You go to the pumpkin farm (or if you’re running out of time, your local supermarket), pick up a pumpkin, and take it home. After scooping out the insides and carving it with your kiddos, you dump all the guts and seeds into the garbage. But wait! If you’re not snacking the seeds, you’re missing out on a very important nutritional component. Because the power of pumpkin seeds is undeniable, and it is extremely healthy (and delicious) for you and your family.
“Pumpkin seeds, or pepitas, are a nutritional powerhouse that unfortunately are tossed much too often after carving pumpkins during the Halloween season,” says Diana Gariglio-Clelland, a registered dietitian at Balance One Supplements. “These seeds are rich in fiber, protein, healthy fats and vitamins such as magnesium, zinc and manganese.”
But pumpkin seeds aren’t just good for you physically; they’re literal brainpower, too. “Pumpkin seeds contain many of the nutrients we aim to increase for people struggling with mood, anxiety, attention, and behavior challenges,” reports Dr. Nicole Beurkens, a licensed psychologist and board certified nutrition specialist. “You don’t have to eat tons of them to get high amounts of iron, zinc, and magnesium, but these are three minerals essential for healthy brain function, and many people with mental health issues are low in these nutrients.”
For example, zinc helps improve mood, reduce anxiety, and helps with sensory processing symptoms and picky eating in children. Iron is essential for healthy sleep, supporting energy levels, and increasing focus and attention. And magnesium is a calming mineral, used in hundreds of processes in the body that supports relaxation physically and mentally.
So now that you know that they’re good for you, how do you actually prepare the pepitas? “To get the most out of your pumpkins, scoop out the seeds, clean them, dry them and then season them with either sweet or savory spices, a little oil, and roast them on 400ºF until they just start to brown,” advises Caitlin Self, MS, CNS, LDN, a licensed dietitian/nutritionist. “You can also give them a quick boil for 5-10 minutes instead of cleaning them super well, but this does increase the required baking time.”
Sure, the insides of the pumpkin can be goopy and gross, which is probably why you’ve been throwing them out all along. But once you get past the gag reflex, you’ll find that the sky’s the limit when it comes to serving up these seeds. “Stick with a pinch of salt to keep it simple, or add spices such as cayenne or garlic powder,” says Gariglio-Clelland. “For a sweeter taste, drizzle a little honey and add a few pinches of cinnamon to the oiled seeds.” You can sprinkle them on salads, add them as a key ingredient in granola bars, or even just eat them alone as a sweet or savory snack.