Chow Town

January 13, 2014

Pumpkin seeds double as chewy snack, health food

If you’re in the mood for a chewy snack that doubles as a phenomenal health food, look no further than pumpkin seeds.

Chow Town

The daily dish on Kansas City's food and drink scene

If you’re in the mood for a chewy snack that doubles as a phenomenal health food, look no further than pumpkin seeds.

With a wide variety of nutrients ranging from magnesium and manganese to copper, protein and zinc, pumpkin seeds are nutritional powerhouses wrapped up in a very small package.

They also contain plant compounds known as phytosterols and free-radical scavenging antioxidants, which can give your health an added boost. Best of all, because pumpkin seeds are highly portable and require no refrigeration, they make an excellent snack to keep with you whenever you’re on the go, or they can be used as a quick anytime snack at home, too.

Pumpkin seeds are the only seed that is alkaline forming — in this world of highly acidic diets, that is a very good thing.

Here are some facts and history on these great seeds:

• Pumpkin seeds were discovered by archaeologists in caves in Mexico that date back to 7,000 B.C. North American tribes observe the wonderful benefits in pumpkin seeds. The seeds, pepitas in Mexico, are a trademark of Mexican cuisine. Pumpkin seeds were very popular in ancient Greece.

• The nutrition in pumpkin seeds improves with age. They are among the few foods that increase in nutritive value as they decompose. According to tests made at the Massachusetts Agricultural Experimental Station, squash and pumpkin seeds stored for more than five months show a marked increase in protein content.

• Pumpkin seeds are high in calories — about 559 calories per 100 grams — so don’t eat them by the handfuls.

• They are filled with lots of minerals including phosphorus, magnesium, manganese, iron and copper; plus, a good source of vitamin K. They also contain phytosterols, compounds that have been shown to reduce levels of LDL cholesterol. The seeds contain L-tryptophan, which helps with good sleep and lowering depression.

Tryptophan is converted into serotonin and niacin. Serotonin is also very helpful in helping us to have a good night’s sleep. The high zinc in them makes a great natural protector against osteoporosis. They are an excellent source of the vitamin B group and contain good quality protein — 100 grams of seeds provide 30 grams of protein.

• For people who get kidney stones, eating the seeds will help reduce the risk of calcium oxalate stone formation.

• Something I thought was amazing is that many cultures use them as a natural treatment for tapeworms and other parasites.

• And for men, the oil in these seeds is good for prostate health.

I keep a mason jar on my counter with roasted seeds in it. I sprinkle them on oatmeal, yogurt, on top of muffins before baking and the list goes on and on.

The next time you cook a squash or pumpkin, don’t throw the seeds away. Clean them and roast them in the oven. Wipe the seeds off with a paper towel if needed to remove excess pulp that may have stuck to them.

Spread them out evenly on a paper bag and let them dry out overnight. Place the seeds in a single layer on a cookie sheet and light roast them in a 160-170 degrees oven for 15-20 minutes.

Do not roast any longer because unwanted changes in the fat structure of the seeds occur. Enjoy!

Donna Cook is the owner of Rabbit Creek Gourmet Foods in Louisburg, Kan. She is also a Master Gardener, Master Food Volunteer and on the board of directors of the Home Baking Association.

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