Of all the members of the squash family, pumpkin is perhaps the most underrated and underappreciated member. And while most home cooks savour the vegetable in its canned form, there’s nothing like fresh pumpkin to take your curries and pies to the next level.
The only thing is that carving a fresh pumpkin produces a lot of waste, from the skin to the fibrous innards and the seeds. But these seeds are a valuable treasure-trove of nutrition.
It’s All in the Seeds
Like many vegetables and fruits, the seeds of the pumpkin are packed with nutrition in a very small space. They can be eaten raw or toasted, in other foods or by the handful, or crushed to make pumpkin seed butter.
The benefit of eating whole seeds (with the shell intact) is the fiber content of the shell, as it adds sixty percent more fiber than just the seed itself. Toasted, the shell adds a nice crunch.
Other than having the ability to grow a new plant, pumpkin seeds can actually keep your body in prime shape. Here are just a few reasons to get on board with pumpkin seeds.
1. They Prevent cancer
Processed foods, personal care products, and food packaging contain chemicals that disrupt the endocrine system. There is also evidence that links some of these products to cancer in humans.
Pumpkin seeds contain hormone regulators and antioxidants that can reduce the impact of endocrine disruptors and prevent the formation of cancerous cells. Studies prove the efficacy of these seeds in fighting breast, prostate, and colon cancer cells.
The high zinc content in pumpkin seeds are effective in detoxifying the testes and may even be considered an aphrodisiac (1, 2, 3). Rich, too, in antioxidants and vitamin E, pumpkin seeds reduce cell oxidation and inflammation that can lead to many other diseases.
2. They Regulate Blood Sugar
In a 2012 Taiwanese study, pumpkin seeds were found to significantly reduce blood glucose levels in a short time.
Here’s the conclusion of the study that blew us away:
“Based on the results described above, we propose that the major function of PCE-C [pumpkin crude extract] is not to stimulate β-cells in the islets of Langerhans to increase insulin secretion, but rather restore the islets of Langerhans, repairing impaired islets or act as an insulin sensitizer to enhance insulin action by improving the insulin sensitivity of target tissues such as the liver, muscle and adipose tissue [emphasis added]. Pumpkin polysaccharides may also play an important role in the recovery of liver function and glucose utilization” (4).
The pumpkin seed extract didn’t simply stimulate the production of insulin, it healed the parts of the pancreas that manufacture it and improves your body’s ability to use the insulin.
Similar results were found in a study of pumpkin fruit (5). It’s believed that the polysaccharides (long chains of single-molecule carbohydrates) of the seeds (and fruit) are the key elements responsible for these effects. The carbohydrates are also used in the body for energy and help promote healthy cell structure.
3. They Prevent Osteoporosis
Bone health requires exercise and proper nutrition, including magnesium, calcium, vitamin D, and phosphorus. Pumpkin seeds also contain iron, zinc, copper, manganese, and potassium (6). Talk about getting bang for your buck!
4. They Relieve Symptoms of Menopause
As a hormone regulator, pumpkin seeds’ zinc supports progesterone and estrogen hormone balance, which is especially important for post-menopausal women, whose estrogen production is reduced (7).
Additionally, a 2011 study showed pumpkin seed oil’s ability to regulate cholesterol, decrease of diastolic blood pressure, and to significant reduce in the unpleasant by-products of menopause, including hot flashes, headaches, and joint pain (8).
5. They Moderate LDL Cholesterol
Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) is the kind of cholesterol we worry about. Although it is a necessary nutrient, the modern North American diet promotes its over-production with all the excess insoluble fats, salt, and chemical additives in processed food.
Pumpkin seeds are a source of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which converts to omega 3 fatty acids in your body. These acids then regulate the balance between high-density lipoprotein (HDL, the “good cholesterol”) and LDL.
6. They Boost Weight Loss
Portable and packed with protein and fiber, just a handful of pumpkin seeds can starve off hunger while nourishing your body. Its phosphorus content supports the metabolism of carbohydrates and fats to increase energy without causing weight gain (9).