We might be used to associating pumpkins with carved Halloween jack-o-lanterns, or the carriage waiting to take Cinderella to the ball. But these bright and cheerful squashes hide a host of benefits, in the form of their nutty seeds. Find out all about pumpkin seed benefits for your health.June 20, 2022 3:20 pm October 15, 2018 6:26 pm
The fairytale fruit
In the classic story of Cinderella, written by famous fairytale anthologist Charles Perrault, a humble pumpkin is transformed into a magical carriage to take our heroine to the ball. It’s perhaps Perrault’s immortalisation of the magical pumpkin, or its reemergence in the form of carved Jack-o-lanterns every Halloween, that has so endeared this colourful vegetable to us.
However, you might be surprised to hear that a pumpkin isn’t really a vegetable at all. It is a fruit!
More specifically, pumpkins are berries, as they’re a simple, fleshy fruit with lots of seeds. Several other surprising fruits and vegetables are technically berries as well, such as bananas, watermelons and cucumbers.
And while the classic illustrations would have us believe that Cinderella’s carriage was made from a spherical, orange pumpkin, these special squash are not restricted to the bright colour we know and love. They can also come in shades of pink, red, green, yellow and white.
That said, the large, orange Halloween pumpkin is usually the one we think of first. There are actually a few different varieties that take this shape, including the appropriately named Jack-o-lantern and Howden varieties.
Pumpkin is a winter squash (‘summer squash’ are the same species, but are harvested earlier. in the year). Like all members of the cucurbita family, they have both male and female flowers and need to be pollinated by bees.
Once upon a time, specialised types of bees known as a peponapsis or xonglossa gourd bees took care of pumpkin pollination. Sadly, though, the use of pesticides has decimated their populations. The task, like so many others, now falls to the humble honeybee.
Once upon a time in Mexico
The oldest recorded appearance of pumpkin occurred in Mexico. Pumpkin seeds dating from between 7000 and 5500 BC have been found in the region.
People have been harvesting pumpkins in the Tehuacan and Oaxaca valleys, and in Tamaulipas in Mexico, since approximately 6000 – 5000 BC. Xicallis, the exquisite drinking cups fashioned from pumpkin shells, inspired the Spanish word for ‘cup’: ‘jicara’,
The pumpkin still features prominently in Mexican cuisine. For example, Calabaza En Tacha, or candied pumpkin, is a special Day of the Dead delicacy there.
Spaniards brought the pumpkin over to Europe and Asia. Soon it became an integral part of cooking all around the world. In fact, Antarctica is now the only continent where pumpkins are not cultivated.
The shell, seeds, flowers, and leaves of the pumpkin are edible and all used in cooking in various regions. Among other things, the flesh of the pumpkin is high in fibre, beta-carotene (which the human body converts into vitamin A), antioxidants and vitamin C.
Pumpkin seed health benefits
Pumpkin seeds (known in some parts as ‘pepitas’) and their luxurious oil may be the most compelling parts of the pumpkin.
The seeds themselves have an addictive, crunchy texture and nutty taste. They’re perfect for adding to a range of dishes.
We love to scatter them over a soup for extra texture, or sprinkle them over porridge. However, one of the best ways to enjoy them is simply roasted with a little oil and some spices in the oven. The heat crisps them up into a deliciously healthy snack that can be eaten by the handful.
Alongside many other seeds and nuts, pumpkin seeds contain a high concentration of phytosterols. These are plant composites which may be able to lower bad cholesterol. Pumpkin seeds are also rich in unsaturated fatty acids and nutrients that help fight cell damage caused by free radicals.
If you regularly struggle to get your eight hours every night, pumpkin seeds might be able to lend a helping hand.
Pumpkin seeds are rich in tryptophan, an amino acid which is converted by the body into serotonin. While serotonin is fantastic for mood regulation, it also aids sleep because, as evening falls, your body converts it into melatonin. Melatonin is the hormone which regulates our inner body clock, helping us to get to sleep at night.
More than forty studies conducted over a twenty-year span have shown that tryptophan is most effective in helping mild insomniacs reduce the time it takes them to fall asleep.(3)(4)
They’re high in magnesium
Magnesium is an essential mineral for many processes inside the human body. In the United States, close to half of adults do not eat enough magnesium. And it’s not just the states; magnesium deficiency is typical of most of the Western world.
Pumpkin seeds number among the very best natural sources of magnesium. 100g of pumpkin seeds contain more than the recommended daily amount of magnesium, or 550mg. (Values from MyFoodData)
Adding a handful of pumpkin seeds to your soups and snacks will set you well on the way to meeting your daily targets.
Key pumpkin seed benefits
- Rich in antioxidants that help fight harmful free radicals
- Contains lignans which boost the immune system
- Contains with trytophan to support sleep
- High in essential magnesium
Pumpkin seed oil
“The black-gold of the green region” is the poetic phrase used to describe pumpkin seed oil from Styria, in the east of Austria.
This country has prided itself on pumpkin seed oil for years. Austrians typically use it to dress terrine or meat jelly, as well as extolling its natural health properties.
And pumpkin seed oil is worthy of their praise. It has a luxuriantly deep emerald colour, thanks to the presence of phytochemicals in the oil, and a delicious, intensely nutty flavour. There’s something profoundly autumnal about its taste. It reminds us of sheltering from wet and windy weather by the fire, with a nourishing bowl of stew to warm our bones.
Pumpkin seed oil benefits
Pumpkin seed oil is also rich in minerals that can be hard to source in other foods. These include selenium, useful for the metabolism and the thyroid, and zinc, which is essential for your immune system.
Pumpkin seed oil health benefits for men
Many people have noted the positive influence of pumpkin seed oil when taken to aid hair growth, especially in men.
A Korean study tracked hair growth in men who took 0.4g (less than a teaspoon) of pumpkin seed oil a day for 6 months. The study found that these men had nearly double the hair growth. Considering how difficult it can be to find a solution to male baldness, these results are pretty impressive.(5)
Pumpkin seed oil may also be useful in treating a second pervasive issue for many men: benign prostate hypertrophy (BPH). This is a condition that causes uncomfortable swelling in the prostate and may complicate urinating.
Another Korean study looked into pumpkin seed oil as an alterna