds are flavored, generally all those carbs are dietary fiber. Fiber helps with digestion and a healthy gut.
A Boost of Antioxidants: Like other seeds, pumpkin seeds contain powerful plant phenols. When eaten, these potent antioxidants may help slow the growth of certain cancers. A serving of pepitas has 4 percent of the DV for vitamin E which helps with inflammation. It also has almost 20 percent DV for zinc which may keep the immune system working efficiently.
Help with Diabetes: A few animal studies have examined the connections between eating pumpkin seeds and their effect on blood sugar control. Fats and proteins in pumpkin seeds (and also pumpkin flesh) appear to be helpful against diabetes complications. And, pumpkin seeds are low-carbohydrate, contain good fats, and have substantial protein, aiding in healthful meal planning.
How to Eat Pumpkin Seeds
Pepitas can be used in most ways that nuts are. Plus, they are especially useful for those allergic to nuts. Stir pumpkin seeds into quick breads, muffins, pancakes or bread dough. Mix them into granola and other breakfast cereals including oatmeal. They blend seamlessly into bright green herb pesto. Pepitas can be crushed and become a crunchy coating for chicken, fish, tofu or shrimp. And, of course, they are delicious on their own.
For people who have nut allergies, Pumpkin Seed Butter from 88 Acres is amazing; along with its Dark Chocolate Brownie Protein Bars, which you may have received as an airplane snack, since they’re free of the top eight food allergens. We also like the Chile Lime Top Fox seeds.
You can also give them a try in these recipes:
Serena Ball, MS, RD is a registered dietitian nutritionist, food writer, and mom of five children. She blogs at TeaspoonOfSpice.com and is the author of the best-selling The 30-Minute Mediterranean Diet Cookbook, Easy Everyday Mediterranean Diet Cookbook and the forthcoming The Sustainable Mediterranean Diet Cookbook. Follow her @TspCurry on Twitter and Instagram.