Updated: Jun 10, 2022
We're talking about pepitas!
They're September's Food of the Month because they come from Pumpkins - and rather than featuring the whole, classic autumnal fruit (which would be totally expected this time of year) we decided to roll up our sleeves, carve open a few Cucurbita varieties such as the maxima and moschata, and scoop out the nutrient packed hull-less seeds from their beta-carotene-oozing flesh.
The words "nutrient packed" are not used lightly here. Naturally, all seeds are nutrient packed, as they are the means to producing a mature plant. Just as an expectant mother must nourish herself substantially to grow a human, a seed contains the fuel necessary to sprout a plant. ...In relation to this comparison, doesn't it make you wonder: Who's mama; the seed or the pumpkin?...
Fat and protein are the main fuel contributors, followed by carbohydrates. In just one ounce of pepitas (about a quarter cup) there's nearly 12 grams of total fat, about 9 grams of protein, and just under 4 grams of carbohydrates. While, yes, there is a lot of energy held within the walls of this seed - about 150 Calories' worth in one ounce - the quality of these macronutrients, as well as the presence of essential micronutrients and bioactive compounds are what matter most.
General Nutritional Composition of a Pumpkin Seed
Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids (PUFA, and MUFA, respectively) are the predominant fats in the pumpkin seed. These are fats that lead to a smarter brain and stronger heart! We know you love your brain and heart, so take notes here.
Our body is unable to synthesize PUFA's on its own, therefore highlighting the importance of consuming them from the food we eat. BEWARE: Not doing so could lower the quality of your life!! Imagine having a heightened mental focus: you're paying attention to what's going on around you, you're hearing and comprehending all that's being said. Even better is when you retain the info you're taking in. PUFA's can help make all these pieces fall into place! Sharper focus, greater comprehension, better memory - thanks, polyunsaturated fats!
MUFA are well known for their benefits to heart health. These fatty acids are often associated with olives and avocados. Add pepitas to that list! You'll get a little under 4 grams of monounsaturated fat in an ounce, and besides the satisfaction of pepitas' mildly sweet taste and light crunch, you'll reap the pleasures of better blood pressure and blood lipids, and reduced inflammatory markers that are linked with heart disease.
All the maconutrients: fat, protein and carbohydrates (specifically fiber), play different roles in slowing down digestion. As pepitas are a great source of all three, adding these seeds to meals and snacks is one of the most efficient ways to bring about feelings of fullness! A bonus benefit to slowed digestion is better controlled blood sugars. Rolnik & Olas pointed out that the protein-bound chains of carbohydrates isolated from pumpkin seeds possess blood sugar lowering activity, such as increasing insulin in plasma.
The abundance of minerals contained in pepitas is something worth getting excited over! Did you know pepitas are the NUMBER ONE food source for magnesium?? Were you aware that in just one ounce they provide women of childbearing age with over 20% of their daily recommended intake (DRI) for iron, and 50% of the DRI for adult men and post-menopausal women? And did you know that from that same portion, men and pregnant women can gain 19% of their DRI for zinc?
Oh, yes! You must be including these seeds in your diet!
Pepitas are an excellent way to incorporate the highly demanded magnesium into your system. In just one ounce, they provide approximately 50% of the DRI for adults!! Between 300 and 400 milligrams of magnesium daily is recommended for adults (actual needs depend on age, gender and health needs). Magnesium is required in over 300 enzymatic reactions within our body. It is a crucial component in our body's response to stress, so if you endure a higher stress lifestyle, you can't go wrong with seeking out magnesium-rich foods. Making magnesium a priority is also a wise decision if you deal with chronic headaches, have difficulty sleeping, or experience high blood pressure.
Is your diet a little low in animal proteins? You may not be getting enough iron as animal proteins are among the richest sources for this mineral. Pumpkin seeds could be a great way for you to get more if you choose to keep your animal intake low. Many women tend to run deficient on iron and taking steps to include iron-rich foods is critical. Iron is an integral component of red blood cells and without it, efficient transport of oxygen cannot take place. Symptoms like cold intolerance, thinning hair, dry skin, brittle fingernails, and poor concentration are associated with iron deficiency. More importantly, deficiency of iron can also lead to other nutrient deficiencies and long-term health conditions like low thyroid. If you do have concerns whether or not you're getting enough nutrients in your diet, please see the note below.*
Zinc imparts many benefits to our health including immune function, maintaining healthy skin, supporting good vision, and even maintaining our sense of taste and appetite! One of zinc's greatest roles to play is with male fertility. Deficiency of this mineral is linked with impaired sperm motility and decreased sperm count. With 11mg as the RDI for men and pregnant women, the 2mg contained in one ounce of seeds will get you 19% of the way there! Non-pregnant women gain a quarter of their daily zinc needs from just a couple tablespoons.
Making up a very small, yet very powerful portion of the pumpkin seed are tocopherols and phenolic compounds. These bioactive compounds impart reliable antioxidant activity. Tocopherols, which are responsible for vitamin E activity, have a system of self-protection against oxidation. The isomerα-tocopherol is the compound that shows highest vitamin E activity and it's found in high concentrations in pepitas!
