Eat These Autumn Treats To Reduce Anxiety

As the heat of summer slowly eases, it's time to look forward to fall and all its pleasures: cozy sweaters, crackling fires, glorious foliage, apple picking, and of course, the ever-popular (some might say too popular) pumpkin spice products. That big orange gourd is an important part of the season, whether as a colorful decoration, a spooky jack-o-lantern, or an ingredient in soups and pies. But there's one part of the pumpkin that often goes ignored, and unjustly so. 

Next time you're carving a pumpkin for eating or trick-or-treating, be sure to save the seeds. They're a nutritional bonanza that can actually help reduce anxiety. Clinical psychologist and nutritionist Nicole Beurkens tells MindBodyGreen, "They're a real powerhouse in terms of brain function." These little guys contain important minerals like magnesium, zinc, iron, and omega-3 fatty acids, all of which are linked to better brain health and lowered anxiety. 

How does that work? Think of your nervous system as split into two parts: The parasympathetic nervous system stores the energy we need to function, while the sympathetic nervous system is our emergency backup. When we feel threatened or stressed, the sympathetic nervous system goes into overdrive, sending extra energy to the body in a fight-or-flight response (via National Institutes of Health). That's when the physical symptoms set in: sweating, stomach pain, palpitations, muscle tension. Magnesium helps keep the sympathetic nervous system in check, and studies show a link between increased levels of omega-3s and reduced symptoms of anxiety (via Harvard Health Publishing). 

You can use pumpkin seeds in lots of delicious recipes

You can buy pumpkin seeds in most grocery stores, either packaged with their white shells on or pre-shelled and roasted. (The latter are usually dark green and also known as pepitas.) But if you've already picked fresh pumpkins for decorating or cooking, why not go ahead and prepare your own?

Simply Recipes offers a, well, simple recipe for roasting pumpkin seeds. After cutting the pumpkin open, rinse the seeded sections under cool water to separate them from the stringy pulp. Then boil them in salted water for a few minutes, drain, and arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake them at 400 degrees for 5 to 20 minutes, or until they just begin to turn brown.

Roasted pumpkin seeds make a delicious — and nutritious! — snack on their own, but they're versatile enough to use in just about any type of dish. Toss them into a salad or sprinkle them on squash soup. They can be blended into smoothies or mixed into cookies and quick breads for a crunchy, healthy kick. You can even make your own pesto using pumpkin seeds, a green herb like basil or cilantro, a good-quality olive oil, salt and pepper to taste, and a little grated hard cheese like Pecorino Romano (via This Savory Vegan). Blend them all up, serve over your favorite pasta, and you have a meal that's not only delicious but can keep you feeling calm as well.