Subtly sweet and nutty with a malleable, chewy texture, the roasted seeds from inside your Halloween pumpkin are one of the most nutritious and flavorful seeds around.
While they are available year round, they're freshest in the fall when pumpkins are in season.
These super seeds, also known as Pepitas, are flat, dark green seeds.
Some are encased in a yellow-white husk, although some varieties of pumpkins produce seeds without shells.
Like cantaloupe, cucumber, and squash, pumpkins and their seeds belong to the gourd or Cucurbitaceae family.
Pumpkin Seeds May Promote Prostate Health
Benign prostatic hypertrophy, or BPH, is a condition that commonly affects men 50 years and older in the United States.
BPH involves enlargement of the prostate gland.
One of the factors that contributes to BPH is overstimulation of the prostate cells by testosterone and its conversion product, DHT (dihydrotestosterone).
Components in pumpkin seed oil appear able to interrupt this triggering of prostate cell multiplication by testosterone and DHT, although the exact mechanism for this effect is still a matter of discussion.
Equally open for discussion is the relationship between pumpkin seed oil extracts (which could be purchased in the form of a dietary supplement) and pumpkin seeds themselves.
The prostate-helpful components found in the oil extracts are definitely found in the seeds; the only question is whether the amount of seeds eaten for a normal snack would contain enough of these prostate-supportive components.
The carotenoids found in pumpkin-seeds, and the omega-3 fats found in pumpkin seeds are also being studied for their potential prostate benefits.
Zinc is one further nutrient found in these super seeds that might impact prostate function.
The fact that pumpkin seeds serve as a good source of zinc may contribute to the role of pumpkin seeds in support of the prostate.
However, studies about the relationship between zinc and BPH show mixed results, and more research is needed to determine the circumstances under which zinc might be helpful versus harmful.
Protection for Men's Bones
In addition to maintaining prostate health, another reason for older men to make zinc-rich foods, such as pumpkin-seeds, a regular part of their healthy way of eating is bone mineral density.
Although osteoporosis is often thought to be a disease for which postmenopausal women are at highest risk, it is also a potential problem for older men.
Almost 30% of hip fractures occur in men, and 1 in 8 men over age 50 will have an osteoporotic fracture.
Anti-Inflammatory Benefits in Arthritis
The healing properties of these seeds have also been recently investigated with respect to arthritis.
In animal studies, the addition of pumpkin seeds to the diet has compared favorably with use of the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug indomethacin in reducing inflammatory symptoms.
Importantly, though, pumpkin seeds did not have one extremely unwanted effect of indomethacin: unlike the drug, pumpkin seeds do not increase the level of damaged fats (lipid peroxides) in the linings of the joints, a side-effect that actually contributes to the progression of arthritis.
A Rich Source of Healthful Minerals, Protein and Monounsaturated Fat
In addition to their above-listed unique health benefits, pumpkin-seeds also provide a wide range of traditional nutrients.
Our food ranking system qualified them as a very good source of the minerals magnesium, manganese and phosphorus, and a good source of iron, copper, protein and as previously mentioned, zinc.
Snack on a quarter-cup of pumpkin seeds and you'll receive 46.1% of the daily value for magnesium, 28.7% of the DV for iron, 52.0% of the DV for manganese, 24.0% of the DV for copper, 16.9% of the DV for protein, and 17.1% of the DV for zinc.
Pumpkin Seed Phytosterols Lower Cholesterol
Phytosterols are compounds found in plants that have a chemical structure very similar to cholesterol, and when present in the diet in sufficient amounts, are believed to reduce blood levels of cholesterol, enhance the immune response and decrease risk of certain cancers.
Phytosterols beneficial effects are so dramatic that they have been extracted from soybean, corn, and pine tree oil and added to processed foods, such as "butter", replacement spreads, which are then touted as cholesterol-lowering "foods."
But why settle for an imitation "butter" when Mother Nature's nuts and seeds are a naturally rich source of phytosterols-and cardio-protective fiber, minerals and healthy fats as well?
Pumpkins, and their seeds, were a celebrated food of the Native American Indians who treasured them both for their dietary and medicinal properties.
The cultivation of pumpkins spread throughout the world when the European explorers, returning from their journeys, brought back many of the agricultural treasures of the New World.
While pumpkin-seeds are featured in the recipes of many cultures, they are a special hallmark of traditional Mexican cuisine.
