Pumpkin seeds may be small, but they’re packed full of valuable nutrients. Eating only a small amount of them can provide you with a substantial quantity of healthy fats, magnesium and zinc. Because of this, pumpkin seeds have been associated with several health benefits. These include improved heart health, prostate health and protection against certain cancers. What’s more, these seeds can be easily incorporated into your diet. Here are the top 11 health benefits of pumpkin seeds that are supported by science.
1. Full of Valuable Nutrients
Pumpkin seeds are also known as “pepita” — a Mexican Spanish term. Unlike the hard white seeds from a carving pumpkin, most pumpkin seeds bought at the supermarket don’t have a shell. These shell-free seeds are green, flat and oval. One ounce (28 grams) of shell-free pumpkin seeds has roughly 151 calories, mainly from fat and protein. In addition, a 1-ounce (28-gram) serving contains (1):
- Fiber: 1.7 grams
- Carbs: 5 grams
- Protein: 7 grams
- Fat: 13 grams (6 of which are omega-6s)
- Vitamin K: 18% of the RDI
- Phosphorus: 33% of the RDI
- Manganese: 42% of the RDI
- Magnesium: 37% of the RDI
- Iron: 23% of the RDI
- Zinc: 14% of the RDI
- Copper: 19% of the RDI
They also contain a lot of antioxidants and a decent amount of polyunsaturated fatty acids, potassium, vitamin B2 (riboflavin) and folate. Pumpkin seeds and seed oil also pack many other nutrients and plant compounds that have been shown to provide health benefits (2, 3).
Summary: Pumpkin seeds are rich in antioxidants, iron, zinc, magnesium and many other nutrients. An ounce (28 grams) contains about 151 calories.
Pumpkin seeds contain antioxidants like carotenoids and vitamin E (4, 5, 6). Antioxidants can reduce inflammation and protect your cells from harmful free radicals. That’s why consuming foods rich in antioxidants can help protect against many diseases (7). It’s thought that the high levels of antioxidants in pumpkins seeds are partly responsible for their positive effects on health. In one study, pumpkin seed oil reduced inflammation in rats with arthritis without side effects, whereas animals given an anti-inflammatory drug experienced adverse effects (8).
Summary: Pumpkin seeds are full of antioxidants that may help protect against disease and reduce inflammation.
3. Linked to a reduced risk of certain cancers
Diets rich in pumpkin seeds have been associated with a reduced risk of stomach, breast, lung, prostate and colon cancers (5). A large observational study found that eating them was associated with a reduced risk of breast cancer in postmenopausal women (9). Others studies suggest that the lignans in pumpkin seeds may play a key role in preventing and treating breast cancer (10). Further test-tube studies found that a supplement containing pumpkin seeds had the potential to slow down the growth of prostate cancer cells (11, 12).
Summary: Some evidence suggests that pumpkin seeds may help prevent certain types of cancer.
Pumpkin seeds may help relieve symptoms of benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), a condition in which the prostate gland enlarges, causing problems with urination. Several studies in humans found that eating these seeds reduced symptoms associated with BPH (13). In a one-year study in over 1,400 men with BPH, pumpkin seed consumption reduced symptoms and improved quality of life (14). Further research suggests that taking pumpkin seeds or their products as supplements can help treat symptoms of an overactive bladder. One study in 45 men and women with overactive bladders found that 10 grams of pumpkin seed extract daily improved urinary function (15).
Summary: Pumpkin seeds may reduce symptoms of benign prostate enlargement and an overactive bladder.
5. Very High in Magnesium
Pumpkin seeds are one of the best natural sources of magnesium — a mineral that is often lacking in the diets of many Western populations. In the US, around 79% of adults have a magnesium intake below the recommended daily amount (16). Magnesium is needed for more than 600 chemical reactions in your body. For example, adequate levels of magnesium are important for:
- Controlling blood pressure (17).
- Reducing heart disease risk (18).
- Forming and maintaining healthy bones (19).
- Regulating blood sugar levels (20, 21).
Summary: Pumpkin seeds are rich in magnesium. Healthy magnesium levels are important for your blood pressure, blood sugar levels, as well as heart and bone health.
