Good all year: Pumpkin seeds

You might only think about pumpkin seeds when carving a Jack-o-Lantern for Halloween, but these buttery-tasting seeds are worth eating year-round. They’re also right at home in Phase 3 of the Fast Metabolism Diet, where their combination of fat and protein makes them the perfect, portable snack.

Like other nuts and seeds, pumpkin seeds contain one of the best-for-you fats that most of us don’t get enough of, omega-3 fatty acids, which help keep everything moving smoothly through your heart. And that’s just the beginning of what pumpkin seeds can do for you.

Rich in lysine, zinc, and magnesium

Pumpkin seeds have some unique benefits.

The zinc found in pumpkin seeds can help support your immune system, and for men, zinc is important for prostate health. Pumpkin seeds are one of the best sources of zinc aside from beef and oysters.

Women should snack on them too, like beans, pumpkin seeds are rich in lysine, an amino acid that scavenges cellulite and surface fat, helping you look sleek and toned. For menopausal women, the phytonutrients in pumpkin seeds can help ease the symptoms of menopause, especially hot flashes.

The magnesium in pumpkin seeds is good for everything from heart health to soothing muscle cramps. Your body also needs magnesium to synthesize the fuel that keeps every cell in your body moving.

Pumpkin seeds are also rich in the trace minerals manganese, copper and phosphorus, and they’re chock full of phytosterols (which can help reduce your cholesterol levels) and free-radical-scavenging antioxidants.

Anti-inflammatory, anti-parasitic

Pumpkin seeds have long been known as a traditional remedy for killing intestinal parasites, like giardia and cryptosporidium. And pumpkin seeds have been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects, too — in fact; they may even be as effective as some arthritis medications at soothing pain.

Compounds in pumpkin seeds can help reduce the effects of diabetes, allowing your body to regulate your blood sugar better. 

Sleep tight

Pumpkin seeds contain tryptophan, the same amino acid found in turkey that your body then converts to melatonin, which can help you get a good night’s sleep.

Buying and eating pumpkin seeds

As you can see, pumpkin seeds pack a powerful nutritional punch, but there’s a catch: Roasting destroys the beneficial oils in pumpkin seeds, so you need to eat them raw. Like other nuts and seeds, raw pumpkin seeds contain enzyme inhibitors that protect the dormant seed and lock much of its nutrition away.

You can get around that by soaking or sprouting the pumpkin seeds, which makes them easier for your body to digest. Buy seeds that smell fresh (if they smell musty or stale, it’s because they are) and soak them overnight in a glass jar filled with about twice as much warm water and a half-teaspoon of sea salt.

Rinse the seeds in the morning—you can use them now if you want to. Or put them back in the jar, cover the opening with a sprouting lid or piece of cheesecloth, and upend the jar at an angle, so the remaining water drains out and the air circulates. (Putting the jar in a bowl, or a dish rack, is a good way to do this.)

Rinse the seeds at least twice a day, then set the jar back at an angle to drain; within a couple of days, you should see the seeds start to sprout. If you don’t plan to eat them immediately, dry them in a food dehydrator or your oven (at the lowest setting) until they’re crispy.

For an extra-savory treat, toss the just-sprouted or soaked seeds with curry or chili powder, or garlic and sea salt, then sprinkle them on your salad.

Raw pumpkin seeds butter is delicious too; just toss them in a food processor and pulse until a paste forms. Add a bit of sea salt if you like. Then spread on celery or jicama for a yummy metabolic boost.