Week 42: Pumpkin Seeds

Pumpkins, and their seeds, are native to the Americas. Pumpkin seeds were a celebrated food among many Native American tribes, who treasured them both for their dietary and medicinal properties. 
 
Like cantaloupe, watermelon, cucumber, and squash, pumpkins and pumpkin seeds belong to the gourd or Cucurbitaceae family. Pumpkin seeds, also known as pepitas, are flat, dark green seeds. Some are encased in a yellow-white husk (often called the "shell"), although some varieties of pumpkins produce seeds without shells.
 
Nutrient Profile:
Pumpkin seeds contain a wide variety of antioxidant phytonutrients, including phenolic acids and lignans. They also contain health-supportive phytosterols. Pumpkin seeds are a very good source of phosphorus, magnesium, manganese, and copper. They are also a good source of other minerals including zinc and iron. In addition, pumpkin seeds are a good source of protein.
 
Health Benefits:

  • Antioxidant support: Pumpkin seeds contain a diverse mixture of antioxidants which are conventional antioxidant vitamins like vitamin E, zinc and manganese, as well as phenolic antioxidants and lignans.

  • Mineral support: Pumpkin seeds are a very good source of the minerals phosphorus, magnesium, manganese, and copper and a good source of the minerals zinc and iron.

  • Antimicrobial benefits: The role of proteins and lignans in pumpkin seeds provide many antimicrobial benefits which include anti-fungal and anti-viral properties.

  • Mood and sleep benefits: Pumpkin seeds are rich in the calming amino acid tryptophan, which is important in the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that enhances mood and promotes well-being. Serotonin in turn is converted to melatonin, the “sleep hormone.”

 
Selection and Storage:
Whether purchasing raw pumpkin seeds in bulk or in a packaged container make sure that there is no evidence of moisture or insect damage. If it is possible to smell the pumpkin seeds, do so in order to ensure that they are not rancid or musty. It is recommended to purchase certified organic raw pumpkin seeds to assure no exposure to potential contaminants. By purchasing raw, you will be able to control the roasting time and temperature, and avoid unnecessary damage to helpful fats present in the seeds.
 
Recipe Suggestion:
To roast pumpkin seeds, place the seeds in a single layer on a cookie sheet, toss with olive oil and season with salt. For a spicier alternative, sprinkle cayenne pepper, paprika and cumin. Lightly roast them in a 160-170°F oven for 15-20 minutes. This 20-minute roasting limit is important. In a recent study, 20 minutes emerged as a threshold time for changes in pumpkin seed (unsaturated) fats. When roasted for longer than 20 minutes, a number of unwanted changes in fat structure occurred in the seeds. You can store them in an airtight container and use them throughout the week.

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