It is easy to feel like a bird with all of the superfood seeds we are told to include in our diet. As mainstream media promotes food for its medicinal properties, we become bombarded with health facts that are difficult to “peck” through. Here is a summary on the health benefits of the most popular seeds.
Hemp is a fast growing and environmentally friendly crop containing all essential amino acids. Our body is not capable of producing all of the protein building blocks or amino acids that we need, so it is “essential” that we get them from our diet. Compared with soy protein isolates (a common vegetarian amino acid source), hemp contains a significantly higher proportion of essential amino acids and the protein is more easily digested, suggesting it as a better protein alternative than soy. While hemp seeds contain the ideal ratio of 3:1 omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids, most individuals consume a diet too high in omega-6’s. Hemp seeds contain high levels of GLA, an essential fatty useful for atopic eczema and inflammation, and Vitamin E, a potent anti-oxidant.
People usually think of flax seeds in terms of their flaxative effects. Having both soluble and insoluble forms of fibre, flaxseed promotes healthy bowel movements. But flaxseeds also contain high levels of omega-3 essential fatty acids, which have healthy heart benefits. Studies show that flaxseeds can reduce atherosclerotic plaque build-up, lower “bad” cholesterol and reduce hypertension. They contain the highest concentration of lignan compounds, which have estrogen-regulating effects; some studies indicate protection against hormone sensitive cancers, such as breast cancer. Although flaxseed oil maintains many of the seeds’ health benefits, the oil lacks the fibre that can aid in digestion and lowering cholesterol. Because flaxseeds easily become rancid, they should be kept as whole seeds in the freezer and ground just before consumption.
Ch-Ch-Ch-Chia…Chia seeds are most commonly known for creating cute, loveable, low-maintenance pets of the plant variety. Lately, this ancient seed has been touted as a superfood with a long list of health benefits. Although it has similar nutritional content to flaxseeds, one tablespoon contains 3 grams of fibre, chia does not need to be ground to promote absorption. Chia seeds are used to promote weight loss by bulking in the stomach and making one feel full; however, studies are inconclusive on its efficacy. There are two major studies looking at the effects of chia seeds on heart health—one showed benefit, while one did not. Chia seeds also contain high amounts of omega-3 essential fatty acids, the highest concentration being of ALA. ALA can be converted to the anti-inflammatory fatty acids EPA and DHA, although conversion is very low.
Pumpkin seeds have long been used for prostate health, particularly in inhibiting the growth in benign prostate hyperplasia, BPH. Pumpkin seeds have a high concentration of L-tryptophan, the turkey amino acid that makes us sleepy, and researchers are studying it for the treatment and prevention of anxiety disorders, depression and other mood disorders. Some studies also show anti-parasitic effects in our digestive system.
Sesame seeds have the highest oil content of all the seeds, and since the oil is highly stable, this is the form it is most consumed in. Sesame seeds can increase our Vitamin E levels when compared to walnuts or soy that also contain this anti-oxidant. However, sesame seeds are highly allergenic and contain only omega 6’s, which creates essential fatty acid imbalance.
Take me out to the ball game… Sunflower seeds remain a staple at any baseball game, little league or MLB. Similar to sesame seeds, they contain only omega 6’s, which are too high in our diet.
Include seeds in your diet:
- 2 tablespoons or ground flaxseed in a protein shake
- Sprinkle chia or hemp seeds on salad or cereal
- A quarter of a cup pumpkin seeds as a midday snack.