Pumpkin SeedsJune 29, 2009 Written by JP [Font too small?]
One of the greatest challenges to maintaining a healthy lifestyle is finding practical ways to properly nourish ourselves while “on the go”. An occasional indulgence in an unhealthy meal or snack isn’t the end of the world. But too often, that lapse is enough to throw off overall momentum for longer periods of time. This is a real concern for those who are trying to manage chronic health conditions or who have embarked on weight loss programs. Today I’ll review one of my favorite snacks, which not only helps support good health, but allows me to stay on plan even during the busiest of times.
Pumpkin seeds are a fantastic snack food that I always keep on hand. They’re an excellent source of antioxidants, fat, fiber, minerals and protein. But as you’ll see, they’re also an abundant reservoir of lesser known nutrients and phytochemicals (plant chemicals) that can positively impact many aspects of wellness. In addition, Cucurbita seeds can be very tasty and versatile depending on how they are seasoned. Best of all, this is the rare snack that can healthfully satisfy the most ravenous appetite and craving for something crunchy and salty.
When you look at the macro-nutrient makeup of pumpkin seeds you’ll notice that a 2 oz serving provides a respectable 10 grams of protein, 5 grams of fiber, 16 grams of heart healthy fats and an enviable potassium to sodium ratio (270 mg of potassium, 75 mg of sodium). These are the figures for a product by Eden Organic that I heartily recommend called Spicy Pumpkin Dry Roasted Seeds. The primary ingredient is organic dry roasted pumpkin seeds, but also includes some organic tamari soy sauce (wheat-free), organic garlic and organic cayenne pepper. Not only is it absolutely delicious, but the ingredients read like a “who’s who” in the field of nutritional support for cardiovascular health.
What are some of the micro-nutrients that make pumpkin seeds such a smart snack selection? For starters, they are one of the richest natural sources of magnesium and zinc. (1) Both of these minerals are commonly deficient in the average diet and play integral roles in curbing feelings of anxiety, supporting bone health, reducing musculoskeletal pain and promoting proper immune function. Beyond that, these low-carb treats also contain a significant amount of Vitamin K, which modern science is now proving to be essential for healthy arteries, bone integrity and, possibly, even protection against certain forms of cancer. (2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10)
While pouring through the medical literature, I discovered some rather unique qualities attributable to pumpkin seeds that appear to place them in a class of their own. Here’s a brief overview of some lesser known benefits:
- Eating as little as 2 ounces of pumpkin seeds daily can elevate iron levels in women who are deficient. It’s not suggested as a solitary source of iron replacement, but rather as additional dietary support. (11)
- The protein contained in pumpkin seeds appears to possess some rather unconventional properties. Recent experiments indicate that adding pumpkin seeds to bread mixtures can improve the protein digestibility of the baked goods and significantly increases overall amino acid and mineral content. (12,13) This is unusual because nuts and seeds typically aren’t considered highly digestible forms of protein. Another bonus is that a separate set of studies points to a potent antioxidant and liver protecting effect in laboratory animals that were fed pumpkin seed protein isolate. (14,15,16)
- Pumpkin seeds are known to be a rich source of the amino acid, tryptophan. Tryptophan can be used by the body to manufacture serotonin, a neurotransmitter that promotes a calm state of mind and restful sleep. Studies from 2005 and 2007 demonstrate reductions in anxiety and insomnia symptoms in patients receiving a “defatted gourd seed extract”, which is in the pumpkin family. (17,18,19)
- Pumpkin seed extract and oil have long been used to manage the Benign Prostate Hyperplasia (BPH). In fact, a German study from 2000 found that a supplement (Prosta Fink Forte) comprised of pumpkin seed extract brought about an amelioration in prostate health (41% decrease in urinary symptoms) and a 46% improvement in quality of life after just 12 weeks of use. (20) Several trials conducted in a rat model support the protective effect of pumpkin seed oil on prostatic tissue as well. (21,22) Besides the oily components of the seeds, other naturally occurring phytochemicals such as lignans, phytoestrogens and phytosterols may also possess therapeutic properties. It is believed that the presence of these substances in other foods such as flaxseeds, saw palmetto berries and soy, contributes to prostate specific benefits. The same may hold true for pumpkin seeds. (23,24,25,26,27)
- In the past few years, scientists have begun to establish the cholesterol lowering properties of pumpkin seeds. A 2009 laboratory study found that a combination of flax seeds and pumpkin seeds helped to exert an “anti-atherogenic” and “hepatoprotective” effect. (28) This indicates that the benefits to cholesterol levels were not at the expense of liver health – as can be the case with certain medications. Rather, this seed mixture actually improved liver status while lowering the risk factors for heart disease. Pumpkin seed oil may also help keep blood pressure within a desirable range, possibly because it’s a rich source of broad spectrum Vitamin E. (29,30)
- Traditionally, pumpkin seeds have been used to combat various intestinal issues stemming from parasites and other unwelcome microorganisms. Experiments published in the medical literature support this use by confirming antifungal and antiparasitic activity. (31,32,33)
This is just a portion of what is currently known about pumpkin seeds. But, I have the feeling that much more will come to light in the near future. For instance, recent scientific exploration has discovered several new antioxidants contained in Cucurbita seeds. What else might be found in this humble snack food? Only time will tell, but I know I’m already enjoying many of the benefits. (34,35)
Tags: Heart, Liver, Prostate
Posted in Nutrition, Product Reviews