Seeds are packed full of nutrients, protein, healthy fats – and flavour! We run down the top 10 best seeds to include in a healthy diet.January 14, 2021 10:59 am March 04, 2020 6:01 pm
Thousands of years ago, our ancestors ate seeds seasonally. Our African and Australian forebears would gather seeds to parch, roast or soak in order to better digest them and absorb their nutrients.
Nowadays, we can get our hands on seeds all year round, but they are often overlooked in our diets. We know we should be eating fruits and vegetables, but there is far less information out there about seeds. And, while there’s no officially mandated ‘daily allowance’ of these little kernels of goodness, there are plenty of reasons to make sure you’re eating enough of them.
Seeds are packed full of nutrients. However, we’re not always able to break down and absorb them. The answer? A simple process that our ancestors knew about all those years ago. Soaking the seeds in water, otherwise known as ‘activating’ them, makes their nutrients much more bioavailable to us.(1) That means we can access all the goodness inside seeds more efficiently.
But what are these nutrients, and why should we be bothered about seeds? To answer that question, let’s go right back to the beginning.
What are seeds?
A seed is a developing plant, encased in a protective coating. Given time and the right conditions, it will germinate and grow into a fully-fledged plant.
Sounds simple? It is – but there is quite a bit of crossover between seeds and other food types. Take quinoa, buckwheat or chia, for example. All of these are officially titled ‘pseudocereals’. That is, they are all technically seeds, but we cook, use and consume them like grains.
Seeds are a great source of plant-based protein, making them particularly important for people following a plant-based diet or people who exercise a lot. They also contain a host of other nutrients, varying dependent on the type. They can help you maintain stable blood sugar levels and fight free radicals, which can cause damage to your cells.
Eating activated seeds can help you to digest other foods more easily, and it’s also possible that they help support weight loss (as part of a healthy diet and exercise routine). → View Related Products
10 best seeds for health
Determining a top ten list of the best seeds is a bit like making a list of your favourite ’80s power ballads; it’s somewhat dependent on personal taste.
However, the ones which have made it into our list are also bursting with healthy nutrients and come with their own special benefits. So, without further ado, let’s take a look at our champions and why they have earned a place in our top ten.
"Activating seeds by soaking them in water makes their nutrients more bioavailable to us.(1)"
Heavenly hemp seeds
Hemp is rich in many different beneficial substances including plant protein and vitamin D. However, hemp seed is most remarkable for its optimal 3:1 ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids.
Scientists think that an imbalance of fatty acids may lead to the weakening of the immune system and to many diseases common in the Western world, including several types of cancer. On the other hand, getting the balance of fatty acids right is beneficial for your skin, hair, heart health and overall wellbeing.
Gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) is an omega-6 fatty acid present in hemp seeds. It is good at reducing inflammation, which plays a role in many common health disorders. Hemp also contains vitamin E, and you can apply oil made from the seeds to skin and hair to nourish and condition.
Hemp seeds, also known as hemp hearts, can be enjoyed on their own or over salad and soup. We like to add the raw powder to smoothies, in place of a synthetic protein powder. These seeds have a strong, nutty flavour which goes brilliantly in a tahini and garlic sauce, or blended with olive oil and drizzled over roasted vegetables.
Captivating chia seeds
Today, we revere ancient Mayan civilisation as being astoundingly ahead of its time. As it turns out, the wisdom of the Mayans extends to the foods they enjoyed, some of which – like chia – have proven to be extremely good for us.
Chia is a source of soluble fibre, which bulks up the matter in our bowels and slows its movement. This allows us to digest the nutrients from our food more fully.
Chia also expands in our stomach, which helps ward off hunger and makes us feel full for longer. These tiny seeds are also rich in minerals including manganese and magnesium. As if that wasn’t enough, they are a complete plant-based protein, which means that they contain all nine essential amino acids.
Raw chia seed is wonderful in smoothies and baked products. Cold-pressed chia oil has a strong, distinctive flavour and fragrance. It is especially rich in omega-3 fatty acids. → View Related Products
Marvellous milk thistle seeds
Milk thistles are small, pale purple blossoms housed on top of spiky cocoons. Their seeds contain a range of unique attributes.
