It's marketed as a super food, and rightfully so. It's rich in zinc, iron and amino acids, among many other vitamins and minerals.
But did you know that it can also strengthen the heart? And provide children with essential amino acids? Even boost the health of the elderly?
Such is the vast array of health benefits contained within the unassuming pumpkin seed. Which is why Vitalere's Chief Science Officer Dr. Robert Pastore chose to make pumpkin seeds an essential ingredient when creating Modus Nutrition, the definitive plant-based protein that was released this week after being included on NSF International’s list of Certified for Sport products.
“The goal with Modus Nutrition was to make this a highly absorbable, highly efficient protein source,” says Pastore. “This is the environment we live in. Kind of like how our cell phones work and we have instant access to everything. I really wanted to make a super protein based on plant foods -- which addresses a real growing concern for our environment -- that can do everything an animal protein powder or protein can do, but better."
So beyond marketing campaigns extolling its virtues, what respected agencies’ studies influenced Pastore and led him down the path towards using the pumpkin seed in his protein powder? None other than the World Health Organization, an agency that Pastore refers to as the “United Nations of human nutrition.”
And why did the World Health Organization examine the pumpkin seed so closely in the first place? Because it was seen as a very effective means of helping starving children in malnourished parts of the world.
“That's actually what [the World Health Organization] found, that if you gave pumpkin seeds to pre-school children, they could be nourished,” explains Pastore. “And that's what led me to these seeds, was the fact that if you fed children pumpkin seeds, then they would obtain all of the essential amino acids. Scientifically, I knew it was a super food based on the World Health Organization's findings. The fact that it was suitable and plant-based was intriguing.”
Pastore then took information gleaned from the World Health Organization’s studies and drilled down even further, using a method known as biomedical informatics, which is essentially a method of trying to solve extremely difficult problems using an enormous amount of data, and then processing all of that data down into a single, tiny entity.
“In a subset of biomedical informatics, I used something called proteomics, which is the study of proteins,” explains Pastore. “So I employed food proteomics to identify key target sources that I saw could make an ideal plant-based protein for professional athletes. So it was the World Health Organization's report on pumpkin seeds being amazing, the clinical data from animals through humans on pumpkin seeds just having so much good stuff -- proteins, amino acids, minerals, antioxidants, vitamins, all these great things. And then it was, well, does it pass the test? Can I study the proteins and know that if I employ a technology that would extract the protein at a higher quantity, could I get more bang for my proverbial buck? The answer ended up being yes.”
While the nutritional value of using pumpkin seeds in Modus Nutrition made it a clear front-runner in terms of key ingredients, Pastore also knew there were other side benefits to using it in high volume. The environment could benefit, for one, as animal-based proteins require far greater amounts of land and resources in order to raise the livestock that yield the core ingredients of these products.
“Pumpkin seeds are so small and they're so stable, and you know it's not like I could do this with a dairy product, with the cost and the effect on the environment.”
Moreover, the lack of dairy didn't just benefit the environment, but it also made the product much more agreeable for athletes who are lactose intolerant. Plus, thanks to the pumpkin seed, Modus isn’t just easier to digest, but it also has much more fiber than whey.
“You will never find fiber in whey protein, because it doesn't exist,” says Pastore. “And I didn't add fiber to Modus, that's just a byproduct of the plants. The pumpkin seed that I extracted was a great source of dietary fiber. Did you know one serving of Modus contains 36 percent of the entire human requirement for dietary fiber for a standard 2,000-calorie diet? You’re getting more than a third of what you'd need from the entire day.”
The protein values are also immense – 30 grams of protein per serving of Modus, to be precise. But beyond fiber and protein, pumpkin seeds still provide Modus with a good bit more.
“Modus also contains important minerals that are naturally found in pumpkin seeds. Magnesium, and manganese, which is a very important element that's involved in DNA and RNA, and how our own bodies reproduce our own cells. Zinc, and iron. As a matter of fact, the FDA requires that iron be listed on food labels, and again -- lucky number 36 -- we have 36 percent of dietary iron found in one serving of our Modus. That's incredible. That's comparable to an animal source like red meat.”
As if cast in a laundry detergent commercial, the pumpkin seed is also known to be loaded with antioxidants, thanks to something known as the dirty-clothes test.
“I used to have a saying that I'd try to get my patients to remember: If a food is natural and it can stain your clothing, you should be eating it,” explains Pastore. “Like blueberries are so rich in antioxidants, and if you drop blueberries on white slacks, that's terrible. If you drop an apple on white slacks, as good as an apple is for you, it doesn't have the same antioxidants as blueberries. Pumpkin seeds are kind of sneaky, because they don't stain your hands, but they come from this really rich orange fruit known, naturally, as the pumpkin, and they are what helps germinate a pumpkin with all of its super powers. So that's why pumpkin seeds are so loaded with antioxidants.”
As if all of that wasn’t enough, Pastore also talks about pumpkin seeds being a food that’s extremely heart healthy.
“If I had a patient who had heart disease, I would recommend pumpkin seeds as a snack,” says Pastore. “Pumpkin seeds contain a really important heart-healthy fat that you may hear popularized by Mediterranean diets known as monounsaturated fat, and the specific one is called oleic acid.”
In fact, thanks to the pumpkin seed, Pastore ultimately sees Modus Nutrition as being something that isn't just for pro athletes. Or amateur athletes. Or youngsters. But due to its compact but powerful punch, he thinks it's something that could benefit the elderly most of all.
“I want to get Modus in more hands of those that are older,” says Pastore. “Their doctors struggle to get them fiber, and struggle to get them protein. What do you tell the elderly? Eat a bowl of oatmeal. OK, well, how much do you really think an older person is going to be able to consume in oatmeal? Well, I'll give you an example: the total fiber of one good-sized serving of oatmeal is 3 grams. In one drink of Modus, that you can put in 8 or 12 ounces of liquid, you're getting 9 grams of fiber. And to me, it's a lot easier to drink than it is to eat for those who are older. Now, add the protein in. Oatmeal contains 1 gram of protein. Modus gives three times the fiber and 30 times the protein.”
Modus Nutrition can help everyone from the young to the old, the professional athlete to the amateur. And all because of a little seed that’ll turn a pumpkin bright orange, yet won’t stain your clothes.