Pepitas Are the Secret to Why Pumpkin Seeds Are So Healthy

The word pepita is often used interchangeably with pumpkin seed, but that isn't entirely accurate. Yes, a pepita ("nugget" or "little seeds of squash" in Spanish) is a pumpkin seed, but pepita is actually used to specifically describe the tiny green seed inside the white shell. Inside a basic Jack-o-lantern pumpkin is a pumpkin seed.

Pepitas have a host of health benefits. (Image: Adobe Stock/aboikis)

For the ambitious who want to crack that seed, they'll find a little pepita. Frankly, it's more fun to roast and eat the full pumpkin seed and a lot easier to just buy shucked pepitas. For homegrown pepitas, plant pumpkins that naturally produce hulless seeds:

  • Kakai
  • Gleisdorfer Naked Seeded
  • Lady Godiva
  • Austria Oil Seed
  • Naked Bear
  • Beppo

Nutritional Value of Pepitas

As with any other edible seed, pepitas are a wholesome food and highly nutritious. Just a one-ounce, or 30-gram, serving packs a strong punch for both nutrition and overall wellness. A one-ounce serving of pepitas has 170 calories and the macros breakdown as 15 grams fat, 9 grams protein, and 4 grams carb.

According to The World's Healthiest Foods, the pumpkin seed is a very good source of vital minerals, and one of the very best food sources for manganese, phosphorous, copper, and magnesium.

Manganese

  • 74% daily value
  • Forms bones, connective tissue, blood clotting, sex hormone, metabolism, calcium absorption, blood sugar regulation

Phosphorous

  • 57% daily value
  • Partners with calcium to protect teeth and bones, supports effective kidney function, produce energy for cells

Copper

  • 48% daily value
  • Maintains healthy immune system, initiate healing, repair damaged tissue

Magnesium

  • 48% daily value
  • Maintains muscle, nerve function, heart rhythm, support immune system, involved with 300 biochemical reactions

Zinc

Iron

  • 16% daily value
  • Manufactures hemoglobin, responsible for transporting oxygen, supports healthy hair, skin and nails

Pumpkin seeds also deliver a good dose of antioxidants, according to research published in Food Chemistry in 2013. Vitamin E and carotenoids in pumpkin seeds help reduce inflammation and protect your cells from the damaging effects of free radicals found in the environment, thus helping protect you from premature aging and chronic disease.

Pepitas are the tiny part inside the pumpkin seed. (Image: Adobe Stock/ddukang)

Additional Health Benefits of Pepitas

Pepitas may be small in size, but they're mighty in their health-boosting powers.

1. Urinary and Prostate Benefits

A randomized, placebo-controlled study published in a 2008 issue of the journal Urology treated 476 patients with lower urinary tract symptoms, LUTS, and benign prostatic hyperplasia, BPH, with pumpkin seeds.

The results showed a significant improvement of 6.8 points, which was 1.2 points over the placebo group. The study noted that an improvement in International Prostate Symptom Score (IPSS) of that size is rarely achieved.

2. Helps With Depression

Depression can be caused by a chemical imbalance. A greater intake of the amino acid tryptophan from dietary sources can help boost certain mood behaviors. It can have a positive effect on sleep, anxiety, mood, appetite and pain.

For mild to moderate depression, dietary tryptophan can be an effective way to decrease depressive symptoms and less anxiety found research published in the Archives of Psychiatric Nursing published in 2015. It increases the serotonin in the brain, which affects mood.

Pumpkin seeds are a dietary source of tryptophan, that were used in the interventions, along with other tryptophan-containing foods such as mozzarella cheese, soy products, and egg whites.

3. Boosts Male Health and Fertility

Pumpkin seeds are rich in unsaturated fat, full of fiber and provide a number of nutrients including magnesium and amino acids, that may help enhance your testosterone levels. Despite the potential benefits, you should not use pumpkin seeds to address any medical conditions.

Additionally, research published in a 2011 edition of Biological Trace Element Research indicates that magnesium, of which pepitas are a good source, can promote increased testosterone levels.

4. Improve Sports Performance

Pumpkin seeds contain essential fatty acids and zinc, both of which help keep athletes their healthiest. Research in a 2011 issue of the Australian Medical Journal recommends pumpkin seeds, along with fatty fish and walnuts, as good sources of fat for athletes.

Vegan athletes in particular can turn to pumpkin seeds as a source of protein and zinc in pumpkin seeds suggests 2017 analysis from the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition.

5. Weight Loss and Diabetes

Poly- and monounsaturated fats, as are found in pumpkin seeds, can help to keep your metabolism running smoothly and maintain hormone balance while also helping you stay full and satiated for longer amounts of time.

While good fats are important in overall health, including weight management, eating pepitas have proven no benefit for weight loss. However, a 2011 study from the Journal of Diabetes and Its Complications using only rats correlated the antioxidants found in pumpkin seeds helpful in preventing complications of diabetes.

6. Reduce Cancer Risk

The antioxidants and lignans — phytonutrients found in plant foods — in pumpkin seeds have protective effects against cancer. A study published in a 2013 issue of Nutrition and Cancer showed that pumpkin seed extract had compounds that depressed the growth of breast cancer cells in animals. Researchers believe this could have very real implications for humans, too.

7. Improve Heart Health

Many of the nutrients in pumpkin seeds, including magnesium and fatty acids, as well at the antioxidants promote a healthy heart.

Conditions, such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol put you at a greater risk for heart disease. Pumpkin seed oil has antihypertensive and cardio protective effects, showed a 2012 study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food.

8. Promotes Digestive Health

A 1-ounce serving of pumpkin seeds, in the shell, contains about five grams of fiber. When hulled, an ounce of seeds still offers about two to three grams of fiber.

A diet high in fiber promotes digestive health. Women should aim for about 25 grams per day and men about 38 grams, reports the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

9. Better Sleep

Pumpkin seeds contain two compounds that can help improve your ability to fall and stay asleep. The mineral magnesium has been shown in research, such as a 2012 study published in the Journal of Research of Medical Sciences, to improve people's perception of their sleep quality — including sleep time, early morning awakening, and sleep efficiency.

Pumpkin seeds are also a source of tryptophan, an amino acid that has some sleep moderating effects according to a 2015 review published in Evidence Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Tryptophan is the compound in turkey that makes your Thanksgiving dinner famously nap-inducing.

10. Natural Treatment for Parasites

A combination of pumpkin seeds, onions and soymilk makes a remedy for parasitic worms in the digestive tract.

Soak three tablespoons of pumpkin seeds in water for three hours. Then mix the soaked seeds, half an onion, a half cup of soymilk and 1 teaspoon of honey. Blend this in a food processor or blender until it's a liquid. Take this three times daily for three consecutive days.

Sprinkle some pepitas on top of pumpkin soup. (Image: Adobe Stock/valya82)

Preparation and Pepita Recipes

With a sweet, nutty taste and chewy texture, pepitas make a healthful addition to just about any sweet or savory recipe! A small handful really goes a long way. For a crunchy snack with versatile flavor options, the pepita makes a nutritionally sound, very satisfying choice.

Or try one of these pepita recipes or meal prep ideas:

Also, try these nine ways to roast pumpkin seeds — like with cardamom and maca — that really pep up the classic sea salt approach!

Additional reporting by Paula Martinac

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