Move over, beans. Seeds of all shapes and sizes are staking their claim as the ‘magical fruit’ of the health world (minus the flatulence). Not only are they making a trendy comeback from, well, forever ago, they fall within the guidelines of dietary restrictions –voluntary or not– for many individuals, including gluten free, dairy free, paleo, vegetarian and vegan, and clean eating. Many of these little bundles of goodness are packed with omega-3 fatty acids, protein, fiber, and overall health benefits. While there are a plethora of seeds on store shelves, the quest for the superseding super seeds generated this list of healthy seeds to add to your diet.
Hemp seeds – not only are hemp seeds a super seed, they are a Superfood. They boast all 21 amino acids, including the 9 essential amino acids, earning them the title of a complete protein source; they beat out milk, meat, eggs, and soy. Additionally, they contain omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids at a ratio of 3:1; anything under a 4:1 ratio is considered optimal for health purposes. Not only are they easily digestible, they also reduce inflammation, may prevent heart disease and can potentially thwart many forms of cancer. As one of the first known cultivated crops, hemp can be consumed in other forms as well, including hemp oil and hemp milk. While it comes from the Cannabis sativa L. plant, it lacks traceable tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive constituent in marijuana. Simply, you cannot get ‘high’ from hemp. Sorry for the downer all you non-Colorado and Washington residents. Too soon?
Chia seeds – the Mayans and Aztecs outsmarted us all by eating these seeds for energy instead of growing them in animal-shaped clay pots for esthetic purposes. Mainly grown in Mexico and Bolivia, chia seeds come from the plant Salvia hispanica and are part of the mint family. The name chia, meaning strength, is fitting considering they contain omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, calcium, carbohydrates, protein, and fiber. They’re undeniably a compact powerhouse. Studies have proven these seeds stabilize blood sugar levels and help lower the risk for cardiovascular disease. Oftentimes, individuals don’t consume enough fiber for their daily requirement. Chia seeds to the rescue! There are 5 grams of fiber per tablespoon of these little guys. They are thought to assist in weight loss as well. Don’t play with your food? There are always exceptions to the rule: chia seeds mixed with any liquid will turn into a gelatin-like substance. You know you want to try it.
Flax seed – this little gem as also been consumed by populations for centuries; there is documentation of supplementing flax seed as early as the 8th century. If that’s not a testimonial, what is? Also known as linseed, flax seed is a good source of omega-3, 6, and 9 fatty acids, potassium, fiber, lignans, and protein. Among all 129 of the world’s healthiest foods, flax seed takes the spotlight as the number one source of omega-3’s! It also ranks number one in lignans, which are a naturally-occurring chemical that mimic the estrogen hormone, and they act as an antioxidant. There are studies that link the consumption of flax seed to a lower risk of breast cancer. Flax seed doesn’t stop there. This overachiever can prevent plaque buildup in arteries, reducing the risk for cardiovascular disease, stabilize blood sugar, and even reduce hot flashes in menopausal women. Are you running to the store yet? Remember to buy the ground flax seed, or buy the whole and grind it yourself. In order to absorb the maximum amount of nutrients, the seed must be in a ground form; the whole seed has the potential to pass through your digestive tract without giving up any of its assets. So conservative, yet so liberal at the same time. Election flashbacks anyone?
Sesame seeds – more powerful than its passcode counterpart (…get it?), these seeds date back at least 3600 years where uses were documented in ancient Egyptian scrolls. Noticing a trend? Like flax seed, these seeds also produce lignans, as well as have high levels of calcium, magnesium, zinc, iron, phosphorus, vitamin B1, copper, and fiber. In addition to the lignan properties found in flax seed, sesame seeds have antihypertensive effects, which aid in lowering blood pressure. They can also lower glucose levels in diabetes patients, reduce arthritic inflammation, promote bone health, aid in migraines and PMS, and lower cholesterol. They are also extremely tasty, which is a plus. Winner, winner, sesame chicken dinner.
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Pumpkin seeds – Gentlemen, this one’s for you! Partially. According to some scientific studies and research, the components found in pumpkin seeds may prevent the onset of prostate cancer. Also known as pepitas for their Mexican descent, these seeds have a multitude of health benefits as well. Traditionally roasted, this savory snack contains L-tryptophan, which can assist in sleep and depression. Additionally, they promote bone health with high levels of zinc, and have anti-inflammatory properties for arthritic patients. Pumpkin seeds are also a good source of vitamin B, vitamin K, vitamin E, and protein. Watch your intake, though; pumpkin seeds are very high in calories. Think they’re only a Halloween snack? Think again. Or throw on last year’s Halloween costume before you pick some up at the grocery store. It’ll seem more authentic.
Sunflower seeds – not just restricted to a good ball game. Your heart will thank you for eating these as they are high in vitamin E, which can help prevent abnormal clotting and lower cholesterol. A quarter cup of these babies will give you 90% of your daily vitamin E requirement. They are also a good source of magnesium, which aids in lowering blood pressure. Additionally, sunflower seeds have high levels of selenium, a component often linked to cancer prevention. Vitamin B is prominent in these seeds, specifically folic acid. This helps in the formation of red blood cells, reduces the risk of hypertension, and can prevent birth defects in pregnant women. Although they are high in calories, these seeds are packed with good fats and will keep you full. Funny how a ball game makes them taste that much better. Now, who’s on third?
All of these seeds can be consumed in many different ways: as a yogurt topping, in a protein shake, on a salad, in any type of bread, in granola bars, trail mix, etc. Get creative. Several come in other forms as well, the most common being an oil. Despite all of the health benefits to them, this selection of seeds is only a few of many that are amazingly nutritious. If there’s one thing that they have demonstrated, however, it’s that the saying holds true: Good things come in small packages….or shells.