(Health Secrets) Looking for a healthy snack food the whole family can love? Breaking the salty snack food habit is one of the hardest parts of healthy eating, and getting children to give up salty snacks is almost impossible. But now you can replace them with a munchy-snack alternative that offers both great taste and great nutrition! Pumpkin seeds are nutty tasting, crunchy, chewy, and slightly sweet. When sea salt, herbs or spices are added, they turn into a healthy snack food that would please the biggest junk food addict.
Pumpkin seeds can be raw or roasted, and both types are great for hard core snacking, but that’s not all. Mexican cuisine uses them liberally in many dishes, and they are ground for use in green sauces. In the Southwest and Latin America, pumpkin seeds have been used in many dishes and eaten since the time of the Aztecs or earlier for their special flavor and health benefits.
One of nature’s most perfect foods makes the best healthy snack food
What makes pumpkin seeds healthy snack food? Pumpkin seeds offer a nutritional profile that can’t be beat, including amino acids, unsaturated fatty acids, and a wealth of minerals. They are high in most of the B vitamins, and vitamins C, D, E, and K. They are rich in beta carotene that can be converted into vitamin A as needed by the body, and also rich in the eye protective carotenoid lutein.
Snacking on just one-quarter cup of pumpkin seeds provides a whopping 16 grams of body building protein, along with substantial amounts of manganese, phosphorous, iron, copper and zinc. It also provides 45% of the daily value recommended for magnesium, the master mineral in which most Americans are deficient.
Pumpkin seeds are chocked full of monounsaturated fat that has been shown to interrupt the triggering of prostate cell multiplication by DHT, a product of testosterone conversion. This makes them an ideal snacks for guys as well as kids. Monounsaturated fat is one of the reasons people who eat the Mediterranean diet live longer, healthier lives. The omega-3 fats found in pumpkin seeds are being studied for their potential prostate benefits. The significant amounts of carotenoids in pumpkin seeds are of interest to researchers because men with higher amounts of carotenoids in their diets have a lowered risk for prostate enlargement. The high zinc content of pumpkin seeds protects prostates and breasts, so add women to the list too.
Another reason for men and women to eat zinc rich pumpkin seeds is their effect on bone mineral density. Although osteoporosis is usually thought of as a women’s disease, it can affect older men, a group that suffers 30 percent of the hip fractures.
Pumpkin seeds offer powerful anti-inflammatory properties. The addition of them to the diet has been shown to work as well as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs in reducing symptoms of inflammation. And they did this without any unwanted side effects or threat to the liver.
In fact, pumpkin seeds have recently been shown to be protective of the liver. In a study reported in Food Chemistry and Toxicology, mice fed a mixture of pumpkin seeds and flax seeds showed their lipid parameters decreased significantly compared to controls. Plasma and liver toxins decreased, and the efficiency of their antioxidant defense systems improved.
Phytosterols are compounds found in plants with chemical structures similar to cholesterol. When the diet contains high levels of phytosterols, blood levels of cholesterol are reduced. Phytosterols also enhance the immune system response, and can help reduce the risk of developing certain cancers. They are present in high amounts in seeds and nuts. Pistachio nuts and sunflower seeds are the richest in phytosterols, with pumpkin seeds coming in third of all the nuts and seeds usually eaten.
The oil in pumpkin seeds has an excellent ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 fatty acids. This ratio makes it important for cellular function and oxygenation. It is also why pumpkin seeds make hair glossy, skin clear, and energy levels high.
Pumpkin seeds are a versatile food
Pumpkin seeds can be eaten raw, cooked or roasted. Here are a few suggestions that go beyond snacking:
*Add pumpkin seeds to salads or vegetable dishes to provide some textural variation.
*Add pumpkin seeds to cereal, granola, trail mix, or mix with dried fruits
*Use pumpkin seeds in cookie and muffin recipes.
*Shred or grind pumpkin seeds and add to veggie or meat burgers.
*Sprinkle pumpkin seeds on rice, pasta and potatoes dishes.
Soaked organic pumpkin seeds offer best taste and nutrition
Like all nuts and seeds, pumpkin seeds contain phytate, an enzyme inhibitor. In nature phytate prevents the nut or seed from sprouting prematurely, and it makes unsoaked nuts and seeds difficult to digest. Soaking them first replicates what nature does with rain in the spring to get the nut or seed ready for germination and the release of the nutrients it contains. When the enzymes in the nut or seed are released, so is the flavor. Soaking makes nuts and seeds taste fabulous.
Pumpkin seeds for soaking should be organic hulled pumpkin seeds with no shells, or a variety called naked seeds that actually grows without the shells. These can be bought online or from a health food store. Making soaked pumpkin seeds is easy. Here’s how:
Step One: Put the pumpkin seeds in a fine mesh colander and rinse them well. Place the rinsed seeds into a wide-mouthed glass jar. Dissolve a pinch of sea salt in some water, and pour the water over the seeds, using enough to cover them. Leave in a warm spot for 1 to 2 hours. The salt is needed to help activate enzymes that will then deactivate the enzyme inhibitors.
Step Two: Drain and rinse the seeds well and place them in the jar once again. Cover the jar with a breathable cloth and leave it in a cool, semi-lit location for no more than 8 to 12 hours.
Step Three: Rinse the seeds and spread on a clean dry surface or on a mesh drying rack. When they are dry, they are ready to eat, or they can be stored in a jar in the refrigerator.
Step Four (for the ultimate in pumpkin seeds): After the seeds have been soaked, place them in a dehydrator and dehydrate according to dehydrator directions.
Dehydrating does not damage enzymes. In his book Enzyme Nutrition, Dr. Edward Howell explains that because of the difference in food temperature and air temperature, it is safe to dehydrate at settings up to 145 degrees because the temperature of the food will not exceed 118 degrees. Enzymes are most susceptible to damage by high heat while they are in a wet state. This is why cooking is so damaging to enzymes. Dehydration uses far less heat than cooking or baking. As the food becomes drier, the enzymes become more stable.
Dehydrated pumpkin seeds can be seasoned and kept in a tightly sealed container in the refrigerator for several weeks.
Or do as the Aztecs have always done, and dry your pumpkin seeds in the sun.
Get creative with pumpkin seeds
To make a salty, crunchy snack food the whole family will love, add extra sea salt to the soaking water and dehydrate the pumpkin seeds. Use plastic or paper bags to create snack packs or lunch packs.
For adults, during dehydration add cilantro, jalapeno, lime, garlic, tamari, raw cacoa, or any of the herbs and spices that appeal.
Check out the array of already prepared organic sprouted pumpkin seeds available online.
Several online retailers that specialize in live foods sell organic sprouted dehydrated pumpkin seeds. One of the best is http://www.goraw.com/. Others specialize in dressed up versions with a wealth of flavors, and some offer mixes of pumpkin seeds with other sprouted nuts and seeds. Organic sprouted pumpkin seeds are also available at many alternative grocery stores.
For more information:
Photo by justgrimes