Pumpkins of different varieties are grown around the world, and along with the flesh of the fruit, other parts of the plant are also used in cooking. The cucurbitaceae plant family to which pumpkins belong also includes squashes, gourds, and melons. Although pumpkins are generally reddish orange or yellow orange in color, other varieties in green, red, grayish blue, and white are also seen. Pumpkin seeds are flat, tear-drop shaped with a light green kernel surrounded by a thick yellowish white hull. Seeds of the green and yellow kakai variety of pumpkin do not have a hull. Toasted kakai seeds are popular as snacks. Pumpkin seed oil, extracted from Styrian pumpkins, is cherished for its nutty taste and it is used to enhance the flavor of salad dressings in Eastern Europe. Apart from the sweet taste, flavor, and vitamins in the pulp of the pumpkin, it is also the pumpkin seed nutritional value that makes the fruit popular in all cultures. In traditional cuisines, pumpkin seeds are used in salads, soups, and desserts. Pumpkin seed were used by practitioners of native medicine to treat intestinal parasites and to improve renal function. Pumpkin seed oil is used to treat those with prostate problems in indigenous medicine.
Nutritional Information and Properties
Besides being a good source of vital nutrients such as zinc, manganese, magnesium and phosphorous, pumpkin seeds also contain tryptophan, an essential amino acid needed for protein synthesis in the body. The best away to obtain nutrition from these seeds is to consume them raw. The essential fatty acids in the seeds are also known to prevent the hardening of arteries and to help in regulating cholesterol levels. Pumpkin seed oil is not used in cooking; it is added to salad dressing along with olive oil or may be used to enhance the flavor of a dessert in combination with honey. Toasting the seeds heightens their flavor to make them a tasty nutritious snack. Roasting them in the oven at 75°C for about 10 to 15 minutes helps to retain all the healthy goodness of the seeds.
Health Benefits and Therapeutic Uses
Pumpkin seeds have multiple health benefits and are also used in the treatment of several disorders.
- Enlarged Prostate: The omega-3 fatty acids, carotenoids, and zinc found in pumpkin seeds are helpful in the reduction of the abnormal cell multiplication, which leads to an enlarged prostate and difficulty in passing urine. Men with a family history of prostate problems are advised to include pumpkin seeds in their diet or use pumpkin seed oil regularly in their salad dressings.
- Mental Health: L-tyrptophan found in pumpkin seeds is found to be useful in combating depression as this amino acid is used in the production of serotonin, the feel good hormone. Pumpkin seeds are also used to help those with learning disabilities to improve their mental faculties. Snacks of toasted mixed nuts and seeds replenish the body with vital nutrients and minerals even as they ward off mid-meal hunger pangs in growing children.
- Intestinal Parasites: Folk remedies in Germany, Thailand, and China prescribe pumpkin seeds for getting rid of intestinal parasites like tapeworms and threadworms. Those with irritable bowel syndrome also get relief with the regular consumption of pumpkin seeds.
- Osteoporosis: Eating zinc-rich pumpkin seeds provides protection against osteoporosis or low bone density in post menopausal women and older men. It helps to avoid fractures, often caused by a simple fall, in the hip or the limbs due to brittle bones that lack density.
- Inflammation: The anti-inflammatory properties of pumpkin seeds are helpful to those with arthritis; and they reduce their dependence on harmful steroidal drugs. With reduced inflammation and pain, their mobility improves and with better mobility, they get more physical activity and remain fit.
- Cholesterol: Chemicals called phytosterols in pumpkin seeds work to reduce blood cholesterol levels and energize the body’s immune system. With a stronger immune system, the body is better equipped to fight diseases, including certain types of cancer.
- Kidney Stones: Apart from helping to maintain prostate health, pumpkin seeds have also been known to prevent the formation of stones in the kidneys.
Cooking destroys the beneficial fatty acids in pumpkin seed oil. So it is best to add it to salad dressing or drizzle it on raw food. Pumpkin seeds can be used in ground form to add flavor to cookies or burgers. Since pumpkin seed oil is often mixed with sunflower seed oil, one should read the label carefully to check the amount of sunflower seed oil. Pumpkin seeds may cause diarrhea in some people, so it is best to try it in small quantities at first. For this reason, it may not be suitable for pregnant women.