There once was a time when people avoided oil like it was the plague. Since the food is high in fat, they assumed it would raise their cholesterol, encourage weight gain, and basically sabotage their healthy lifestyle. Now we know that's not necessarily true. In fact, quite the opposite since some oils can prevent heart disease, provide anti-inflammatory benefits, and provide extra antioxidants. This is why some super-buzzy and nutritious diets like the Mediterranean diet and the Nordic diet are based on the inclusion of heart-healthy oils (olive and rapeseed, respectively).
In short, all oils aren't created equal, so don't write them off. Just make sure you're using the right ones—think healthy oils like olive, coconut, avocado, and pumpkin seed. If that last one threw you off, don't worry; it's not nearly as well known as its other nutritious counterparts. But it should be. Science shows that it can majorly benefit the body. Keep reading to learn how.
Alissa Rumsey, MS, RD, founder of Alissa Rumsey Nutrition and Wellness and creator of the free e-guide The 5-Minute Mindful Eating Exercise, says pumpkin seed oil contains a whole host of important nutrients. "Pumpkin seed oil is a source of vitamin E, magnesium, zinc and contains omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids plus plant sterols," she says. "It can be a good alternative plant-based oil to use in your diet."
Research says that it might even be able to boost your mood and alleviate anxiety. A small pilot study published in the Canadian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology found that gourd seeds (like pumpkin) "resulted in significant improvement on an objective measure of anxiety" in participants who struggled with social anxiety disorder. Scientists thought it may be due to the amino acid called tryptophan, which pumpkin seed oil contains. They even went as far as to call it a "potential anxiolytic," or anti-anxiety agent.
Potential Sleep Benefits
Tryptophan is also thought to be effective at alleviating the effects of insomnia, both for reducing the amount of time it takes to fall asleep and boosting the amount of time you stay asleep. If you're doubtful that tryptophan could encourage sleep, just look to Thanksgiving as an example. Turkey is rich in tryptophan, which explains why it's so common to feel sluggish and drowsy post-feast.
High Levels of Antioxidants and anti-inflammatories
A 2013 study showed that pumpkin seed oil can even alleviate the effects of diabetes, thanks to its high antioxidant content. Diabetic rats were given tocopherol (an organic form of vitamin E found in many foods) that was extracted from raw pumpkin seed oil. Researchers saw "a remarkable reduction in oxidative markers and improved cecal and pancreatic characteristics," which, in other words, correlated to the alleviation of diabetic activity. Pretty cool, right? Plus, eating foods that are high in antioxidant content is thought to delay cellular degeneration, visible aging, and more.
Heart Health Benefits
Heart health is paramount to living a long and active lifestyle, which is why we always try to eat as many heart-healthy foods as possible. According to another study, we should consider adding pumpkin seed oil to our diet; preliminary research showed it could massively benefit the cardiovascular system. After feeding rats pumpkin seed oil, researchers measured key heart health indicators. They found that pumpkin seed oil exhibits "antihypertensive and cardio-protective effects" since it reduced blood pressure and prevented "pathological alterations."
Hair Loss Prevention
According to a 2014 study, pumpkin seed oil might remedy hair loss. Men who had alopecia (the medical name for hair loss) were randomly given either pumpkin seed oil or a placebo. Those who took the oil discovered that they actually had more hair than they did at the start of the study. In fact, hair count increased by 40%. We know what you're thinking—this study is just researching the effects of this superfood on balding men, which is a demographic you might not fit. However, the results speak for themselves; it was shown that pumpkin seed oil might actually reverse hair loss. So even though the study was only conducted on men, it gives us hope that we can get long, voluminous Rapunzel-esque locks due to less fall-out and breakage.
Urinary and Reproductive Organ support
"Research has studied the effect of pumpkin seed oil in supporting urinary and reproductive organs, and there is some research that shows it can improve the symptoms of urinary issues like BPH," Rumsey says. For proof, see how one study found pumpkin seed oil improved urinary dysfunctions like overactive bladder while another study found it improved the condition of men with enlarged prostates.
If this info has you ready to buy all the pumpkin seed oil you can find, know that it's not exactly easy to work into all of your favorite dishes. As Rumsey explains, "Pumpkin seed oil has a low smoke point, so it's best to not use it in cooking." Instead, she recommends using it in salad dressing, drizzled on cooked veggies, or added into soups or stir-fries. Be right back—we're going to try putting pumpkin seed oil in all of these things.
Next, read all about the vegan diet, including how to eat vegan even if you're on a budget.