Pumpkin seeds are the edible olive-green seeds produced by pumpkins, a type of squash cultivar. Also known by their Spanish name "pepitas", the pumpkin and its seeds have been utilized for centuries by cultures of North and South America as a dietary food source and for their medicinal attributes.
The pumpkin is believed to be one of the oldest domesticated squash species which occurred about 10,000 years ago in Oaxaca, Mexico. Evidence suggests that squashes like pumpkin were cultivated even before the two sister crops, maize and beans.
Different pumpkin varieties have seeds of varying sizes and textures. Most however have a similar subtly sweet nutty flavor.
As far as the list of nut and seeds goes, pumpkin seeds are not considered a high-risk food allergen. They are also slightly less acidic than other types. Included along with sunflower seed and flax, they are likewise an approved plant-based protein and fat staple when restoring healthy gut bacteria.
The main variety of pumpkin most frequently grown for its seeds is the Cucurbita pepo species, yielding types of winter squash as well as summer squash subspecies. Cucurbita pepo comes from the genus Cucurbita or gourd family, which also includes the major squash plant species like Cucurbita maxima and Cucurbita moschata.
When pumpkins are cut open the seeds are wrapped up in stringy orange pulp but can be easily scooped out and separated.
The actual smooth flat green kernel is enclosed within a thin off-white shell or hull. Commercial seeds are commonly sold with the shell removed.
One of the claimed health benefits of pumpkin seeds is that they contain high amounts of the prostate supporting mineral zinc.
Natural dietary sources of zinc are known to be nourishing to the male prostate, a gland which holds the highest concentrations of zinc in the body. Pumpkin seeds are therefore an often recommended food for men's prostate support, especially for middle-aged males.
Decreased levels of zinc have been associated with increased risk of prostate carcinoma. (*)
Zinc is also a primary "antioxidant nutrient", required for many enzymatic activities as well as assists in a host of other functions such as energy metabolism, immune response, tissue growth and repair.
The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for zinc is 8 mg a day for adult females and 11 mg a day for adult men. This amount however can be lower or higher depending on one's age, diet and health conditions.
It's true that the kernels do contain a greater ratio of zinc than other plant-based sources. About one ounce or 28 grams of raw pumpkin seeds, according to nutritional data, is reported to have about 2.1 mg of zinc or about 14% the Daily Value based on a 2,000 calorie diet.
However, when compared to other nut and seed selections, they are not top on the list for the zinc mineral. We discovered by comparison that hemp seeds are actually much higher in zinc at about 5.0 mg per ounce or about 34% the Daily Value. Sesame seeds also appear to be comparable to pumpkin seeds. (*)
Quality may play an important factor as the amount of zinc in some organic Austrian pumpkin seeds, as listed on Nutrition Fact labels, is about 19% DV per ounce serving, which is closer to that of hemp seeds.
Yes, pumpkin seeds are a relatively good source of zinc, but what they are really high in is magnesium. A one ounce serving of raw pumpkin seeds contains approximately 150 mg of magnesium or 37% of the Daily Value based on a 2,000 calorie diet.
It is estimated that almost "two-thirds of the population in the western world is not achieving the recommended daily allowance for magnesium." (*) A mineral deficiency of which is associated with certain health disorders.
Adequate dietary intake is studied beneficial, not only for heart health, but also for managing diabetes, calcium absorption, bone formation and shown useful for relieving hypertension, anxiety, migraines and PMS.
Likewise, one of the benefits of pumpkin seeds is that they are also a protein-rich variety, containing approximately 6.9 grams per one ounce serving.
They are not quite as high as hemp seeds (10.3 grams/ounce), but they are top on the list when compared to other nut/seed selections.
In traditional folk medicine, pumpkin seeds were used as a remedy for various conditions of the urinary system in addition to the prostate.
Two of the major components investigated are cucurbitin and cucurbitacin E. Cucurbitin is standardized for most seed extracts, and cucurbitacin E is an anti-inflammatory and triterpene common to pumpkin and gourd species. (*)
In an earlier study,
pumpkin seed extracts containing the pumpkin seed-derived compound curbicin showed usefulness for issues like benign prostatic
hyperplasia, an age-related prostate enlargement condition that can cause difficulty with urination. Likewise, in a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial
on middle-aged men, pumpkin seed oil was used in combination with saw
palmetto oil and again demonstrated to be helpful for BPH.
In another 12-month study, the actual pumpkin seeds were identified to have medicinal potential and "led to a clinically relevant reduction in IPSS [International Prostate Symptom Score] compared with the placebo."
Other evidence additionally indicates that pumpkin seeds and pressed oils also contain constituents that can prevent the body from converting testosterone into dihydrotestosterone, which can contribute to prostate enlargement.
In some research, pumpkin seed oil supplementation over a 24-week period was shown to have a positive anabolic outcome for men with mild to moderate male androgenetic alopecia or male pattern baldness.
According to some reports, this is due to certain lignans as well as phytosterols found in pumpkin seeds like beta-sitosterol.These compounds not only believed to be helpful for men, but pumpkin seeds and oils are also a source of phytoestrogens, which can also offer benefit to postmenopausal women. (*)
One of the less known but traditional folk uses of pumpkin seeds is their influence as an antiparasitic food source. The cucurbitin compound as well as cucurbitacin B, cucurmosin, other saponins and antimicrobial lignans like pinoresinol, medioresinol, and lariciresinol are believed to be some of the components responsible for the seed's anthelmintic (parasite killing) properties.
Cucurbitin, according to sources, causes "degenerative changes in the reproductive organs of parasitic flatworms called flukes." (*)
The benefits of pumpkin seeds and their extracts have been studied effective as a dietary treatment for parasitical conditions and were shown to be helpful in the control of gastrointestinal nematode parasite infections.
In one human study, pumpkin seed extracts treated a woman carrying a pork tapeworm known as T. solium. according to some research, they were able to expel canine tapeworms and other intestinal parasites. (*)
Pumpkin and squash seeds are considered a good plant-based source of the amino acid tryptophan, which the body converts to serotonin and then melatonin, the "sleep hormone."
At 121 mg per ounce of dried raw seeds, it is slightly higher than other seed/nut varieties. (*)
The oil from pumpkin seeds is sometimes pressed and used as a type of dietary oil. Quality pumpkin seed oil is always cold pressed and derived from raw pumpkin seeds, not roasted. This is to avoid destroying polyunsaturated fats and other nutrients.
Pumpkin seed oil is a source of carotenoids, phenolic compounds, vitamin E (including a full range of tocopherols), fat soluble minerals and the essential fatty acids, Omega-6 and Omega-3. There is, however, a far greater ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 at about a 35:1 ratio. (*) So, it isn't a particularly good source of Omega-3 or alpha-linolenic acid like many manufacturers claim.
Again, to preserve nutritional value it is best consumed in its raw state, in dressings or drizzled over foods, not used as a cooking oil. Pumpkin seed oil is popular delicacy utilized in Slovenia and Austria in salad dressing, desserts and added to pumpkin soup.
Raw shelled pumpkin seeds can of course be eaten straight as a snack type food.
For optimal nutritional uptake, sometimes it is best to soak the seeds in water and strain out the digestive enzyme inhibitors, like phytic acid. This process will help to break down protein and nutrients for greater bioavailablity.
Pumpkin seeds are also available as a pre-sprouted (or pre-soaked) variety.
We utilize soaked and strained pumpkin seeds in the following ways:
Visit our DIY steps for making your own dehydrated pumpkin seeds straight from the pumpkin.
Or visit our nut and seed list break down of nutrition data.