What are pumpkin seeds and where do they come from?
Pumpkin seeds are edible seeds of a pumpkin, they are asymmetrically oval with an outer layer husk and light green once the husk has been removed. Pumpkin and their nutritious seeds come from North America, South America and Central America. They are known in North America as pepitas. The word ‘Pepita’ comes from Mexico, where the Spanish phrase ‘Pepita de calabaza’ means ‘little seed of squash’ has originated.
Pumpkin seeds are perfect eaten raw or roasted, they can be eaten as a snack, sprinkled on salads, added to soups or sauces and even to your tasty smoothies.
Let’s dive into the nutritional facts shall we? Pumpkin seeds are rich in certain minerals & vitamins, contain 9 essential amino acids, rich in antioxidants and healthy fatty acids.
Pumpkin seeds, like any other seeds can be high in healthy fat and carbohydrate content, 1oz (28.4g) of pumpkin seeds provide 126 calories, 5g of fat (1g saturated, 2.5g polyunsaturated fat and 1.7g of monounsaturated fats), 15g of carbohydrates and 5g of protein.
Let’s break this down a little to understand what it all means.
- 126 calories per 1oz is approximately 85 seeds. So if you have a sedentary job and constantly feel the need to snack, this is a great way to snack and nibble without consuming a lot of calories.
- 5g of healthy fat is great. Out of those 5g only 1g is saturated, this makes it a healthy fat snack, saturated fats should be limited as they raise levels of bad cholesterol. The rest of fat content comes from polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, these fats improve blood cholesterol and have shown to decrease the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
- 15g of carbohydrates which makes the snack great for supplying energy. Just be careful, if you are on a Ketogenic Diet, your carbohydrates consumption should be limited. You can still eat the pumpkin seeds but be careful of your portion sizes. Only 0-10% of you total daily calories or no more than 50g of carbohydrates should be consumed per day if you are on a Keto diet.
- 5g of protein also adds great value to its nutritional content making it a good snack to grab if you are looking for some extra protein diet to maintain your lean muscles. As mentioned earlier, pumpkin seeds contains all 9 essential amino acids making it a complete protein source. The amino acids included are: Histidine, Leucine, Threonine, Methionine, Valine, Isoleucine, Lysine, Phenylalanine and Tryptophan.
What do these amino acids do within our body you ask?
Develops and maintains healthy tissues, it coats nerves with a protective layer and ensures smooth transmission of messages from brain to various parts of the body. Histidine is sometimes used in medicine to treat rheumatoid arthritis, allergic diseases, ulcers and anaemia caused by kidney failure or kidney dialysis.
Responsible for muscle protein synthesis. This means leucine is the one to signal for muscle maintenance, growth and recovery.
Supports the function of our central nervous system, cardiovascular, liver and immune system. It is also required for the synthesis of glycine and serine which help with the production of collagen, elastin and muscle tissue. Moreover, threonine aids with bone and teeth strengthening, wound healing and boosting our immune system. Threonine is used to treat spinal spasticity, multiple sclerosis, familial spastic, paraparesis and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (aminoacidsguide.com, 2019). .
Acts as a building block that our body uses to make proteins and protects our body cells. It is used to prevent liver damage in acetaminophen poisoning. Methionine increases acidity in urine, treats liver disorders and improves wound healing. Other uses may be to treat depression, alcoholism, allergies, asthma, copper poisoning, radiation and drug withdrawal but these still need thorough research (eMedicineHealth. 2019)
Aids in maintenance of muscle as it supplies extra glucose for the muscles reducing the risk of their breakdown and extra energy for exercise. It is an essential amino acid that’s valuable for smooth nervous system, cognitive functioning, and regulation of the immune system (aminoacidsguide.com, 2019)
Increases endurance and aids in muscle recovery (aminoacidsguide.com, 2019).
May protect against and treat cold sores by blocking the amino acid known as Arginine. It may reduce anxiety and schizophrenia by blocking the stress signals. Lysine may also improve calcium absorption and retention which in turn strengthens and protects bones. Lysine is also required for the formation of collagen which promotes wound healing (O’Brien, 2018)
Helps to produce Tyrosine and together, they lead to the formation of adrenaline which is converted into a chemical which gets utilised in the production of noradrenaline. This promotes mental alertness, memory, good mood and suppresses appetite for instance. This means phenylalanine can help with depression, confusion and decreased alertness (aminoacidsguide.com, 2019).