Pumpkin-seeds have recently become more popular as research suggests that they have unique nutritional and health benefits.
Today, the leading commercial producers of pumpkins include the United States, Mexico, India and China.
How to Select & Store
Pumpkin seeds are generally available in prepackaged containers as well as bulk bins.
Just as with any other food that you may purchase in the bulk section, make sure that the bins are covered and that the store has a good product turnover so as to ensure the seeds' maximal freshness.
Whether purchasing pumpkin-seeds in bulk or in a packaged container, make sure that there is no evidence of moisture or insect damage and that they are not shriveled.
If it's possible to smell the pumpkin-seeds, do so in order to ensure that they are not rancid or musty.
Pumpkin seeds should be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
While they may stay edible for several months, they seem to lose their peak freshness after about one to two months.
Tips for Preparing:
While most stores sell pumpkin-seeds, it's fun and easy to make your own.
To do so, first remove the seeds from the pumpkin's inner cavity and wipe them off with a paper towel if needed to remove excess pulp that may have stuck to them.
Spread them out evenly on a paper bag and let them dry out overnight.
Place them in a single layer on a cookie sheet and light roast them in a 160-170ºF (about 75ºC) oven for 15-20 minutes.
By roasting them for a short time at a low temperature you can help to preserve their healthy oils.
A Few Quick Serving Ideas:
Add pumpkin-seeds to healthy sautéed vegetables.
Sprinkle pumpkin-seeds on top of mixed green salads.
Grind pumpkin-seeds with fresh garlic, parsley and cilantro leaves.
Mix with olive oil and lemon juice for a tasty salad dressing.
Add chopped pumpkin seeds to your favorite hot or cold cereal.
Add pumpkin seeds to your oatmeal raisin cookie or granola recipe.
Next time you make burgers, whether it be from vegetables, turkey or beef, add some ground pumpkin-seeds.
Now, if you don't know what to have for dinner tonight ...
If you want to enhance the flavor of chicken or fish as well as add extra vitamins-K, A and C to your meal, try this pesto that can be prepared in a matter of minutes.
It's also a great addition to fish tacos; top with pesto and avocado for a taste treat.
Pumpkin Seed-Coated Chicken Breasts with Bulgur Pilaf
Prep Time: 15 Minutes
Total Time: 50 Minutes
¾ c bulgur
¾ c pumpkin seeds
½ tsp chili powder
½ c all-purpose flour
2 lg eggs
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 5 oz each)
1 Tbsp olive oil
3 med carrots, sliced into rounds (1½ c)
1 med onion, chopped (about 1 c)
1½ tsp cumin seeds
Juice of 2 limes (about ¼ c)
⅓ c dried cranberries
4 scallions, white and some green, thinly sliced (about ⅓ c)
¼ c chopped flat-leaf parsley, plus leaves for garnish
1. Heat the oven to 400°F.
Bring 1 1/8 c water to a boil in a medium saucepan.
Stir in the bulgur and 1/8 tsp salt.
Return to a boil, cover, and remove from the heat.
Let stand 30 minutes.
2. Coat a baking sheet with cooking spray.
Pulse the pumpkin seeds in a food processor until coarsely ground.
Add the chili powder and 1/8 tsp salt and pulse once or twice to combine.
3. Place 3 shallow bowls in front of you.
Add the flour to the first bowl.
Beat the eggs in the second bowl and season with ¼ tsp salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Add the pumpkin seeds to the third bowl.
Dip the chicken breasts in the flour, shaking off the excess.
Dip in the egg, then press into the pumpkin seeds so the mixture adheres.
Place on the prepared baking sheet.
Bake, turning once about halfway through, until golden brown and cooked through, 15 to 20 minutes.
4. Heat the oil in a large skillet on medium.
Add the carrots and cook, stirring occasionally, until partially softened, 7 to 8 minutes.
Add the onion and cumin seeds and cook until tender and lightly browned, 7 to 8 minutes.
Add the bulgur and stir to combine.
Stir in the lime juice, cranberries, scallions, and chopped parsley.
Divide the chicken and bulgur among 4 plates and garnish with parsley leaves.
Nutrition: (per serving: 1 chicken breast and about 1 c bulgur) 561 cal, 45 g pro, 52 g carbs, 21 g fat, 4 g saturated fat, 471 mg sodium
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