What Are Pumpkin Seeds?
Pumpkin seeds are edible seeds from pumpkins and other varieties of gourd squash. The seeds are cream colored, flat, and oval with a nutty, slightly sweet flavor. They are roasted, salted, and eaten as a snack in many parts of the world.
You can scoop seeds out of a carving pumpkin and roast them yourself or buy roasted pumpkin seeds from a grocery or health food store. You may see them labeled "pepitas." Pumpkin seeds and pepitas are basically the same thing except that pepitas have their cream-colored shells (hulls) removed and they come from specific varieties of pumpkin.
Pumpkins are native to Central and South America, and have been used by Native Americans for centuries as food, as well as medicine. Pumpkin seeds are filled with nutrients, such as unsaturated fats like omega-3s and minerals like magnesium.
Because they are so nutritious, pumpkin seeds have a long history of use dating back to the Oaxaca Highlands of Mexico over 7,500 years ago. Across many cultures, they’ve been used as a folk remedy to treat:
Pumpkin seed oil
Pumpkin seed oil is either steam distilled or cold pressed from pumpkin seeds. It's a dark green oil that's a rich source of polyunsaturated fats and antioxidants (substances that fight cell damage), such as polyphenols and carotenoids. You can use it for cooking, baking, as well as in marinades and salad dressings. Or, you can find it as capsules to take as a supplement or serum to put on your skin or hair.
You can buy pumpkin seed oil in different forms from grocery and health food stores.
Health Benefits of Pumpkin Seeds
Some potential health benefits include:
Pumpkin seeds are rich in many antioxidants, which protect your cells from disease-causing damage and reduce inflammation in your body. When they have their hulls, they’re also a great source of dietary fiber, which can boost this effect. Studies show that anti-inflammatory foods can help you prevent chronic diseases, such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
Laboratory studies show that pumpkin seeds can stop the growth of breast and prostate cancer cells. They may also kill cancer cells by triggering them to apoptosis, or cancer cell death. Researchers think that the anti-cancer activity of pumpkin seeds may be due to the high antioxidant levels in the seeds. But more research is needed to see how pumpkin seeds work in people to stop cancer cells from growing or to kill cancer cells.
Improved prostate health
Several studies have shown that pumpkin seeds may help ease the symptoms of benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). BPH is a condition where your prostate gland is swollen. This can cause it to press against your urethra and irritate your bladder. People with BPH may feel as if they have to pee all the time or they may be unable to completely empty their bladder.
But medicines that treat BPH, such as alpha-blockers and 5-alpha-reductase inhibitors (5ARIs), can have side effects like sexual function disorders that may not go away even if you stop taking the medicine. One study from 2022 included 130 people assigned male at birth (AMAB). This study showed that 500 milligrams of pumpkin seed extract twice a day reduced lower urinary tract symptoms from BPH and improved overall quality of life. Yet, it didn't change the scores on a sexual health satisfaction questionnaire.
Ease the symptoms of overactive bladder
A couple of studies have shown that pumpkin seed oil can improve the symptoms of overactive bladder. Overactive bladder makes you need to pee suddenly and often. Some people may need to get up from bed to pee several times at night. In one study, 45 people with overactive bladder took 10 grams of pumpkin seed oil per day for 12 weeks, and their symptoms improved on a questionnaire. In another study, 117 people who were assigned female at birth (AFAB) took a combination of pumpkin seed oil, sumac bark, and hops extract for 12 weeks. The number of times they needed to pee decreased, both during the day and at night, and their quality of life significantly improved.
Healthy heart function
The high magnesium content in pumpkin seeds helps lower your blood pressure and keep it steady. Thanks to this effect, diets high in magnesium are linked to a lower risk of stroke and death from heart disease.
Studies show that the antioxidants in pumpkin seeds also increase nitric oxide levels in your body. This molecule works to keep your blood vessels smooth, flexible, and healthy, improving blood flow and reducing the risk of heart and circulation problems.
Snacking on pumpkin seeds before bed may help you get a better night’s rest. Pumpkin seeds are a natural source of tryptophan, an amino acid that promotes sleep. The zinc, copper, and selenium in pumpkin seeds can also affect sleep duration and quality. Finally, studies show that magnesium can help reduce stress and anxiety, contributors to insomnia.
Improved sperm count
A study in mice that had lost the ability to produce sperm due to treatment with a chemotherapy drug showed that pumpkin seeds helped restore their ability to make sperm. The mice ate 200 milligrams of pumpkin seed extract per kilogram of body weight every day for 40 days. Researchers think that the antioxidants in the seeds helped prevent some of the damage from the chemotherapy drug. These results are promising as a way to help people who take chemotherapy keep their fertility. But more research is needed to see if it will work this way in people.
Pumpkin Seed Nutrition
Pumpkin seeds are rich in protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and polyunsaturated fats. Polyunsaturated fats are the "good" fats that the American Heart Association recommends as a replacement for foods with saturated and trans fats.
Polyunsaturated fats can help lower your bad cholesterol levels, which may help prevent heart disease and strokes. Polyunsaturated fats can also provide essential fats that your body needs but can't make, such as omega-6 and omega-3 fats. One serving of pumpkin seeds has about 2.5 grams of omega-6 and 22 milligrams of omega-3 fat. In addition, the protein in pumpkin seeds is a high-quality protein, like soy protein, that has all your essential amino acids.
