North American Indians first introduced pumpkins to the European explorers. These native indians used pumpkin seeds both as a food source and as a medicine. Sadly, every Halloween and Thanksgiving, people discard the seeds without understanding the nutrition facts and healthy nutritional value these little power foods possess. As a healthy alternative, not much beats pumpkin seeds as a snack.
Pumpkins belong to the gourd family. Pumpkins, along with cantaloupe and squash, contain an ingredient called cucurbitacin. This powerful substance has been shown to help prevent or inhibit prostate cancer from growing. In addition, it is linked to prevention of urinary tract infections and other bladder problems like incontinence. Seeds from the gourd family have been used for centuries to prevent and treat parasites and kidney problems. Other benefits include improving brain function to help with learning disabilities and depression. Since these seeds contain phytosterols, they may also help prevent certain types of cancers.
There is no doubt that pumpkin seeds, also known as pepitas, are fabulous as a snack or mixed in with other foods, like salads, breads and cereal. The seeds are an excellent source of manganese, magnesium and phosphorous. They also contain zinc, which can improve skin, poor hair growth and poor night vision. They also contain iron, something many people lack enough of. Iron deficiencies can lead to fatigue, weak nails, poor hair growth and recurring mouth ulcers. Pumpkin seeds also contain Omega 3 fats and are a source of protein – especially important for vegetarians. If that was not enough, add in amino acids, vitamin K and tryptophan. At 186 calories per 1/4 cup serving, pumpkin seeds really pack a nutritional punch.
Pepitas are most nutritious when raw. If you do want to roast them, do so at low heat (165 degrees for 15-20 minutes) to preserve their natural, essential oils.
With so much nutritional punch, you will want to eat pumpkin seeds all year round, not just in the fall. Seeds can be kept in an air tight container in the fridge for up to one month. Add them whole to your veggies, salads, breads and soups. You can also grind them and add to cereal, oatmeal, ground turkey patties and rice pudding.