6. May improve health
Pumpkin seeds are a good source of antioxidants, magnesium, zinc and fatty acids — all of which may help keep your heart healthy (22). Animal studies have also shown that pumpkin seed oil may reduce high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels — two important risk factors for heart disease (23, 24). A 12-week study in 35 postmenopausal women found that pumpkin seed oil supplements reduced diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number of a reading) by 7% and increased “good” HDL cholesterol levels by 16% (25). Other studies suggest that pumpkins’ ability to increase nitric oxide generation in your body may be responsible for its positive effects on heart health (26). Nitric oxide helps expand blood vessels, improving blood flow and reducing the risk of plaque growth in your arteries.
Summary: Nutrients in pumpkin seeds may help keep your heart healthy by reducing blood pressure and increasing good cholesterol.
Animal studies have shown that pumpkin, pumpkin seeds, pumpkin seed powder and pumpkin juice can reduce blood sugar (27, 28). This is especially important for people with diabetes, who may struggle to control their blood sugar levels. Several studies have found that supplementing with pumpkin juice or seed powder reduced blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes (28). The high magnesium content of pumpkin seeds may be responsible for its positive effect on diabetes. An observational study in over 127,000 people found that diets rich in magnesium were associated with a 33% lower risk of type 2 diabetes in men and a 34% lower risk in women (29). More research is needed to confirm these beneficial effects of pumpkin seeds on blood sugar levels.
Summary: Pumpkin seeds may help reduce blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes. However, more research is needed.
Pumpkin seeds are a great source of dietary fiber — shelled seeds provide 1.1 grams of fiber in a single 1-oz (28-gram) serving (30). A diet high in fiber can promote good digestive health. In addition, high-fiber diets have been associated with a reduced risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and obesity (31).
Summary: Whole pumpkin seeds are a good source of fiber. Diets high in fiber are associated with many health benefits, including a reduced risk of heart disease, diabetes and obesity.
Low zinc levels are associated with reduced sperm quality and an increased risk of infertility in men (32). Since pumpkin seeds are a rich source of zinc, they may improve sperm quality. Evidence from one study in mice suggests they may also protect human sperm from damage caused by chemotherapy and autoimmune diseases (33). Pumpkin seeds are also high in antioxidants and other nutrients that can contribute to healthy testosterone levels and improve overall health. Together, all these factors may benefit fertility levels and reproductive function, especially in men.
Summary: The high zinc content of pumpkin seeds may help improve sperm quality and fertility in men.
If you have trouble sleeping, you may want to eat some pumpkin seeds before bed. They’re a natural source of tryptophan, an amino acid that can help promote sleep. Consuming around 1 gram of tryptophan daily is thought to improve sleep (34). However, you would need to eat around 7 ounces (200 grams) of pumpkin seeds to achieve the needed amount of tryptophan. The zinc in these seeds can also help convert tryptophan to serotonin, which is then changed into melatonin, the hormone that regulates your sleep cycle. In addition, pumpkin seeds are an excellent source of magnesium. Adequate magnesium levels have also been associated with better sleep (35). Some small studies have found that taking a magnesium supplement improved sleep quality and total sleep time in people with low magnesium levels (36, 37).
Summary: Pumpkin seeds are a good source of tryptophan, zinc and magnesium — all of which help promote good sleep.
If you want to experience the benefits of pumpkin seeds, they’re easy to incorporate into your diet. In many countries, they’re a popular snack that can be eaten either raw or roasted, salted or unsalted. Besides eating them on their own, you can add them to smoothies, Greek yogurt and fruit. You could incorporate them into meals by sprinkling them into salads, soups or cereals. Some people use pumpkin seeds in baking, as an ingredient for sweet or savory bread and cakes. However, as with many seeds and nuts, they contain phytic acid, which can reduce the bioavailability of some nutrients you eat. If you eat seeds and nuts regularly, you may want to soak or sprout them to reduce their phytic acid content. Roasting them may help as well.
Summary: Pumpkin seeds can be easily incorporated into your diet as a snack or ingredient in meals or baking.
Pumpkin seeds are highly nutritious and packed with powerful antioxidants. Eating them can help solve dietary deficiencies and may protect against various health problems. In fact, pumpkin seeds have been shown to improve heart health, blood sugar levels, fertility and sleep quality. They may even protect against certain types of cancer. In addition, their rich nutrient content may provide other health benefits, such as improved energy, mood and immune function. What’s best, they can easily be added to your diet, allowing you to reap their many positive effects.