Pumpkin seeds are also an excellent or good source of the following minerals:
Nutrients per serving
A serving of 1 ounce of whole roasted pumpkin seed kernels contains:
One thing to be aware of is that pepitas don't have as much fiber as pumpkin seeds, since the hulls have been removed. Most of the fiber is in the hulls. Hulled seeds have about 1.8 grams of fiber per serving.
Pumpkin seeds are tasty and easy to overeat. Because they're high in calories, limit your portions to the recommended serving size of 1 oz, which is a little less than a quarter-cup.
How to Eat Pumpkin Seeds
One easy way to make your own pumpkin seeds is to scoop the seeds from inside a whole pumpkin. Rinse or soak the seeds to get rid of the stringy orange flesh that surrounds them. You can eat the stringy flesh, too, if you want. But if you don't care for the texture, soaking the seeds for a couple of hours can make your job easier.
You can eat them raw, or, toss with about a tablespoon of olive oil, spread them out on a cookie sheet, and bake in a 300 F oven for 30-40 minutes. Roasting the seeds makes them easier to digest, increases their antioxidant levels, and makes them even more delicious.
You can also find pumpkin seeds with or without their hulls at grocery and health food stores. If you're buying them from the store, check the ingredients because they may have added salt and sugar. Eat pumpkin seeds out of hand as a snack or use them as a nutritious garnish for salad or soup. You can also substitute pumpkin seeds in any recipe where you might use sunflower seeds or pine nuts.
Some ideas for ways to add pumpkin seeds to your diet include:
- Add them to your smoothies
- Mix them into granola, yogurt, or cereal
- Use them to garnish any meal, like chicken or pasta dishes
- Blend them with other ingredients in a dip like hummus, pesto, or guacamole
- Bake them into cookies and breads
What is the healthiest way to eat pumpkin seeds?
The healthiest way to eat pumpkin seeds is to roast them yourself from a whole pumpkin. Pumpkin seeds that are straight from the pumpkin are lower in sodium and have more minerals than the ones you buy at the grocery store. So, your second best option is to buy unsalted, raw seeds in their hulls from the grocery or health food store.
Pumpkin seeds do have a lot of a chemical called phytic acid, which can bind to mineral nutrients in your digestive system and keep you from absorbing them as well. You can reduce the phytic acid content by soaking or sprouting your seeds before you eat or roast them.
To soak your seeds:
- Pick through to remove any debris and rinse them until the water runs clear.
- Put them in a bowl or jar and add about 2-3 times as much cool water. For instance, for 2/3 cup of seeds, add 1 1/3 to 2 cups of water. Stir so that all the seeds come into contact with the water.
- Soak the seeds at room temperature for 1-4 hours.
- Eat them right away or store them in the refrigerator.
To sprout your seeds:
- Soak them first as described above.
- After they have soaked, drain and rinse them and then add the same amount of fresh water.
- Soak for 8-12 hours in an area with good air circulation. A corner of your kitchen counter is fine. Your goal is to get the seeds to start germinating but not to fully germinate.
- You may need to drain, rinse, and soak them again for another 8-12 hours until the hull bulges.
- Drain and rinse, and then use them right away or store them in the refrigerator.
Use soaked or sprouted seeds just as you would any pumpkin seeds. Roast or toast them in the oven and then eat them out of hand or add them to your favorite recipes.
Pumpkin Seeds Side Effects
Side effects may include:
Allergic reactions. Allergy to pumpkin seeds is very rare. It's only been reported a few times in people from 3 to 70 years old. The reported reactions range from mild to severe. Most have been mild with local symptoms in the mouth or throat. But a few people have reported vomiting, swelling in the face and throat, itching, flushing, wheezing, faintness, and shock. Food allergies usually happen after you've eaten the food a couple of times. Pay attention to how you feel the first few times after you eat a new food.
Potential drug interactions. Pumpkin seeds are high in vitamin K, omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium, and they also have diuretic effects. Diuretics help move extra fluid and salt out of your body by making you pee more. Because of this, if you're taking blood thinners (such as heparin), blood pressure medicine, or diuretics, ask your doctor before you add pumpkin seeds to your diet.
What Do Pumpkin Seeds Do to Your Stomach?
Eating a lot of pumpkin seeds may lead to stomachaches. In particular, if you aren't used to eating a lot of fiber, you could get stomach cramps and possibly diarrhea from eating a lot of pumpkin seeds at once. To help avoid this, don't eat more than a serving size (about ¼ cup) at a time.
Pumpkin seeds are edible, nutritious seeds from pumpkins that are roasted, salted, and eaten as a snack in many parts of the world. They're very nutritious, with omega-3 fatty acids and lots of minerals, and they have anti-inflammatory effects that have many potential health benefits. These include anti-cancer properties and things that promote heart health. They may also ease the symptoms of overactive bladder and benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) and improve sperm count. The best way to eat them is to roast them yourself after soaking or sprouting to remove the phytic acid that may keep you from absorbing the nutrients. Add them to smoothies, salads, soups, or any of your favorite recipes. But because they're calorie dense, take care to limit yourself to a serving per day, which is about ¼ cup.