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Pumpkin seeds make a healthy crunchy snack

If you discard the seeds after carving a jack-o-lantern, you are also throwing away a very nutritious part of the pumpkin. The golden orange flesh – valued for its transformation into spicy pie at Thanksgiving and sometimes used in soups and stews – is an excellent source of beta-carotene (vitamin A), but we rarely consider the seeds as a healthy food. However, pepitas as they are known, are packed with nutrition.

It is not surprising homemakers are quick to discard pumpkin seeds since they are meshed inside the gourd’s stomach with a mass of wet gunk that one hardly wants to touch. Considering what the seeds offer might help overcome the aversion. Pepitas can, of course, be purchased – gunk-free – in bulk bins or packages at markets, plain or flavoured and most often already shelled.

The outstanding nutritional feature of pepitas is their content of essential minerals, nutrients which have an important role in the body. One is manganese which is not often talked about, but is needed to keep bones strong, normalize blood sugar and regulate cholesterol. One ounce (one-quarter cup considered as one serving) of pumpkin seeds contains 1.47 mg of manganese which is over 50 percent of the recommended daily intake for optimum health.

Pumpkin seeds are also a very good source of phosphorus, magnesium and tryptophan, all of which play a vital part in keeping the body healthy. The seeds are rated as a “very good” source because one serving of seeds provides close to half of what the body needs of these minerals in one day. In addition, pepitas provide iron and copper.

Pepitas are also rated as a “good” source of zinc which has a number of important metabolic functions in the body. Meat is the best source of zinc, so vegetarians or those who have a low meat intake, should look for other sources such as seeds. To get the maximum benefit of zinc from pepitas, one should eat the entire seed, shell and all since the mineral is concentrated right under the shell.

Different forms of vitamin E

It is interesting to note that while pumpkin seeds are not considered a rich source of antioxidants, the seeds are valued for their diverse mixture of antioxidants that may provide them with antioxidant-related properties not found widely in foods. As an example, consider vitamin E, an antioxidant found in one form or another in many foods (cereal grains, meats and dairy products to name a few).

Pumpkin seeds are unique in that they contain at least five different forms of vitamin E, with each form having specific health benefits. One, of course is as an antioxidant which means it helps prevent the oxidation of various nutrients and so enhances their activity, and as well protects cell membranes from deterioration. Because oxidative stress is known to play a role in the development of some cancers, it’s not surprising to find preliminary evidence that ingesting pumpkin seeds may help lower cancer risk (although more research needs to be done to confirm this).

Pepitas are best thought of as a snack – not to be consumed in large quantities since they are fairly high in fat and calories: one quarter cup contains 14 grams of fat (2.5 grams is saturated), and about 150 calories. In shelled form they may also be sprinkled on green salads, hot or cold cereals or sautéed vegetables, or added instead of nuts to cookies or breads.

Roasting pumpkin seeds will bring out the best flavour. Here’s how: scoop seeds from inside the pumpkin, separating them from gunk as much as possible. Wash and dry on towelling (alternately buy raw seeds from the store). Toss seeds with vegetable oil and spread on baking sheet. Sprinkle lightly with salt (or other flavourings if desired) and roast at 375F for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Cool and pass around as a nutritious crunchy snack. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.