Pumpkin seeds are an edible seed typically roasted for consumption. They are a common ingredient in Mexican cuisine and are also often eaten as an individual snack. The seeds of the pumpkin are also commonly referred to as pepitas, Spanish for "little seed of squash."
This MNT Knowledge Center feature is part of a collection of articles on the health benefits of popular foods. It provides a nutritional breakdown of pumpkin seeds and an in-depth look at their possible health benefits, how to incorporate more pumpkin seeds into your diet and any potential health risks of consuming pumpkin seeds.
Nutritional breakdown of pumpkin seeds
According to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Nutrient Database, approximately two tablespoons of unshelled pumpkin seeds (28 grams) contains 125 calories, 15 grams of carbohydrate (including 0 grams of sugar and 5 grams of fiber) and 5 grams of protein as well as 5% of your daily iron needs.
Possible health benefits of consuming pumpkin seeds
Pumpkin seeds contain significant amounts of the macromineral magnesium.
Consuming fruits and vegetables of all kinds has long been associated with a reduced risk of many lifestyle-related health conditions.
Many studies have suggested that increasing consumption of plant foods like pumpkin seeds decreases the risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and overall mortality while promoting healthy complexion and hair, increased energy and overall lower weight.
The benefits of magnesium
Pumpkin seeds are exceptionally high in magnesium, one of the seven essential macrominerals. Two tablespoons of pumpkin seeds contain 74 mg of magnesium, about 1/4th of the daily recommended dietary allowance.
Magnesium plays an important role in over 300 enzymatic reactions within the body, including the metabolism of food and synthesis of fatty acids and proteins. Magnesium is involved in neuromuscular transmission and activity and muscle relaxation.
Magnesium is important for bone formation. High magnesium intakes are associated with a greater bone density and have shown to be effective for decreasing the risk of osteoporosis in postmenopausal women.
For every 100 mg/day increase in magnesium intake, the risk of developing type 2 diabetes decreases by approximately 15%. Low magnesium levels can impair insulin secretion and lower insulin sensitivity.
Improvement in lipid profiles has been seen with an intake of 365 mg of magnesium per day.
Heart and liver health
The fiber in pumpkin seeds helps lower the total amount of cholesterol in the blood and decrease the risk of heart disease, while research to date suggests that omega-3s can decrease the risk for thrombosis and arrhythmias, which lead to heart attack, stroke and sudden cardiac death.
Omega-3s may also decrease LDL, total cholesterol and triglyceride levels, reduce atherosclerotic plaque, improve endothelial function and slightly lower blood pressure.
Pumpkin seeds are a rich source of tryptophan, an amino acid. Tryptophan has been used to treat chronic insomnia because the body coverts it into melatonin, the "sleep hormone."2
A study published in Nutritional Neuroscience suggested that consuming tryptophan from a gourd seed alongside a carbohydrate source was comparable to pharmaceutical grade tryptophan for the treatment of insomnia.
Having a few pumpkin seeds before bed, with a small amount of carbohydrates such as a piece of fruit, may be beneficial in providing your body with the tryptophan needed for melatonin production.2
It is estimated that over 80% of women worldwide have inadequate zinc intake.3 Low levels of zinc alter circulating levels of multiple hormones associated with the onset of labor. In addition to this, zinc is essential for normal immune function and prevention of uterine infections. All of these could potentially contribute to preterm birth.4
How to incorporate more pumpkin seeds into your diet
When using pumpkins for food or decoration, be sure to keep hold of their seeds.
- Top salads with pumpkin seeds
- Make homemade granola with a mixture of nuts, pumpkin seeds and dried fruit
- Brush pumpkin seeds with olive oil, season with cumin and garlic powder and bake until brown and toasted
- Make your own pumpkin seed butter (like peanut butter) by blending whole, raw pumpkin seeds in a food processor until smooth.
Or, try these healthy and delicious recipes developed by registered dietitians:Two step pesto pasta with pumpkin seeds
Mayan pumpkin seed dip
Roasted pumpkin seeds
Seven ways to flavor pumpkin seeds.
Risks and precautions
Seeds have a high fat content so they are prone to rancidity. Keep pumpkin seeds in a cool, dark and dry place to improve shelf life. If stored properly, pumpkin seeds will keep for 3-4 months.5
It is the total diet or overall eating pattern that is most important in disease prevention and achieving good health. It is better to eat a diet with variety than to concentrate on individual foods as the key to good health.