It is normally used to treat insomnia, anxiety, depression and even PMS, and enhances relaxation and sleep (aminoacidsguide.com, 2019).
Pumpkin seeds contain the following vitamin and minerals:
Required for normal function of muscles, nerve cells and organs like heart, kidneys and adrenal glands.
Plays an important role in the formation and strengthening of bones and teeth, and helps to manage levels of calcium with the blood
This helps in protein and amino acid digestion, it also helps to utilise certain vitamins and minerals like choline, thiamine, vitamin C and E.
Essential for growth and repair of all tissues, and sexual maturation
Plays an important role of the body’s antioxidant defense system, it protects against the harmful effects of free radicals. Free radicals are toxins that we inhale from air.
It is a component of cytochrome oxidase and superoxide dismutase which are two enemies involved in the body’s defense system. Similar to selenium
Helps to regulate insulin levels in the blood by moving the sugars into body cells instead so they are used for energy instead.
Removes toxins (M, 2019)
Health Benefits of pumpkin seeds:
Reduce sleep deprivation
Pumpkin seeds are rich in magnesium and tryptophan which are required for sleep regulation. Please bear in mind that you would need to eat approximately 200g of pumpkin seeds to get enough of these nutrients for better sleep.
Helps to keep your heart healthy
Pumpkin seeds are a great source of unsaturated fats and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) which has shown some great benefits for the heat. ALA is usually used to prevent heart attacks, lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol, and reverse the hardening of blood vessels. Other uses of ALA include; rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, lupus, diabetes, renal disease, ulcerative colitis, and Crohn’s disease. Therefore, consuming pumpkin seeds can be a great way to keep your heart healthy (Webmd.com,2019).
Improves prostate and bladder health
Pumpkin seeds may help to relieve symptoms of prostate gland enlargement. This is a common condition in older men, the prostate gland enlarges causing some blockage to the flow of urine (Nishimura et al, 2014). As a result, it can also cause certain issues with bladder, urinary tract and kidneys. There was a study conducted using 1,400 men with BPH. They were supplemented with pumpkin seed oil and palmetto oil over 1 year. This study reported a reduction in BPH symptoms (Hong, Kim and Maeng, 2009). Another study has also shown to treat symptoms of overactive bladder. The participants were supplemented with 10g pumpkin seed extract over 12 weeks. The study reported that pumpkin seeds played an important role in regulating the bladder function (Mayo Clinic, 2019).
Does it improve blood pressure?
As mentioned earlier, pumpkin seeds are high in antioxidants and magnesium. MANY articles show that magnesium is required for lowering blood pressure. However, a study conducted over 26 weeks shows evidence that these articles are bias. The study reported that magnesium did NOT significantly lower the systolic blood pressure (high blood pressure) but it did reduce diastolic blood pressure (low blood pressure). So does it improve blood pressure? That is debatable (Dickinson et al, 2006)
Reduces risk of certain cancers
Pumpkin seeds are high in antioxidants which protect our body cells from ‘free radicals’. Free radicals are toxins found within our air that we inhale. These free radicals can damage our body cells. Consumption of pumpkin seeds has been linked to a reduction of stomach, breast, lung, prostate, breast and colon cancers (Brown, 2018). One study analysed the correlation between breast cancer in postmenopausal stage with consumption of sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and soybeans. The results demonstrated significant reduction in risk of breast cancer in postmenopausal women.
May improve sperm quality
Pumpkin seeds are rich in zinc which may improve sperm quality. Pumpkin seeds and the zinc content may also protect sperm quality from damage that may be caused from chemotherapy and autoimmune diseases. There was a study conducted in mice which showed some curative effects of pumpkin oil against cytoxicity and genotoxicity caused by medication known as azathioprine (elfiky et al, 2012). Cytoxicity is the level of toxicity of a cell. Genotoxicity refers to toxicity induced by chemicals that can cause damage and mutations to the cell (Zaineddin et al, 2012)
May help manage symptoms of diabetes
Pumpkin seeds are high in fibre, 28g of shelled seeds provide 1.1g of fibre which can help manage high cholesterol and blood sugar levels (Brown, 2018). When fibre is digested it turns into a gel-like mass after absorbing water within the body. This then moves slowly through the digestive tract, slowing down the digestion and any spike in blood sugar levels that may be caused by foods that were consumed.
In conclusion, pumpkin seeds have an impressive nutritional profile and a great amount of benefits that have been backed by sufficient research. However, blood pressure benefit needs some further research as currently, articles are proven to be bias.
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