By Stephen T. Sinatra, M.D., F.A.C.C., F.A.C.N., C.N.S., C.B.T.
“Going to seed” is a popular idiom expressed when someone or something wears out or becomes shabby. When I go to seed it has a distinctly different meaning: I am adding seeds to my diet!
Seeds tend to be the forgotten cousins of nuts, but they pack plenty of nutritional punch and shouldn’t be overlooked. They contain protein, a good balance of essential fatty acids, fiber, and all sorts of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidant compounds.
Here’s a list of five of my favorite seeds:
1. Chia Seeds
This member of the mint family is rich in omega-3 fatty acids (60% of its oil content is linolenic acid), fiber (18-30%) and antioxidants. Chia used to be a major food crop of the indigenous people of Mexico and Guatemala, and is now cultivated in Australia, Argentina, and Southeast Asia as well.
I used to primarily recommend flax seeds to patients for their healthy oil content; however, chia seeds have more healthy oil, and taste better, in my opinion. I make a daily high-fiber juice drink and throw a tablespoon of chia seeds into the mix. Fiber, of course, is the undigested roughage in plant food that exerts a cleansing effect in the gastro-intestinal tract, promotes regularity, and helps slow down the absorption of the sugars in carbohydrates and thus contributes to maintaining a steady glucose (blood sugar) level.
Omega-3 fats have the ability to penetrate cholesterol-laden plaque, reducing blood vessel inflammation, and helping to prevent blood-clotting deposits from clogging arteries.
2. Flax Seeds
Even though I prefer chia seeds, flaxseeds are still great additions to smoothies and cereal! In the past, I’ve recommended a flax shake to patients to help them lose weight; it’s simple and a good meal replacement. Add two tablespoons of ground organic flaxseeds to 8 ounces of soy, almond, or cow’s milk. You’ll need to grind the seeds (use a coffee grinder) to release the flaxseed oil that has the omega-3 fats. Make the drink within a few hours of grinding, otherwise the ground flax will go rancid. Flaxseeds also provide oleic acid, another fatty acid, which contributes to nerve health.
3. Hemp Seeds
Hemp is an interesting seed… One of the few vegetarian sources of complete protein, which is why you see it frequently as a component of protein drinks sold in health food stores. Hemp is one of the earliest known cultivated plants with a history of food, fiber, medicine, and psychoactive applications dating back thousands of years.
In regard to the psychoactive usage, it is essential to mention that hemp seed belongs to the cannabis family from whence comes marijuana and hashish. There are, however, two main types of cannabis – one with distinct drug properties because of its higher concentration of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), and the other with insignificant THC content. The latter, referred to as industrial hemp, is endowed with excellent nutritional components, and is legally grown in places like Canada, Australia, Austria, China, Great Britain, France, and Spain, but not in the U.S. because of the stigma of being part of the cannabis family.
Hempseed is rich in essential fatty acids, has almost as much protein as soybean, and a substantial level of vitamin E, potassium, magnesium, sulfur, calcium, iron, and zinc. Among its amino acids is a high quantity of arginine, a raw material our bodies use to produce nitric oxide, an essential biochemical for healthy blood vessels.
Hempseeds have an ideal balance between omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which important for heart health.
4. Pumpkin Seeds
Pumpkin seeds, or pepitas, offer a good supply of magnesium and zinc. In laboratory studies, researchers have found that the seeds contain compounds that may contribute to blood sugar control, healthy blood pressure, and counteracting the enlargement of the prostate gland, a common affliction of older men.
5. Sunflower Seeds
Native Americans made sunflower seeds into a dietary staple. They grinded or pounded the seeds into cakes, bread, or mush mixed with beans, squash, or corn.
As folk medicine, sunflower seeds have reputedly been used against diarrhea and the relief of asthmatic symptoms, and are regarded to have anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory properties. They are an excellent source of vitamin E. Some naturopathic doctors even prescribe them to women to help regulate their menstrual cycles.
Like nuts, seeds are very practical and nutritious add-ons, yet most people aren’t aware of their nutritional value. Add any or all of them to blended morning drinks or cereals, or sprinkle them on salads or plain yogurt. Some make great snacks or quick energizers, and even add crunch and nutritional value to cookies or muffins.
- Norlaily MA, et al. The promising future of Chia, Salvia Hispanic L. J Biomed Biotechnol. 2012.
- Rodriguez-Leyva D, Pierce GN. The cardiac and haemostatic effects of dietary hempseed. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2010;7:32.
- Adams GG, et al. The hypoglycemic effect of pumpkin seeds, Trigonelline (TRG), Nicotinic acid (NA), and D-Chiro-inositol (DCI) in controlling glycemic levels in diabetes mellitus. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2014;54(10):1322-9.
- El-Mosallamy AE, et al. Antihypertensive and cardioprotective effects of pumpkin seed oil. J Med Food. 2012;15(2):180-9.
- Gossell-Williams, et al. Inhibition of testosterone-induced hyperplasia of the prostate of Sprague-dawley rats by pumpkinseed oil. J Med Food. 2006;9(2):284-6.
- Gomes Boriollo MF, et al. Nongenotoxic effects and a reduction of the DXR-induced genotoxic effects of Helianthus annuus Linné (sunflower) seeds revealed by micronucleus assays in mouse bone marrow. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2014;14:121.
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