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There is no food that says Fall more so than the pumpkin. Pumpkin spice, pumpkin pie and pumpkin carving!
However, as the November cold sets in, and our jack-o-lanterns become compost, there is a way to enjoy the magic of the pumpkin all year round. Pumpkin seeds are not only the most nutritious part of the pumpkin, they are also the most versatile.
History of the Pumpkin
Below, we’ll share 5 reasons to love pumpkin seeds and 5 ways to use them. But first, some fun history on the pumpkin…
Pumpkins are believed to have originated from central American. Indigenous North Americans have grown pumpkins for thousands of years and they were cultivated even before beans and corn. The tradition of carving pumpkins into jack-o-lanterns originated from Celtic traditions, but instead turnips or potatoes were used in place of the pumpkin. European settlers in North America quickly discovered that a pumpkin was a lot easier to carve than a turnip and so the tradition of the modern jack-o-lantern was born. Pumpkins are generally planted end of May and are ready to harvest by October. Each pumpkin will contain approximately 500 seeds, leaving plenty for next years planting and some extra for a nutritious snack.
Here’s why you shouldn’t throw away your pumpkin seeds…
Benefits of Pumpkin Seeds
1. Male Reproductive Health
Studies have shown pumpkin seeds to particularly beneficial for the male prostate.
This is mainly due to the zinc, high levels of essential fatty acids, and phytosterols. One of the phytosterols, called beta-sitosterol, helps to block the conversion of testosterone into dihydrotestosterone (DHT), which encourages prostate enlargement.
Zinc is an important mineral for male reproductive health, needed for sperm production. Therefore, all men should make pumpkin seeds a part of their diet.
2. Immune Support
Zinc is a well-known important nutrient for the immune system and is found in many cold prevention supplements. Zinc deficiency was first noted to cause elevated risk of infection by Dr. Prasad in 1963. This has led to decades of research around the role of this mineral in all biological cellular processes. A 2019 study demonstrated the potential benefits of zinc for both prevention and treatment of viral infections. A 2020 study found that zinc supplementation may have some potential benefit for prophylaxis and treatment of COVID-19.
While supplementation can be beneficial at times, getting nutrients from food should come first. Approximately, 10 mg of zinc can be found in a 100g of pumpkin seeds which accounts for about 64% of daily requirement.
3. Parasite Prevention
Pumpkin seeds have traditionally been used as a parasite treatment. Parasites are organisms that live in the intestines of humans or other animals and cause them harm. Parasites use their host for food and then release metabolic waste and other toxins. Parasites are most common in tropical countries without safe drinking water.
However, those in temperate areas with access to clean drinking can get parasites too. Parasites can be found in water, as well as raw fruits and vegetables and raw meat and fish (sushi!). Parasitic infections can cause diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, constipation, dyspepsia, irritation, and sleep disturbances.
Pumpkin seeds contain an anti-parasitic agent called cucurbitine. This amino acid found in the skin of the pumpkin seed causes the parasites to be paralyzed and then expelled from the body. Studies have shown pumpkin seed or pumpkin seed extract/oil to be effective in removing several different types of roundworms as well as liver flukes, blood flukes and even some tapeworms. Other studies have shown that their effectiveness is even comparable to certain parasitic drugs.
While this is certainly interesting, it’s also important to note that parasite cleansing is serious business. Parasites do not go quietly. Nausea, dizziness and even vomiting can occur as a response to the parasites’ “die-off” reaction. Supporting the bowels to ensure that the parasites are properly expelled is also an important part of parasite cleansing. If you suspect you have parasites, contact a health practitioner to assist you with your detoxification.
However, that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy pumpkin seeds on a regular basis as a parasite preventative method.
4. Mental Health
Pumpkin seeds are rich in two other amino acids: tryptophan and phenylalanine. These are essential amino acids required to make important neurotransmitters (brain chemicals.) Tryptophan is needed to produce serotonin and melatonin.
Phenylalanine is needed for the production of dopamine and other important catecholamines in the body. Phenylalanine is also a needed to manufacture another amino acid called tyrosine, which is needed for thyroid hormone production. Our thyroid helps to regulate our body’s metabolism, temperature, and energy levels (and much more).
Mental health problems and hormonal imbalances are certainly more complex issues and require more care than just pumpkin seeds. However, providing your body with the raw materials needed can absolutely help.
5. Blood Sugar Balance
Blood sugar, put simply, is the amount of sugar (glucose) in our blood stream. It’s a way for the body to measure how much energy is available for use and how much needs to be stored.
This means that blood sugar that is too low can lead to feelings of fatigue, irritability, and sugar cravings (i.e., hangry). Blood sugar that is too high can lead to sugar being stored. First it is stored in the liver as glycogen, but then eventually in the adipose tissue as fat.
In summary, low blood sugar leads to fatigue and cravings, while high blood sugar leads to weight gain. So the goal is too keep it as relatively even and balanced throughout the day. This can be achieved by eating regularly and consuming protein, fiber and healthy fats in every meal. For this reason, pumpkin seeds help to keep blood sugar balanced. They can be enjoyed as a snack to keep cravings at bay in between meals, or can be added as a nutrient-boost to your meals. Sprinkle on salads, soups, oatmeal, smoothie bowls or hummus!
Recipes of Pumpkin Seeds
Now that we know why we should eat pumpkin seeds, here are some fun ways to get more pumpkin seeds in your diet.
