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Seeds are proof that Mother Nature works in marvelous ways. A diminutive seed contains all the makings of an entire plant. Despite their small size, they’re often nutritional giants.
Sunflower, chia, and their ilk provide a powerful blend of healthy fats, plant-based protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that can help stave off heart disease, cancer, and more. In fact, because seeds are so nutrient-dense, you don’t need to eat a huge amount to reap the benefits. Just 2–3 tablespoons a day should give you a big nutritional boost without breaking the calorie bank. Here are our top seeds of all time and what they can do for your health, plus an easy Clean Eating recipe to get you started:
1. Chia Seeds to Fend Off Diabetes
As a fiber heavyweight, chia delivers 5 grams in a mere tablespoon serving, much of which is soluble fiber. When soluble fiber interacts with gastric liquids, it forms a gel. In this gel form, soluble fiber works to slow down digestion to help keep you feeling full as well as tempering rises in blood sugar. This is a key factor in helping fend off type 2 diabetes, a condition that impacts over 34 million Americans. A number of research papers show that soluble fiber also helps reduce levels of LDL, the so-called bad cholesterol, making a daily chia habit ticker-friendly. Soluble fiber pulls off this trick by increasing the excretion of cholesterol-containing bile from the body.
Try: Berry Chia Parfait
2. Hemp Seeds to Build Muscle
Also called “hemp hearts,” which are the seeds that have had their hard outer shell removed, these sweet, nutty delights are a fantastic source of plant-based protein—roughly 10 grams in a 3-tablespoon serving. Since the protein contained within hemp seeds has been determined to be “complete,” as it contains a full arsenal of essential amino acids, hemp seeds are a useful food source for helping improve lean body mass. This, in turn, can enhance exercise performance and also keep your fat-burning metabolism revving along.
Hemp seeds’ other nutritional virtues include a bounty of heart-benefiting omega-3 fatty acids and many must-have minerals including iron, phosphorus and immune-boosting zinc. And, no, they don’t contain any THC, so you’ll get only a nutritional high from chomping on them.
3. Pumpkin Seeds to Improve Mood
If you’re suffering from the COVID blues, be sure to crunch your way through more pumpkin seeds. Sometimes referred to as pepitas in recipes, these squash-sourced seeds are a major source of magnesium. Higher intakes of this mineral might be beneficial to mental health by helping ease systems of depression, according to an investigation in the journal PLOS ONE.
Research published in the Journal of Clinical Hypertension found evidence that bumping up magnesium intake can also have a positive impact on reducing blood pressure numbers. Magnesium relaxes blood vessels, which increases blood flow, thereby decreasing pressure. Troublingly, nutrition data suggest that magnesium is commonly under-consumed, as it’s typically lacking in the processed foods that the Standard American Diet is rife with.
4. Flax to Tame Inflammation
Fatty in the best way, flax is chock-full of the essential omega-3 fat alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). This is considered “essential” because we must get it from dietary sources since the body is unable to produce its own. Owing to the glut of cheap vegetable oils used in packaged foods and fast-food fryers, many people tend to eat far too many omega-6 fats and far too few omega-3s. It’s thought that this skewed balance of fatty acids encourages inflammation in the body, which can expedite the process of cardiovascular disease and other maladies. So adding a daily dose of flax to your diet, which has an omega-3-to-omega-6 ratio of 4-to-1, can help you get back into balance.
These nutritional overachievers are also one of the richest food sources of lignans—anti-disease polyphenols found in some plant walls—and, like chia, hunger-smashing soluble fiber. Flaxseeds are best consumed ground because the hard shell of the whole seed resists digestion, making it difficult to tap into the nutrition payload contained within the seed.
5. Sunflower Seeds to Take On Cancer
When you look at the nutrients profile of the seeds from this sun-worshiping plant, what stands out is their lofty vitamin E levels—about 35 percent of the daily need in a 1-ounce serving. That’s good news if you want a better chance of keeping the big C-word at bay. Research data suggests that consuming more food-sourced vitamin E may help lessen the risk for certain cancers, including colon, breast, and prostate.
Naturally occurring forms of vitamin E, such as gamma- and delta-tocopherols, are found in sunflower seeds and other foods. They can act as potent antioxidants that help put the brakes on the cell damage that contributes to cancer progression. Sunflower seeds also contain a mineral stew that includes praiseworthy levels of phosphorus, copper, manganese, and selenium.
6. Sesame Seeds to Build Bones of Steel
Open sesame and you’ll get a surprising dose of calcium! Bone is a mineralized connective tissue in which calcium represents the major component, conferring strength and structure. So, proper dietary calcium intake is important for adequate bone development. Sesame seeds prove that you can get plenty of this key mineral from non-dairy sources. What’s more, boosting intake of calcium via dietary measures may lessen the risk of premenopausal women developing breast cancer, according to a meta-analysis in the British Journal of Nutrition.
These salubrious seeds also deliver copper, an essential mineral for proper energy production and neurotransmitter synthesis. Seek out fetching black sesame seeds and you’ll get an extra dose of age-avenging antioxidants, concentrated in their dark hulls.
Go Recipe Free
Want to incorporate more seeds into your diet but don’t want to undertake a brand new recipe? These ultra-versatile little treasures are a delicious and easy addition to boost many meals:
- Whirl hemp seeds into smoothies.
- Top a bowl of chili with pumpkin seeds.
- Blend sesame seeds into dips.
- Stir chia seeds into yogurt.
- Whisk tahini into creamy dressings.
- Use ground flax as a binder in veggie burgers and meatballs.
- Add sunflower seeds to baked goods for a little crunch.
- Mix hemp seeds into homemade energy balls and bars.
- Make plant-based egg alternative: Mix 1 tbsp chia seeds or ground flaxseeds with 3 tbsp cold water. In 10 minutes, you’ll have a gelatinous mixture that can be used in baking as a vegan egg replacement.
From Better Nutrition