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Too Much Zinc in Pepitas?

Do pepitas have so much zinc in them that they might predispose to cancer as some recent studies have suggested?

Answer (Published 5/9/2011)

Pepitas are pumpkin seeds. They're eaten as a snack or added to salads for a little crunch. You can find them roasted, raw or salted, in the shell or hulled. Pumpkin seeds contain healthy fats as well as protein, fiber, potassium, iron and zinc.

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Pumpkin seeds are a good source of zinc, a mineral present in many foods. In the body, zinc helps maintain optimum immune function and wound healing. It is also a component of key enzymes that help preserve vision and protect against age-related vision loss, including macular degeneration. Zinc plays a role in carbohydrate and protein metabolism and may be beneficial as a supplement for people with severe diarrhea, sickle cell anemia, gastric ulcers, and acne. In addition, zinc is vital for normal fetal development and the maturation of sperm.

Pumpkin seeds are one of the best plant sources of zinc (other vegetarian sources include dried beans, garbanzo beans, black-eyed peas, lentils, peas, and whole soy products, whole grains and nuts). However, unless you're eating an awful lot of them, I doubt that you're getting too much zinc: 1/4 cup of raw pumpkin seeds gives you 2.57 mg of zinc, about 17 percent of the RDA for healthy adults.

If you're getting too much zinc in your diet, the major concern is that you can deplete your copper stores, as the two minerals compete for absorption into the body. We need small amounts of copper for normal growth and health. Along with iron, copper is required for the formation of red blood cells; it also influences the functioning of the heart and arteries, helps prevent bone defects such as osteoporosis and osteoarthritis, and promotes development of healthy connective tissue.

Pumpkin seeds and pumpkin seed oil have been studied for prevention and reduction of benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), an enlargement of the prostate that commonly affects men as they age. No evidence has linked pumpkin seeds or pumpkin seed oil to protection against prostate cancer. Low (not high) zinc levels have been associated with several types of cancer, but the evidence isn't definitive.

I wouldn't worry about the zinc in pepitas. They're good for you as long as you don't overdo it. Keep in mind that while they're a healthy snack, they're also high in calories: about 160 for one ounce.

Andrew Weil, M.D.

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