Pumpkin seeds can improve brain health in 4 crucial ways

In the United States, the pumpkin market is limited and seasonal. When autumn comes, pumpkins come too. Pumpkins the size of a basketball are carved into Jack-o’-lanterns, and tiny decorative pumpkins transform courtyards and homes from summer oases to fall arbors. Dense, sweet pumpkins fill the pies, though the canned variety works just as well.

But in other parts of the world, pumpkins aren’t that ephemeral. They are deep-fried and served with shrimp, simmered with soy sauce and sake, and seasoned in stews. Pumpkins are a nutritious meal. The skin, pulp and seeds of pumpkins are rich in beneficial elements.

If you are looking to add pumpkin to your diet, one step you can take is to save the seeds from the pumpkins you buy this fall and turn them into a snack. Pumpkin seeds are rich in vitamins and minerals. And while there is no “superfood” that can cure whatever ails you, some research suggests that eating pumpkin seeds could benefit your mental health.

“We should definitely eat pumpkin seeds all year round,” says Amy Rains.

Rains is a lecturer in nutrition at William & Mary Research University. He recommends covering them with olive or avocado oil, sea salt, garlic powder, and black pepper and roasting them in the oven for 15 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

“Pumpkin seeds are absolutely a great food to add to your diet in terms of mental health,” he says.

Consider the pumpkin

Scientists believe this fruit first originated in North America around 9,000 years ago. The oldest domestic pumpkin seeds have been found in the Oaxaca highlands of Mexico, and pumpkins are a historically significant food among Native Americans. When the settlers arrived in America, pumpkins also became a staple of their diet and were brought back to Europe. Now, pumpkins are used for food and medicinal purposes all over the world.

Despite their delicious taste, most pumpkins in the United States end up in the trash. For example, the United States produced about 2 billion pounds of pumpkin in 2014, and an estimated 1.3 billion pounds went to waste rather than being eaten or composted. And although pumpkins that typically end up carved on Halloween aren’t considered the most delicious type, their leaves are edible, as are their seeds. (The meat inside the smaller pumpkins is typically tastier.)

Pumpkin seeds are thought to benefit mental health because they contain various nutrients that benefit the brain, Rains explains. These include:

  • Omega 3
  • Magnesium
  • Tryptophan
  • Fiber
  • Vitamin E
  • Zinc
  • Selenium

There is a growing appreciation for the relationship between food and mental health. Although the nature of this link is complicated by the combination of factors such as one’s environment, a steady increase in research shows that both the brain and gut are affected by what we eat. The brain and gut, in turn, together play a significant role in our mental health.

Four reasons why pumpkin seeds can benefit mental health

Pumpkin seeds are an easy mental health food in your diet.Getty Images

4. They contain magnesium.

“Magnesium is a brain-friendly mineral that is typically low in people with anxiety and depression,” explains Rains.

One serving of pumpkin seeds provides about 40-50 percent of our recommended dietary allowance for magnesium. In addition to benefiting the brain, magnesium is also beneficial for heart and bone health, blood pressure, and migraine prevention.

3. Pumpkin seeds contain tryptophan.

You may more easily associate tryptophan with feeling sleepy after eating turkey, although this is a myth, but this amino acid does indeed play a role in serotonin production.

In most cases, less than 10 percent of the tryptophan we consume is converted to serotonin, which is not enough to trigger the relaxed and happy effect linked to the chemical. But “pumpkin seeds are among the top 5 foods that have the highest conversion to serotonin,” says Rains. This is why some scientists theorize that pumpkin seeds have antidepressant potential, even if their role is as an additive to another therapy, not a cure.

2. They contain fiber.

Pumpkin seeds contain around 5 grams of fiber per serving, making them a gut-friendly food. Fiber benefits the gut in several ways: In addition to normalizing bowel movements, consuming fiber leads to greater gut microbiota diversity, which results in a healthier gut. In a 2021 study published in the journal Journal of Nutritionthe scientists found that just a two-week increase in fiber led to a healthier gut.

“Whenever we can make our gut microbiota happy, our brains respond positively,” says Rains.

1. They contain Omega 3.

Pumpkin seeds are a rich source of Omega 3, especially the plant form, alpha linoleic acid (ALA). Research suggests a link between having too few Omega 3s and being more likely to develop various mental health conditions, such as depression, bipolar disorder, and ADHD. Their anti-inflammatory effect, in turn, can also boost mental health: Omega 3s promote brain health by lowering inflammatory markers and maintaining the integrity of our cell membranes.

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