You’ve probably never given much thought to the nutritional value of the seeds you pull out of your jack-o-lantern each year, but pumpkin seeds are a nutritional heavyweight that offer some amazing benefits. In addition to their delicious taste, pumpkin seeds are high in antioxidants, fatty acids, magnesium, and zinc, among other nutrients, and are linked to numerous health benefits. You don’t have to be a sous chef to incorporate them into your diet and get all of their nutrients, as whole food supplements offer an excellent way to consume pumpkin seeds and enjoy all of the benefits.
Pumpkin Seeds Nutrients
Pumpkin seeds pack a huge nutritional punch in a small package. The seeds are high in protein and also contain many antioxidants, such as vitamin E and carotenoids, polyunsaturated fatty acids, vitamin B2 (riboflavin), potassium, and folate. They’re also one of the best natural sources of magnesium, which is a nutrient that many people consuming Western diets are lacking (1). The importance of magnesium in our diets is not often discussed, but the reality is that magnesium plays a role in more than 600 chemical reactions in the body. Our bodies use magnesium to control blood pressure, form and maintain healthy bones, reduce the risk of heart disease, and regulate blood sugar levels. Pumpkin seeds are also an excellent source of fiber, particularly when consumed whole. Fiber helps promote good digestive health and can prevent constipation, and high fiber diets are linked to many different health benefits, including a lower risk of obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. Pumpkin seeds are also an excellent source of zinc, which works as an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent in the body and can also help boost metabolism (2). Just one serving of pumpkin seeds accounts for nearly half of the daily recommended intake of zinc.
Pumpkin Seeds Benefits
There are numerous health benefits linked to pumpkin seeds, including a reduced risk of certain types of cancer, improved heart health, improved sperm quality, improved prostate and bladder health, lower blood sugar levels, and improved sleep.
Reduced Cancer Risk
If you’re interested in reducing your risk of contracting colon, breast, prostate, stomach, and lunch cancers, make sure your diet is rich in pumpkin seeds (3). Lignans are a type of plant compound that possesses antioxidant and estrogen properties and can help lower the risk of cancer (4). It is believed that lignans help prevent or slow the growth of cancerous tumors by blocking certain enzymes that are required for hormone metabolism and by stopping the growth and spread of cancerous cells. One study found that postmenopausal women who consumed pumpkin seeds daily were more successful at treating and preventing breast cancer, and another study showed that pumpkin seeds helped to slow the growth of prostate cancer cells (5) (6).
Improved Heart Health
Pumpkin seeds contain many nutrients that contribute to better heart health, including antioxidants, zinc, magnesium, and fatty acids. Pumpkin seeds primarily improve heart health in three ways: reducing high blood pressure, lowering cholesterol levels, and increasing the amount of nitric oxide generated by the body. When taken in conjunction with a cholesterol medication, pumpkin seed oil was found to help reduce total cholesterol levels and improve the aortic contractile response to norepinephrine (7). It is believed that the antioxidant properties of pumpkin seed oil are the reason that it is helpful in reducing blood pressure (8). A study of postmenopausal women concluded that pumpkin seed oil supplements helped to lower diastolic blood pressure readings by 7 percent (the bottom number on a blood pressure reading) and increase the levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, or “good” cholesterol, by 16 percent (9). Finally, pumpkin seed oil also appears to improve the production of nitric oxide in the body. The substance has long been used as a folk remedy for prostatic hypertrophy, but a recent study supports its effectiveness (10). The study found that supplementing the diet with pumpkin seed oil could increase levels of nitric oxide generation, which improves heart health by expanding the blood vessels, reducing plaque growth in the arteries, and improving blood flow.
Improved Sperm Quality
Men who suffer from poor sperm quality or infertility may have their diets partially to blame, as low zinc levels have been associated with both issues (11). Pumpkin seeds are one of the best natural sources of zinc, so they offer a way for men to improve sperm quality naturally, which can in turn benefit fertility levels and improve reproductive function in men. A study conducted on mice showed that the zinc in pumpkin seeds may also help protect sperm against damage that can be caused by radiation, chemotherapy, and autoimmune diseases, but more research is needed to establish a conclusive link (12). The high levels of antioxidants in pumpkin seeds, as well as other nutrients that are present, are also believed to support healthy testosterone levels and benefit overall health.
Improved Prostate and Bladder Health
Men who suffer from benign prostatic hyperplasia, or enlarged prostate, often experience problems with urination that can cause bladder health to suffer. One study showed that consuming pumpkin seeds can improve bladder health and reduce symptoms associated with benign prostatic hyperplasia, while other studies have shown that eating pumpkin seeds each day can improve urinary function in both men and women with overactive bladders (13) (14). While pumpkin seeds don’t offer a cure for overactive bladder or benign prostatic hyperplasia, they can help improve comfort and reduce symptoms in people with these conditions.
Reduced Blood Sugar Levels
People with diabetes and other people who may struggle to control their blood sugar levels can benefit from consuming pumpkin seeds, pumpkin seed powder, pumpkin juice, or pumpkin (15). It is believed that the high magnesium content in pumpkin seeds is responsible for helping to regulate blood sugar levels, as a large study of over 127,000 people found that eating a diet rich in magnesium was linked to a significantly lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes, with men reporting a 33 percent lower risk of developing the condition and women reporting a 34 percent lower risk (16). Pumpkin seeds and pumpkin juice have been shown in multiple studies to specifically lower blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes (17). At this time, there have been no studies that indicate that pumpkin seeds or pumpkin products are helpful in controlling blood sugar levels in type 1 diabetes.
Having trouble getting enough sleep at night? Pumpkin seeds might be able to help. The nutritional powerhouse also is full of tryptophan, which is the same amino acid in turkey that is famous for making us sleepy. Pumpkin seeds can also help improve sleep quality as a result of the high levels of zinc that are present in each serving, as zinc helps the body’s process of converting tryptophan to serotonin, which the body then converts into melatonin. As many people know, melatonin is a hormone in the body that helps regulate the sleep cycle. Finally, the magnesium that is available in pumpkin seeds may also help sleep quality, as studies have shown that people with low magnesium levels experience improved sleep quality and longer total sleep time when taking a magnesium supplement (18).
How to Eat Pumpkin Seeds
Pumpkin seeds can be consumed in a variety of different ways, but it’s best to eat them whole in order to gain the full nutritional benefits that they offer. According to the American Heart Association, whole pumpkin seeds are lower in sodium than those that have been deshelled and also offer more fiber, which helps lower the risk of heart disease and obesity (19). However, even when eaten without the shell, you’ll receive a ton of health benefits from the antioxidants, magnesium, zinc, and fatty acids contained in the seeds. Pumpkin seeds are easy to add to your diet; sprinkling pumpkin seeds onto your soups, cereals, or salads is one popular way to consume them, while other people use pumpkin seeds in baking. If you’re not keen on adding whole pumpkin seeds to your diet manually, you can also take a whole food nutritional supplement that includes pumpkin seeds. Whole food nutritional supplements are a better option than traditional vitamins because the body is better able to absorb the nutrients contained in food, so you’ll get more nutritional benefit.
By the Numbers:
- 79: Percentage of adults in the United States with a magnesium intake below the recommended daily amount (1).
- 42: Percentage of daily magnesium intake contained in a quarter cup of pumpkin seeds (19).
- 100,000: Number of acres of farmland in the U.S. that is used to grow pumpkins (20).
Did You Know:
- China is the number one producer of pumpkins and pumpkin seeds in the world.
- Illinois grows more pumpkins than any other state in the U.S.
- Pumpkins are a type of gourd, along with cantaloupe, cucumber, watermelon, and squash.