A common ingredient in Mexican dishes, pumpkin seeds, or "pepitas," are little powerhouses of nutrition. In fact, pumpkin seeds rival almonds, pecans and other tree nuts in protein and fiber content.
"The pumpkin seeds you find in many stores now - and in many products like cereal and energy bars - are a far cry from the seeds we used to toast in the oven after Halloween," said Kathleen Cowden, a registered dietitian at Franciscan Health Indianapolis. "They're already shelled, and the large, green seeds make attractive additions to salads and granola."
About two tablespoons of pumpkin seeds provide about 8 grams of protein, 2 grams of fiber, and 8 percent of daily iron needs.
These seeds are great sources of magnesium, which is important for muscle function and bone health. They also are an excellent source of potassium, a nutrient that helps control blood pressure. And if you're looking for another good source of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids that contribute to heart health, look no further than a small handful of toasted pumpkin seeds.
Pumpkin seeds also are a good source for tryptophan, the same amino acid that may make you a little sleepy after Thanksgiving dinner. One scientific study put this to the test and found that a small serving of pumpkin seeds eaten with a small amount of carbohydrate (such as a piece of fruit) before bed compared favorably to a pharmaceutical source of tryptophan to induce sleep.
Like nuts, pumpkin seeds are high in fat, so they have a limited shelf life and must be stored properly. Buy in small amounts to keep your supply fresh. Be creative when introducing pumpkin seeds to your family. Try roasting them in the oven tossed with a little olive oil, and remove when just turning a little brown. Toss with a seasoning mix of your choice, including Old Bay®, barbecue or jerk seasoning or pumpkin pie spice.
Use green pumpkin seeds instead of other nuts for added color and interest in this low-fat breakfast treat.
Looking for more fall flavors? Read how to tweak those Pumpkin Spice Lattes for better health.