When you’re in the mood to snack, something salty or crunchy often comes to mind. The only challenge with these cravings is that it’s almost impossible to find salty snacks that are both healthy and unprocessed. But pumpkin seeds are the exception.
Pumpkin seeds, or pepitas, are a superfood snack that will satisfy your cravings for a salty snack. And it’s a great way to make use of the abundance of seeds available in the fall.
For such a little seed, pumpkin seeds are chock-full of vitamins, minerals, healthy fats, protein, and even a little fiber. And while they are usually sold without their outer shell, they can also be roasted and enjoyed with the shells on for some extra fiber and crunch. The result is a delicious snack that packs a hefty health-boosting punch.
The most impressive benefit of pumpkin seeds is their ability to support a healthy heart. One study in animals, for example, found that the compounds in pumpkin seeds can increase nitric oxide generation in the body (1).
Nitric oxide helps to combat high blood pressure and is protective of the cardiovascular system. That study is backed up by another on postmenopausal women which found that pumpkin seed oil reduced diastolic blood pressure and increased good cholesterol (HDL) levels (2).
But the benefits don’t end there. Pumpkin seeds also contain essential fatty acids (EFAs), including omega-3 and omega-6, that are well-known for keeping your heart healthy.
If you’re interested in taking care of your heart, you may also want to get these heart-healthy nutrients in your diet.
Pumpkin seeds are one of the single best sources of magnesium. This is a big deal because most people don’t get enough magnesium in their diet. In fact, it’s estimated that around 75% of adults in the U.S. get considerably less magnesium than what’s needed (3).
Snacking on pumpkin seeds can be an easy and tasty way to make sure you’re getting enough magnesium, an essential mineral for your body.
Magnesium is vital since it’s used in over 300 biochemical processes in the body. These include the maintenance of healthy bones, controlling blood pressure, regulating blood sugar levels, helping muscles relax, and supporting heart health (4).
Antioxidants are the superheroes of a healthy body. They are defenders of immunity, help reduce inflammation, and even slow down physical aging (5).
Pumpkin seeds contain several antioxidants including carotenoids, squalene, and vitamin E. But with antioxidants, there’s a catch.
Research suggests that you only get the health benefits if the antioxidants are consumed through food or food-based supplements. Supplements that contain isolated or artificial antioxidants are shown to be ineffective.
One unexpected benefit of consuming pumpkin seeds is their effect on sleep, thanks to their high levels of magnesium. Evidence suggests that getting enough magnesium plays a critical role in the quality of your sleep (6).
A study published by the Journal of Research in Medical Sciences found that magnesium significantly improved the symptoms of insomnia, including the ability to fall asleep (7).
Plus, the zinc found in pumpkin seeds is also shown to help improve sleep quality (8). Pumpkin seeds are also rich in tryptophan, the amino acid renowned for its sleepy effects, reducing time awake at night (9).
Another benefit of snacking on pumpkin seeds is they may help manage your blood sugar levels—especially for those who already have diabetes (10).
The large amount of magnesium found in pumpkin seeds can have a balancing effect on your blood sugar levels (11). One large study of over 127,000 people even found there was a strong inverse relationship between magnesium intake and diabetes risk (12).
So, eating magnesium-rich foods such as pumpkin seeds can be an important part of helping to maintain healthy blood sugar levels.
Since pumpkin seeds contain squalene and vitamin E, they are also great for supporting healthy skin. Squalene is a lipid antioxidant that your body uses to manufacture many of your skin’s oils.
As a result, studies have found that squalene can help hydrate the skin and keep it supple (13). Furthermore, both squalene and vitamin E can protect your skin from oxidative damage and UV rays from the sun (14).
Oxidative damage and UV rays are common reasons why your skin gets less plump and more wrinkled. So, getting plenty of vitamin E and squalene from foods such as pumpkin seeds can help ensure your skin stays supple.
There’s a considerable amount of evidence to indicate consuming nutrient-rich pumpkin seeds regularly may reduce the risk of certain types of cancer.
Meanwhile, a study on postmenopausal women showed pumpkin seeds can reduce the risk of breast cancer (17). This means that eating pumpkin seeds can be an important part of keeping your cells and body healthy.
If you’re considering pumpkin seeds as a snack, look for fresh seeds, so there’s no risk that the healthy fats in the seeds have gone bad (rancid). If you got them yourself from carving a pumpkin, it’s recommended that you store them in a cool, dark, and dry place for no longer than 4 months.