Pumpkin seeds are a delicious and nutritious way to help you meet your nutrition goals and improve your health. Easy to prepare and versatile, pumpkin seeds make a great snack and are also used as a crunchy topping for salads and soups. They are even available in the form of protein powder.
But where do pumpkin seeds come from? You may be confused about the difference between the pumpkin seeds you scoop out of Halloween pumpkins every year and the green pepitas commonly available in grocery stores.
Though often used interchangeably when talking about seeds from pumpkins, the two are different.
Pumpkin seeds are cream-colored seeds with edible shells that must be toasted before eating. Pepitas are a type of green pumpkin seed that comes from certain pumpkin varieties, and they do not have shells, meaning they can be eaten raw.
Learn more about the surprising health benefits of pumpkin seeds as well as possible risks.
Pumpkin Seed Health Benefits
Rich in protein, fiber, and healthy fats, pumpkin seeds are a very nutrient-dense snack. Pumpkin seeds are also a great source of many minerals, including iron, zinc, potassium, manganese, and phosphorus (1).
The health benefits of pumpkin seeds are plentiful and include lowering blood pressure, assisting with weight loss, and improving fertility in men and women.
If you’re wondering about the portion of pumpkin seeds to eat daily to start reaping the health benefits, one serving per day is a great starting point. A serving size of pumpkin seeds is one ounce, which is roughly ¼ cup.
1. Protein Source
Pumpkin seeds are an excellent source of plant protein, with nearly 8.5 grams of protein in one ounce. Its amino acid profile is similar to soybeans, which is known to be high-quality protein (1, 2).
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend eating a variety of proteins, including legumes, nuts, and seeds. Regular consumption of plant-based proteins, like pumpkin seeds, has been shown to reduce the risk for metabolic syndrome and certain cancers in addition to improving blood sugar levels, digestive health, and weight (3).
2. Weight Loss
Many people who desire weight loss have concerns about eating nuts and seeds due to their calorie density. Pumpkin seeds contain almost 165 calories in ¼ cup serving size (1). This is equivalent to a small handful, which is easily exceeded especially when pumpkin seeds are eaten as a snack.
Though high in calories, studies show that including nuts and seeds in the diet is not associated with weight gain. Pumpkin seeds are a great source of fiber and are rich in unsaturated fats, both of which can help you feel fuller longer, which can be beneficial toward weight loss efforts (4, 5).
Pumpkin seeds can be a great addition to your weight loss diet if you are mindful of the portion.
3. Antioxidant Source
Pumpkin seeds are a rich source of polyphenols, which is a type of antioxidant found in plants. Antioxidants have many beneficial functions in the body, such as neutralizing harmful free radicals and fighting inflammation (2, 6).
Interestingly, one study found that roasting pumpkin seeds improved their antioxidant properties. This is a positive finding since pumpkin seeds are typically roasted to make them easier to eat and digest (2).
Pumpkin seeds also contain some Vitamin E, which is an antioxidant that also plays a role in immune health (7).
4. Blood pressure
Pumpkin seeds are a good source of potassium, a mineral that surveys show most people don’t get enough of in their diets (8).
Eating high-potassium foods is known to help decrease high blood pressure. Adequate potassium intake also helps with overall heart health by reducing the risk of stroke and heart disease (8).
Further, pumpkin seeds are rich in magnesium, which is another mineral that can help manage high blood pressure (9).
If you have blood pressure concerns, be sure to choose unsalted or lightly salted pumpkin seeds since too much sodium in the diet can raise blood pressure (8).
5. Benefits for Men
Pumpkin seeds are often recommended for men’s health. One ounce of pumpkin seeds contains just over 2 mg of zinc, which is 20% of the recommended amount that men need daily (1, 9).
Zinc is known to play a role in balancing male hormones, such as testosterone and thyroid levels (10).
Further, zinc is an important mineral for prostate health. Interestingly, one study found that supplementing pumpkin seed oil in the diet helped improve prostate function and symptoms in men with prostate cancer (10).
Studies also show that adequate zinc status is associated with improved male fertility. Men who had appropriate zinc levels produced higher-quality sperm compared to those with deficient zinc levels (10).
6. Benefits for Women
Pumpkin seeds aren’t only great for men’s health. They’re also known for their numerous benefits to women’s health.
Studies show that including pumpkin seeds in the diet may reduce the risk of developing breast cancer. This is thought to be due to the presence of lignans (a type of fiber) and phytoestrogens (plant compounds that behave similarly to the hormone estrogen) in pumpkin seeds (11).
Pumpkin seeds are also an excellent source of iron, with 2.3 mg per one-ounce serving. This is almost 13% of the daily iron needed in pre-menopausal women (1, 12).
Women who are pregnant or menstruating have higher iron needs than the rest of the population. Inadequate iron intake in pregnancy can contribute to iron deficiency anemia in the woman and can also negatively impact the development of the fetus (12).
Further, pumpkin seeds can be beneficial for reducing the risk of osteoporosis in postmenopausal women. This is due to the magnesium content of pumpkin seeds.
One ounce of pumpkin seeds contains almost half of the daily magnesium requirement for women. Some studies suggest that a magnesium deficiency is associated with osteoporosis in women (1, 13, 14).
Like in men, zinc plays an important role in female fertility. Adequate zinc status is essential in most stages of the reproductive process, from fertilization to pregnancy. A serving of pumpkin seeds provides 25% of the daily zinc needed for women (1, 9, 15).
Side Effects of Pumpkin Seeds
Pumpkin seeds provide many health benefits and have very minimal side effects. The most common concern is that when stored improperly, pumpkin seeds can become rancid due to their high fat content.
You can tell if your seeds are rancid by smelling them– they will smell slightly sour. Eating rancid nuts or seeds will not taste good and can cause an upset stomach.
To prevent this, keep the pumpkin seeds in an airtight container in a cool, dry place. If stored properly, pumpkin seeds can last at room temperature for a few months.
You can also store pumpkin seeds in the refrigerator or freezer, which allows them to last up to a year (16).
Nuts and seeds can be a choking hazard for toddlers and young children, as well as people who have difficulties with chewing and swallowing. Take caution when serving pumpkin seeds to these populations.
If you are unable to eat whole pumpkin seeds but you want to reap their health benefits, consider buying pepitas. Since this type of pumpkin seed does not have a shell, it can be ground up and added to oatmeal, smoothies, and more.
Healthy Roasted Pumpkin Seeds
- Preheat your oven to 350°F (175°C)
- Clean the pumpkin seeds with cold water to remove any pulp or stringy stuff.
- Pat the pumpkin seeds dry with a paper towel or a clean kitchen towel until they're dry.
- In a bowl, mix the pumpkin seeds, olive oil, and salt until the seeds are evenly coated.
- Spread the pumpkin seeds in a single layer on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
- If desired, sprinkle spices of your choice over the pumpkin seeds.
- Bake the pumpkin seeds for 10-15 minutes, or until golden brown and crispy. Stir the seeds every 5 minutes or so to ensure even roasting.
- Remove the pumpkin seeds from the oven and let them cool completely before serving.