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Pumpkin seeds for healthy prostate

Published:Saturday | November 20, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Heather Little-White, Contributor

If men keep nothing else on their person, they should keep pumpkin seeds, which make a healthy snack to protect the prostate gland. With the increase in cases of men suffering from conditions of the prostate - from an enlarged prostate to prostate cancer - it is important to select those natural foods and snacks to preserve the gland.

You should be familiar with the pumpkin, with its coarse trailing vine (Cucurbita pepo) that grows easily around the yard. The large pulpy round fruit of this plant has a thick, orange-yellow rind and numerous seeds. The word 'pumpkin' is derived from the Greek word 'pepon', meaning 'ripe' or 'cooked in the sun'.

Pumpkin seeds are nutty and subtly sweet, flavourful and easily chewable. When the meaty seeds are roasted, they make a tasty and nutritious snack. Known as pepitas, pumpkin seeds are flat and dark green, and some may be encased in a yellow-white husk, while some varieties have no shells. Like cantaloupe, cucumber and squash, pumpkins and pumpkin seeds belong to the gourd, or Cucurbitaceae, family.


Pumpkins, and their seeds, were a celebrated food of the Native American Indians who valued them for their dietary and medicinal properties. It was the European explorers who took the cultivation of pumpkins across the world when returning from their journeys, brought back many of the agricultural treasures of the New World. Pumpkin seeds are featured in the recipes of many cultures and they are a special hallmark of traditional Mexican cuisine. Pumpkin seeds have recently become more popular, as research suggests that they have unique nutritional and health benefits (

Pumpkin seeds have a rich history in herbal medicine in the Americas. The Navajo Indians used them to relieve the intense pain of burns and the Cherokee Indians used them for treating gout, kidney stones, urinary burning, and difficult urination. The Pueblos used them to cure gout and reduce swollen knees and ankles, while the Zunis used them to expel tapeworms and roundworms. It is said that voodoo witch dctors used them to cure fevers and diarrhoea, and the Yumas used them to heal wounds. (

Chinese medicine

Use of pumpkin seeds was adopted in traditional Chinese medicine in the 17th century; they were considered to be a symbol of prosperity and health. The pumpkin became known as the 'Emperor of the Garden'. Pumpkin seeds are rich in antioxidant vitamins A, C and E; many valuable minerals like zinc; amino acids, including the rare myosin and the unusual cucurbitin, which is good for worm infestations. Pumpkin seeds contain essential fatty acids, fibre and four times the amount of beta-carotene than found in carrots.

Health benefits

Men 50 years and older very often develop benign prostatic hypertrophy, or BPH, which involves enlargement of the prostate gland. BPH constricts the urethra, causing discomfort and urinary problems. Pumpkin seeds are now consumed by younger men who want to protect their prostate gland. To help prevent BPH, eat about a handful (about 1oz) of shelled pumpkin seeds three times a week.

Phytosterols: Pumpkin seeds are known for their protective compounds called phytosterols, which may be responsible for shrinking the prostate. They also contain chemicals that may prevent some transformation of testosterone into dihydrotestosterone (DHT), which, at high levels, are associated with an enlarged prostate (

Pumpkin seed oil has the potential to interrupt the triggering of prostate cell multiplication by testosterone and DHT, although the exact mechanism for this effect is still being researched. Oil extracts from the seeds contain components helpful to the prostate.

Carotenoids: Pumpkin seeds also contain carotenoids. It is believed that pumpkin seeds are also being studied for their potential prostate benefits, as carotenoids create less risk for BPH.

Zinc: Another important component of pumpkin seeds is zinc, which aids in the proper functioning of the prostate gland.

Protection for men's bones

Older men gain additional benefit from zinc-rich pumpkin seeds, which affect their bone-mineral density, especially because older men are at the highest risk for osteoporosis. According to a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, there is a clear correlation between low dietary intake of zinc, low blood levels of the trace mineral, and osteoporosis at the hip and spine.

Anti-inflammatory benefits in arthritis

Preliminary research indicates that arthritis sufferers may get some relief from eating pumpkin seeds.

Rich source of nutrients

Traditional nutrients are found in abundance in pumpkin seeds, which are excellent sources of magnesium, manganese, and phosphorus, and a good source of iron, copper, protein and zinc. A quarter-cup of pumpkin seeds provides:

46.1 % of the daily value (DV) for magnesium

28.7% of the DV for iron

52.0% of the DV for manganese

24.0% of the DV for copper

16.9% of the DV for protein

17.1% of the DV for zinc.

Lower cholesterol

Phytosterols in pumpkin seeds have a chemical structure close to cholesterol. When sufficient amounts are present in the diet, it is believed to reduce blood levels of cholesterol, enhance the immune response and decrease the risk of certain cancers.

The effects of phytosterols are so dramatic that they have been extracted from soybean, corn, and pine tree oil and added to processed foods, such as 'butter'-replacement spreads, which are then touted as cholesterol-lowering 'foods'. Pumpkin seeds provide a naturally rich source of phytosterols and cardio-protective fibre, minerals and healthy fats.

In a study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, researchers ranked pumpkin seeds closely behind pistachios and sunflower seeds as being rich in phytosterols.

Depression treatment

Pumpkin seeds contain L-tryptophan, a compound naturally effective against depression.

Serving ideas

When you cut pumpkin and scrape out the seeds, do not throw them away, as they are very rich in nutrients. You can quickly toast or roast pumpkin seeds in your oven, and salt or spice them to suit your taste. The shells are edible and are a good source of fibre.

Heather Little-White, PhD, is a nutrition and lifestyle consultant in Kingston. Email comments to



Pumpkin seeds

Olive oil or butter

Optional: Salt, garlic powder, onion powder, seasoned salt or other seasonings of choice.


Rinse pumpkin seeds. Use your fingers to remove all the pulp. Drain pumpkin seeds and discard pulp. Spread out on a cookie sheet to dry overnight.

Preheat oven to 250F. Line a baking sheet with non-stick foil.

Toss pumpkin seeds in olive oil, butter, or spray with cooking spray. Sprinkle with salt, garlic powder, onion powder, seasoned salt, cayenne pepper, or your choice of seasonings. Toss to coat.

Bake about 1 hour, tossing every 15-20 minutes until golden brown.

Cool pumpkin seeds before eating. Store in an airtight container at room temperature up to 3 months or refrigerate up to 1 year.


If you like your toasted pumpkin seeds extra salty, soak overnight in a solution of 1/4 cup salt to 2 cups of water. Dry an additional day, then proceed as above.


Sweet and spicy: quarter cup sugar, 1 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper.

Curry: 1 tbsp curry powder, 1 tsp salt

Spicy garlic: 1 tbsp garlic powder, 1 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

Southwest: 2 tsps cumin, 1 tsp garlic powder, 1 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

Source: Home Cooking


Sauté pumpkin seeds with carrots, broccoli and onions and serve with brown rice,

For extra crunch, sprinkle pumpkin seeds on top of your salad greens.

Make a healthy salad dressing by grinding pumpkin seeds with fresh garlic, parsley and cilantro leaves and mix in olive oil and lemon juice

Add crushed pumpkin seeds to hot or cold cereals.

Boost oatmeal cookies by adding pumpkin seeds

Add fibre to meat and vegetable burgers.

Pumpkin seeds for healthy prostate