Pumpkin seeds are one of the best natural sources of the heart healthy mineral magnesium. The heart has the highest magnesium requirement of any other organ and is simply unable to function properly with insufficient amounts of this important mineral. High blood pressure, cardiac arrest and cardiovascular disease are all potential side effects of insufficient magnesium.
Another mineral that contributes to heart health is potassium which, with vasodilating properties relieves the tension in blood vessels which is one of the main causes of high blood pressure. The oil of the pumpkin seed also contains nitric oxide enzymes which help to expand blood vessels, improving blood flow and reducing the risk of atherosclerosis (the build up of plaque leading to hardening of the arteries).
Pumpkin seeds are antioxidant powerhouses, providing a whopping 80% of the RDA of the antioxidant vitamin E in just one 28g serving. Vitamin E is an umbrella term for a group of 8 fat soluble compounds (tocopherols), whose primary role in the body is to scavenge free radicals.
These super seeds are also high in the antioxidant minerals copper, manganese and selenium. Manganese in particular is a powerful antioxidant, a component of the enzyme superoxide dismutase, this is the body’s most powerful antioxidant that plays a critical role in reducing oxidative damage and inflammation.
In addition to antioxidant vitamins and minerals, pumpkin seeds contain other antioxidant compounds like phenolic acids, polyphenols and flavonoids. These phytonutrients scavenge free radicals such as peroxide, hydroperoxide of lipid hydroxyl, thus inhibiting the oxidative mechanisms that lead to degenerative diseases.
Powerful immune boosters, pumpkin seeds are a rich source of zinc, an essential trace mineral that plays a vital role in protecting the immune system, as well as protecting DNA strands from breaking. According to the American Journal for Clinical Nutrition: “It is clear that zinc affects multiple aspects of the immune system, from the barrier of the skin to gene regulation within lymphocytes. Zinc is crucial for normal development and function of cells mediating nonspecific immunity such as neutrophils and natural killer cells. Zinc deficiency also affects development of acquired immunity by preventing both the outgrowth and certain functions of T lymphocytes such as activation, Th1 cytokine production, and B lymphocyte help”.
Plant Based Omega 3
Pumpkin seeds are a great source of valuable plant based omega 3 – alpha linolenic acid (ALA). This is the precursor to the more important EPA and DHA – critical omegas that the body cannot do without. If we rely on plant based omega 3, it is important that our bodies can convert ALA into these important fats. Conversions of ALA to DHA and EPA are dependent on adequate levels of other nutrients, such as B vitamins, copper, calcium, magnesium, zinc, and iron – most of which are abundant in pumpkin seeds.
The benefits of Omega 3 are well documented and many:
Alleviate Anxiety and Depression – EPA appears to be the best for depression with one study finding EPA to be as effective as Prozac.
Improve Heart Health – Omega 3’s can reduce blood pressure, prevent blood platelets from clumping together avoiding blood clots, keep the arteries smooth and free from plaque and reduce inflammation.
Improve Eye Health - DHA is a major structural component of the brain and retina of the eye, it may help to prevent macular degeneration.
Anti-Inflammatory – Whilst inflammation is an important part of any healing process, chronic low-level inflammation can contribute to almost all chronic Western diseases such as heart disease and cancer.
Brain Health – It is especially important to get enough Omega 3 as children and as we age. This will ensure optimal brain development in children and prevent age related mental decline as we get older.
Folklore and history
The round, plump, orange vegetable that we know as the pumpkin today is actually descended from a much smaller, hooked neck and rather non-descript gourd. Archaeological excavations in Mexico, Central and South America and the Eastern United States have revealed that the ancient peoples of the Americas only ate the seeds and didn’t bother with the flesh of the gourd - possibly due to the bitter taste. Later, as Native American tribes started to select and breed the pumpkin/gourd for a sweeter taste, they started to consume the flesh and even the flowers of the gourds. Traditionally the flesh would be roasted into strips and then dried to be used as a winter food. Even the outer casing would be dried and used as water vessels and bowls.
Hailing from South America, the pumpkin is a quintessential symbol of autumn. With an ancient history, pumpkin seeds were discovered by archaeologists in Mexican caves that date back to 7,000 BCE. They have long been celebrated by Native American tribes who treasured them as both food and medicine. Their primary medicinal use was as an intestinal parasite remedy – its effectiveness was so well observed that throughout the 19th century, pumpkin seeds were listed as an official treatment for parasites by the United States pharmacopeia. They were also used for kidney problems, urinary and gastric illnesses.
Pumpkin Seeds can be eaten dried, roasted or whole. They make a healthy addition to baked goods such as bread or muffins.
Pumpkin Seed Protein Powder makes a great addition to pre or post workout smoothies and shakes.
Raw Pumpkin Seed Butter can be spread lavishly on toast or added to smoothies for an extra energy boost.
Vitamins: B1, B3, Folate (B9), E and K
Minerals: Copper, Iron, Magnesium, Manganese, Selenium, Zinc, Phosphorus and Potassium