Just in case we haven't driven home the fact that pumpkin seeds are most likely a wise addition to your healthy lifestyle, here are a few extra notes on the uses of pepitas in traditional medicine:
They "are widely used in traditional medicine due to their beneficial anti-bacterial, antineoplastic and antidiabetic actions" (Peiretti et. al. 2017).
"Pumpkin seeds are used in Eritrea, Africa to treat tapeworm. Other traditional usages include the remedy of kidney, bladder and prostate disorders" (Patel and Rauf 2017).
Chinese medicine has used pumpkin seeds for a long time, "with reports on combating intestinal parasites and treating biliary vesicle and prostate problems. In addition, nongerminated seeds have hypoglycemic effect; they also act as antioxidant, anticancer, and anti-inflammatory" (Veronezi & Jorge 2012)
HOW TO incorporate more pumpkin seeds into your life!
Roast with spices and seasonings: Toss raw organic seeds with your favorite spice or seasoning blends and roast at 325ᵒF for 15 minutes or until lightly browned. Savory: Sprinkle sea salt & black pepper. Sweet: Call us crazy, but don't you think pumpkin pie spice would be the perfect complement? Sprinkle a little over the seeds and drizzle with maple syrup.
Use to garnish salads or squash soups
Add to oatmeal, granola, muesli, or yogurt
Toss in smoothies
Enhance your favorite trail mix
Add to homemade breads, pancakes, muffins. While you're at it, replace wheat flour with pumpkin seed flour to make these yummy treats. And if you need permission: No, you're not going too far at all if you decide to make Pumpkin Spice bread with pumpkin seed flour. That would be the right thing to do! Btw - you can very easily make your own pepita flour: toss a cup or three into your food processor and turn it on! Just know that you most likely will not be able to replace ALL of the wheat flour.
Disclaimer: Wellness is best improved by the implementation of various healthy practices daily. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any illness or disease. Consumption of pumpkin seeds may not be favorable to your health. Please consult with your trusted healthcare practitioner before implementing changes to your diet. No single food is a cure-all. Please contact Fabulous Nutrition if you'd like to improve your health through diet.
Alasalvar C, Chang SK, Bolling B, Oh WY, Shahidi F. Specialty seeds: Nutrients, bioactives, bioavailability, and health benefits: A comprehensive review.Compr Rev Food Sci Food Saf. 2021;20:2382–2427. https://doi.org/10.1111/1541-4337.12730
Amin, M. Z., Islam, T., Mostofa, F., Uddin, M. J., Rahman, M. M., & Satter, M. A. (2019). Comparative assessment of the physicochemical and biochemical properties of native and hybrid varieties of pumpkin seed and seed oil (Cucurbita maxima Linn.). Heliyon, 5(12), e02994. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.heliyon.2019.e02994
National Institutes of Health. Iron. Retrieved August 2021 from https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Iron-HealthProfessional/
National Institutes of Health. Magnesium. Retrieved August 2021 from https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Magnesium-HealthProfessional/
National Institutes of Health. Zinc. Retrieved August 2021 from https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Zinc-HealthProfessional/
Nutrition Data. Seeds, pumpkin and squash seed kernels, roasted, without salt [pepitas]. Retrieved August 2021 from https://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/nut-and-seed-products/3067/2
Patel, S., & Rauf, A. (2017). Edible seeds from Cucurbitaceae family as potential functional foods: Immense promises, few concerns. Biomedicine & pharmacotherapy = Biomedecine & pharmacotherapie, 91, 330–337. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biopha.2017.04.090
Pier Giorgio Peiretti, Giorgia Meineri, Francesco Gai, Erica Longato & Ryszard
Amarowicz (2017) Antioxidative activities and phenolic compounds of pumpkin (Cucurbita pepo) seeds and amaranth (Amaranthus caudatus) grain extracts, Natural Product Research, 31:18, 2178-2182, DOI: 10.1080/14786419.2017.1278597
Rolnik, A., & Olas, B. (2020). Vegetables from the Cucurbitaceae family and their products: Positive effect on human health. Nutrition (Burbank, Los Angeles County, Calif.), 78, 110788. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.nut.2020.110788
Saavedra, M. J., Aires, A., Dias, C., Almeida, J. A., De Vasconcelos, M. C., Santos, P., & Rosa, E. A. (2015). Evaluation of the potential of squash pumpkin by-products (seeds and shell) as sources of antioxidant and bioactive compounds. Journal of food science and technology, 52(2), 1008–1015. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13197-013-1089-5
The George Mateljan Foundation. Pumpkin Seeds. Retrieved August 2021 from http://whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=82
The George Mateljan Foundation. Zinc. Retrieved August 2021 from http://whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=nutrient&dbid=115
Veronezi, C. M., & Jorge, N. (2012). Bioactive compounds in lipid fractions of pumpkin (Cucurbita sp) seeds for use in food. Journal of food science, 77(6), C653–C657. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1750-3841.2012.02736.x