When it comes to nutrient-dense dietary choices, the so-called superfoods get all the attention. But it’s easy to forget that, living in the shadow of these popular health foods, there are more common (and usually more affordable) foods that offer just as much in the way of nutrition.
One example is pumpkin seeds, which are usually relegated to the snack food category and rarely thought of as a superfood. The truth, however, is that pumpkin seeds are absolutely brimming with beneficial nutrients and compounds—and research has shown that consuming them regularly can improve a wide variety of health problems.
The mighty pumpkin seed
Pumpkin seeds feature a nearly perfect nutrient profile. They’re low in carbohydrates (but still contain enough to be a good source of readily usable energy), have a very low glycemic index, and contain an ideal balance of healthy proteins and fats.
Pumpkin seeds actually contain higher levels of absorbable protein than any other commonly consumed nut or seed, and also have the right balance between soluble and insoluble fiber. They even contain precursors that your body can use to make brain neurotransmitters (like tryptophan, with which your brain makes serotonin).
Besides all that, their nutrient content is off the charts. Take a look at everything that pumpkin seeds provide…
Vitamins: A wide variety of B vitamins (in which many Americans are deficient), vitamin C, gamma-tocopherol (the most effective form of vitamin E), and vitamin K (which can be difficult to get from food, and which offers many benefits, including the potentiation of vitamin D).
Minerals: All sorts of essential minerals, including potassium, sodium, selenium, and particularly high levels of zinc, iron, copper, phosphorus, manganese, and magnesium. Mineral deficiency is a huge problem in the United States, so combatting it with pumpkin seeds is a wise choice.
Phytosterols and other goodies: Significant levels of plant compounds that balance cholesterol and cardiovascular health. Another compound called delta-7-sterine even prevents the build-up of harmful compounds that can lead to prostate dysfunction, hair loss, and endocrine issues.
Antioxidants: High levels of the antioxidant lutein, as well as some of the vitamins and minerals mentioned above (especially zinc, selenium, and vitamin E), which function as powerful antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents.
This balanced nutrient profile makes pumpkin seeds an excellent tool for fighting back against nutrient deficiency—especially because food-based vitamins and minerals are generally easier for the body to absorb when metabolized in synergy with other naturally occurring nutrients.
Even vegetarians and vegans can get many of the nutrients they need from pumpkin seeds, including various B vitamins and protein (two types of nutrient in which non-meat-eaters are notoriously lacking).
If you’re a vegetarian or know that you’re vitamin deficient, though, note that it can still be difficult to get enough vitamin B12 (even from pumpkin seeds).
For this nutrient in particular, it’s best to supplement with a highly bioavailable form of methylcobalamin (the most high-quality form of vitamin B12). By combining this supplement with pumpkin seeds (and similarly nutrient-dense foods), you’ll ensure that all your nutritional needs are met.
Putting nutrients to work
With all the information swirling around the natural health community these days, it can be difficult to see the real, concrete benefits that come from all these nutrient-dense foods. So pumpkin seeds are packed with lots of vitamins that I’ve been told are good for me; how does all that translate into tangible benefits for me?
Researchers have tackled exactly this question, and have found that pumpkin seeds have plenty of condition-specific benefits to offer. Here’s a sampling of what you can look forward to when you add these delicious seeds into your diet.
Inflammation control. The anti-inflammatory compounds mentioned above (such as vitamin E and vitamin C) help to balance the body’s inflammatory response, rather than simply suppressing it (like pharmaceuticals and NSAID’s). They can therefore work wonders for aches and pains, arthritis, and other autoimmune disorders.
Improved cardiovascular health. As mentioned above, plant sterols (kind of like the plant equivalent of cholesterol) can have a remarkably beneficial effect on overall cholesterol levels, due to their ability to reduce the absorption of LDL cholesterol. Studies have shown that pumpkin seeds improve many of the markers associated with heart disease risk.
Relief from anxiety, depression, and insomnia. Due to their high tryptophan and magnesium content, pumpkin seeds can even improve your mood and quality of sleep. As mentioned above, this is likely because surplus serotonin and magnesium has been linked with balanced mood, stress management, and sleep cycles.
Elimination of intestinal parasites. Pumpkin seeds even contain a rare amino acid called cucurbitacin, which paralyzes tapeworms and helps remove them from the body (pumpkin seeds mixed with milk and honey is actually a long-standing folk remedy for dealing with parasites).
So while all those official superfoods have plenty of their own benefits, don’t believe that they’re absolutely necessary for optimal health—the humble pumpkin seed gives even these fancy, expensive foods a run for their money.