Pumpkin seeds are an edible seed typically roasted for consumption. They are a common ingredient in Mexican cuisine and are often eaten as a healthful snack.
The seeds of the pumpkin are sometimes referred to as pepitas, Spanish for "little seed of squash."
This Medical News Today 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, 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.
Contents of this article:
Nutritional breakdown of pumpkin seeds
Pumpkin seeds contain significant amounts of the macromineral magnesium.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Nutrient Database, approximately 2 tablespoons of unshelled roasted pumpkin seeds (28 grams) contains:
- 125 calories
- 15 grams of carbohydrate (including 0 grams of sugar and 5 grams of fiber)
- 5 grams of protein
- 5 percent of your daily iron needs
Shelled, roasted pumpkin seeds are more nutrient dense, for the same 28-gram serving size they provide:
- 163 calories
- 4 grams carbohydrate (including 2 grams of fiber and less than 1 gram of sugar)
- 8 grams of protein
- 8 percent of daily iron needs
Pumpkin seeds are also a source of magnesium, zinc, copper, and selenium.
Possible health benefits of consuming pumpkin seeds
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 milligrams of magnesium, about 25 percent 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 vital for the proper functioning of muscles.
Magnesium deficiency, especially prevalent in older populations, is linked to insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, coronary heart disease, and osteoporosis.
Magnesium is important for bone formation. High magnesium intake is associated with a greater bone density and has been shown to decrease the risk of osteoporosis in postmenopausal women.
For every 100 milligrams/day increase in magnesium intake, the risk of developing type 2 diabetes decreases by approximately 15 percent. Low magnesium levels can impair insulin secretion and lower insulin sensitivity.
Improvement in lipid profiles has been seen with an intake of 365 milligrams of magnesium per day.
Heart and liver health
Pumpkin seeds are rich in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, antioxidants, and fiber. This combination has benefits for both the heart and liver.
The fiber in pumpkin seeds helps lower the total amount of cholesterol in the blood and decrease the risk of heart disease. Research to date suggests that omega-3s can decrease the risk of 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 atherosclerosis (fatty buildup on artery walls), improve endothelial function (a measure of circulatory health), 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 converts it into serotonin, the "feel-good" or "relaxing" hormone, and melatonin, the "sleep hormone."
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.
It is estimated that over 80 percent of women worldwide have inadequate zinc intake. 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.
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.
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.