It’s pumpkin season…
Pumpkin-spice lattes. Pumpkin pie. Pumpkin bread. Pumpkin muffins. Pumpkin Pancakes. Pumpkin-flavored foods are everywhere.
But despite the undeniable deliciousness of all these foods, many of them come up short in the health department. Why?
They’re packed with sugar, which means you get more than your fill of the sweet stuff during pumpkin season. So, how can you take a break from sugar and still get your pumpkin fix?
Stick to the seeds.
Pumpkin seeds are nutrient powerhouses. Problem is, most people only eat them one day per year… the day they carve their Halloween pumpkins. Even worse, some people put these healthy morsels in the trash rather than the oven even on the pumpkin-carving day.
If you’re one of these pumpkin seed-deprived peeps, get ready to change your ways. Because once you know the six big health benefits of these seeds, you won’t be able to keep your paws off them.
They protect the prostate and boost testosterone
Guess which nutrient is found in high concentrations in the prostate? Although zinc is present throughout the body, the prostate is second only to bone for high levels of zinc in males. Scientists are still exploring the significance of zinc in the prostate, but thus far they’ve found that men with low dietary zinc tend to be at greater risk for an enlarged prostate (benign prostatic hyperplasia, BPH) and prostatitis (inflammation of the prostate), and possibly prostate cancer. For example, a 2007 study reported that men who had prostatitis or prostate cancer had lower concentrations of zinc than healthy men.
Experts have known that a significant zinc deficiency is associated with abnormally low testosterone levels, but what about mild to moderately low zinc? A research team at Wayne State University School of Medicine evaluated 40 men (ages 20 to 80) and their zinc and testosterone levels. The authors induced marginally low zinc in young men and provided zinc supplements to elderly men who were zinc-deficient. They discovered that limiting zinc intake for 20 weeks caused a decline in testosterone levels and that zinc supplements given for six months improved testosterone production.
They help you sleep
Turkey isn’t the only fall food that can send you into a deep sleep. Pumpkin seeds contain the same sleep-inducing amino acid that turkey does—tryptophan.
When your body processes tryptophan, it converts it into serotonin and melatonin. These hormones are known for making you feel relaxed and sleepy. Tryptophan is even used as a treatment for chronic insomnia.
A 2005 study found that getting your tryptophan from something like a pumpkin seed and complimenting it with a healthy source of carbohydrates (like fruit) could be as effective for insomnia as getting a prescription for pharmaceutical grade tryptophan.
So, set aside your sleeping pills and supplements for one night, and have a bedtime snack instead—pumpkin seeds and an apple.
They keep blood pressure and cholesterol in check
Studies in rats and rabbits show that pumpkin seeds can lower blood pressure and cholesterol. And a small study in postmenopausal women shows that they can do the same for people too.
Researchers think this positive effect on blood pressure and cholesterol probably comes from the high dose of antioxidants in pumpkin seeds. Previous studies show that diets high in antioxidants can lower blood pressure. Antioxidants have also been known to lower cholesterol.
Since high blood pressure and cholesterol are tied to an increased risk of heart disease, pumpkin seeds have the potential to improve your overall heart health.
They battle high blood sugar
A 2011 study published in the Journal of Diabetes Complications found that pumpkin seeds can lower high blood sugar in rats with diabetes. That may be because pumpkin seeds contain plenty of magnesium.
There’s about 168 mg of magnesium in one cup of pumpkin seeds. And research from Harvard’s School of Public Health shows that magnesium can reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. In fact, men and women who ate plenty of magnesium-rich foods lowered their diabetes risk by 33 to 34 percent.
Magnesium benefits your health in other ways too. It supports your nerves, muscles, immune system, heart, and bones. Unfortunately, half of Americans don’t get enough magnesium. The recommended daily allowance of magnesium for most adults is 310 to 320 mg per day. That means, a little under two cups of pumpkin seeds per day could help you achieve optimal magnesium levels.
They lower your cancer risk
Since pumpkin seeds are filled with zinc and zinc supports healthy T-cell activity, it’s no surprise that they can also a lower cancer risk. In fact, research shows that eating a lot of pumpkin seeds can lower your risk of stomach, breast, lung, prostate and colon cancers, just to name a few.
But the anti-cancer effect of pumpkin seeds doesn’t all come down to zinc. They contain a lot of antioxidants too. Plus, they contain one specific antioxidant called lignans, which studies show can prevent (and even treat) breast cancer.
It doesn’t hurt that pumpkin seeds also contain omega 3 fatty acids, another nutrient that has a proven ability to fend off breast cancer.
They strengthen your immune system
Pumpkin seeds are packed with zinc. One serving (about a half cup) contains 6.6 mg. That’s almost half your recommended daily intake!
Now, zinc improves your health in many ways. It plays a role in wound healing, decreases your risk of chronic age-related diseases and it aids learning and memory. But one of the best reasons to get enough zinc during pumpkin season (aka cold and flu season) is the effect it has on your immune system….
Your body needs zinc to activate immune cells known as T cells. These cells not only fight off viral infections like colds and flu, but they also attack cancer cells. So, eating plenty of pumpkin seeds is one way to ensure you’re getting enough zinc to keep your T-cells operating in tip-top shape.
Now that you know the benefits of pumpkin seeds, all you need is a tasty way to prepare them. Next time you carve a pumpkin, make pumpkin pie from scratch or buy a pumpkin specifically for the seeds.
Source image: Pixabay