This Halloween, scores of pumpkins will be transformed into festive Jack-o-lanterns. But did you know that pumpkin seeds can be eaten as a heart-healthy snack? Pumpkin seeds, also called pepitas, pack a powerful nutrient punch with heart-protecting benefits.
Pumpkin seeds have fiber and are rich in mono- and polyunsaturated fats (the “good” fats) — both of which help lower total cholesterol and “bad” LDL cholesterol. The seeds are also a great source of magnesium, which can benefit blood pressure and help prevent sudden cardiac arrest, heart attack and stroke.
The seeds have an array of antioxidants that protect against free radicals. Left unchecked, free radicals cause cell damage that can lead to plaque buildup in the arteries. Pumpkin seeds are rich in manganese, vitamin E, lignans and phenolic acids that act as antioxidants to prevent and reverse cell damage. Eating a diet rich in antioxidant foods, such as pumpkin seeds, is linked to a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.
Save those pumpkin seeds
Instead of throwing away the goopy mess from your Jack-o-lantern, save the seeds to make a tasty and heart-healthy snack. Pumpkin seeds can be eaten raw or roasted (roasting gives the seeds a nutty flavor and crunch). Try sprinkling the seeds over cereal or yogurt, on top of salads or add them to muffins for a boost in fiber, protein, healthy fats and antioxidants.
No one food makes a diet heart-healthy, but snacking on pumpkin seeds is a wonderful way to add a variety of heart-healthy nutrients to your day. And remember, a serving is one small handful!
Healthy roasted pumpkin seeds recipe
- Toss 2 cups of pumpkin seeds with oil (3-4 tablespoons) until coated. Instead of melted butter or margarine, use oils high in “better” fats such as monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats.
- Place seeds in one layer on a baking sheet or cooking pan coated with low-fat, low-calorie cooking spray.
- Sprinkle seasonings (between 1½ and 4 teaspoons, to taste) on pumpkin seeds. Use different seasoning(s) rather than salt: For sweet seeds use cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice; for spicy seeds use garlic, onion powder, pepper, dry mustard, paprika, ground cumin, cayenne pepper or other favorite spices.
- Roast seeds on the top rack of the oven at 250 degrees Fahrenheit for 45-50 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes. Or, microwave pumpkin seeds for 2-3 minutes, stirring after each minute.
- Allow roasted seeds to cool for 15 minutes before serving.
- Store leftover roasted pumpkin seeds in an airtight container.
Kathy Rhodes, PhD, RDN, is manager of Nutrition Services with the University of Michigan Cardiovascular Medicine program.
The University of Michigan Samuel and Jean Frankel Cardiovascular Center is a top-ranked heart and heart surgery program among Michigan hospitals. To learn more, visit our website at umcvc.org.