Pumpkin Seed Butter
- 4 cups pumpkin seeds
- ½ tsp seal salt
- 1-2 tbsp coconut oil or avocado oil
- 1-2 tbsp maple syrup
- 1 tsp vanilla (optional)
- 1 tsp cinnamon (optional)
- Roast pumpkin seeds or soak and then dehydrate if you prefer them raw
- Add oil, maple syrup and vanilla first to a food processor or high-speed blender, then add pumpkin seeds
- Blend or process seeds until desired smoothness is achieved. Pause to scrap down sides, go slow to prevent overheating.
- Store in a glass jar in the fridge for 2-4 weeks
Spiced Honey Roasted Pumpkin Seeds – The Chunky Chef
- 2 cups pumpkin seeds; from approx 2 small pumpkins, or store-bought
- 2 tsp olive oil
- 1 tsp chili powder
- 1/4 tsp smoked paprika
- 1/8 tsp garlic powder
- 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper. adjust per your taste
- 2 1/2 Tbsp honey
- sea salt to taste
- Preheat oven to 325 F degrees. Cut open your pumpkins. Remove the pulp and stringy pumpkin flesh from the seeds.
- Boil the seeds for 2-3 minutes, drain, and lay out on a paper towel to dry thoroughly. Pat dry if necessary.
- In an oven-safe skillet, warm the oil over medium heat and saute the pumpkin seeds and spices until lightly golden, about 3 minutes. Add the honey and stir with a rubber spatula.
- Transfer the skillet to the oven. Roast for about 30-40 minutes, stirring every 10-15 minutes so that they do not burn.
- Taste one of the seeds. You want them crispy throughout, and not soft in the center.
- Continue to bake if necessary.
- When finished, lay the seeds out onto a parchment lined baking sheet or flat surface to cool.
- While hot, sprinkle with salt to taste.
Black Bean & Pumpkin Seed Burgers
- 1 cup cooked quinoa
- ½ large finely diced red onion
- 2 finely diced red peppers
- 1 cup baby spinach finely chopped.
- 1 cup finely grated beet
- 1 15 oz can organic black beans
- 1 tsp cumin
- ½ tsp chili powder
- ¼ tsp smoked paprika
- 1 tsp sea salt
- ½ cup walnuts chopped
- 2 tbsp ground chia seeds mixed with 6 tbsp water
- Preheat oven to 400 F degrees
- Cook quinoa in a pot or rice cooker
- Mix ground chia seed with water and set aside in a separate container
- Prepare onions, red peppers, and spinach. To save time chopping. you can use a food processor. Cook onions, peppers, and spinach in skillet, until soft.
- Add beans, beets, cooked vegetables and spices in a food processor and pulse. Add spices and pulse, then add walnuts and process. Add chia egg and process again. The mixture should be consistent but still have some texture.
- Add pumpkin seeds and stir in carefully, so you don’t break the seeds
- Line a baking sheet with parchment and scoop about mixture with a spoon, making about 1-2 oz patties or 4-8 oz burgers.
- The mixture may be difficult to work with, so try wetting your hands or adding even a touch of olive oil to your hands
- Once your sheet is full of patties or burgers. brush the tops with oil. Bake for 10 minutes on each side for patties or 15-20 minutes for the burgers. Time will vary based on size of the burger
- After 10-20 minutes flip over and brush the other side with oil and bake again.
- Allow to cool entirely before trying to move them.
- Enjoy by itself or on a bun or wrap with all your favourite burger toppings.
Pumpkin Seed Oil Dressing
- 2 ½ tbsp olive oil
- 1 tsp pumpkin seed oil
- 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
- ½ tbsp honey (or 1 tbsp maple syrup)
Blend and pour over salad.
Pumpkin Seed Salsa
In honour of the origin of the pumpkin, we of course had to include a pumpkin seed salsa. This is not a traditional recipe, but the tahini adds a nice creaminess and some extra nutrition.
- 1 white onion, chopped
- Small bunch fresh cilantro, wash and chopped
- ¼ cup fresh orange juice
- 1/3 cup fresh lime juice
- 1¾ cups roasted pumpkin seeds
- 5 ounces diced tomatoes (fire-roasted / canned)
- 3 tablespoons tahini
- 1 fresh habanero chili, chopped; remove seeds or omit all together for less heat
- 1½ teaspoon salt
- Preheat oven to 450 F, cut onions in half and drizzle with olive oil and roast for about 18-20 minutes. Let cool and then roughly chop
- In a food processor blend all ingredients together
- Use it as a dip or topping and store leftovers in the fridge
Kirsten Colella, CNP, graduated with high honours from the Institute of Holistic Nutrition. In addition to being a Holistic Nutritionist, Kirsten is also certified yoga teacher. She has had a lifelong passion for holistic health and all it encompasses. As a mom of three, Kirsten enjoys making healthy food for and with her children. You can see Kirsten’s healthy recipes, including those with pumpkin seeds, on Instagram @essentialbalanceholistic
Sources quoted for the blog:
- 6 Things You May Not Know About Pumpkins – HISTORY
- Prasad AS, Miale A Jr., Farid Z, Sandstead HH, Schulert AR. Zinc metabolism in patients with the syndrome of iron deficiency anemia, hepatosplenomegaly, dwarfism, and hypogonadism. J Lab Clin Med. 1963;61:537–49.
- Read SA, Obeid S, Ahlenstiel C, Ahlenstiel G. The Role of Zinc in Antiviral Immunity. Adv Nutr. 2019 Jul 1;10(4):696-710. doi: 10.1093/advances/nmz013. PMID: 31305906; PMCID: PMC6628855.