In particular, milk thistle seeds have impressive stores of silymarin. This is the name given to a group of raw flavolignans (natural acids) found in plants. Research has looked at the ability of silymarin to detoxify the body, especially the liver. Although further research is needed, milk thistle continues to be investigated for its abilities to fight liver diseases. It has been used in folk medicine to treat this and other ailments for many, many years. Milk thistle is also thought to support bone health.
The oil made from milk thistle seeds has a gently nutty, sweetish flavour. It is rich in vitamin E and essential omega-6 fatty acids, among other nutrients. It’s ideal drizzled over salads. Chia oil, a source of omega-3, makes a perfect partner for milk thistle oil.
Bold black cumin seed (nigella sativa)
Numerous civilisations have used these tiny powerhouses to heal for many thousands of years. Contemporary scientists find black seeds to have over 100 separate substances that come together in a unique combination of qualities. They are thought to be especially good at boosting your immunity.
Black seeds contain an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compound called thymoquinone. Alongside other compounds, thymoquinone may be effective against fungi, microbes, and moulds.
Black seeds can be enjoyed on their own or in cold-pressed black seed oil. This oil tastes very strong and peppery, so use it sparingly in your cooking. Drizzle a bit on top of your dishes, or mix a small amount into a salad dressing.
Peaceful poppy seeds
On the other end of the spectrum from invigorating black seeds are poppy seeds. These are calming for the body, and contain very small traces of opium alkaloids to ease the nervous system. As a result, you may be better able to withstand aches, pains and stress.
Poppy seeds contain stores of fibre, calcium and manganese. They also have a substantial amount of Vitamin E in proportion to their size. Vitamin E is essential for the immune system.
The omega-6 fatty acid called linoleic acid, as well as oleic acid, also makes an appearance. These acids are beneficial to heart and brain health.
Add poppy seed oil to your recipes, or smooth it onto your skin to calm and nourish.
Potent pumpkin seeds
Pumpkin seeds provide healthy minerals such as phosphorus, manganese, and magnesium along with other trace minerals. They are great for maintaining regular bowel movements – very important! Pepitas, as pumpkin seeds are sometimes called, are also a good source of healthy fats.
They also contain phytosterols. These are potent plant-based chemicals which scientists believe may be able to help lower bad cholesterol. Pumpkin seeds also contain selenium, zinc and trytophan, an amino acid which is thought to support healthy sleep patterns.
You can also use this emerald-coloured oil on your skin; like other oils, it contains healthy unsaturated fatty acids which moisturise and condition. However, we particularly love it drizzled over roasted root vegetables, like butternut squash. → View Related Products
Fierce flax seed
Flax seed, sometimes known as linseed, is rich in manganese. This mineral is essential for bone health
Flax also boasts protein, fibre, thiamine, and magnesium, and is thought to be beneficial for the health of your brain. It may also be useful in maintaining a healthy blood pressure.
One study looked at patients with hypertension. Those on drugs only reported no difference in blood pressure after six months. In contrast, patients who, unknown to them, were taking a tablespoon of flaxseed a day reported substantial drops in blood pressure.(2)
Want a fun fact about flax seeds? Charles the Great insisted that all of the people under his control ingest flax seeds for their health. No wonder the Latin name, Linum usitatissimum, translates to ‘the most useful’.
Like chia, they are a useful source of alpha-linolenic acid, which is beneficial for heart health.(3)(4) → View Related Products
Sunny sunflower seeds
Selenium and vitamin E lead the list of sunflower seeds’ healthy nutrients. Both help fight harmful free radicals, which can cause oxidative stress in the body(5)(6)
Sunflower seeds also offer plant compounds like phenolic acids and flavonoids. These also help protect you from toxins.(7)
Unlike the other oils we’ve referred to in this piece, sunflower seed oil is widely used for cooking, including frying. Oftentimes, refined sunflower oil is used. In contrast, cold-pressed sunflower oil retains healthful nutrients. Cold-pressed sunflower oil is rich in Vitamin E and good fats. → View Related Products
Scrumptious sesame seeds
Your body needs a combination of nutrients in order to produce healthy red blood cells. Sesame seeds contain several of these, including iron, copper, and vitamin B6.(8)(9)
These tiny seeds contain a multitude of other vitamins and minerals that your body needs to function at its best. For instance, 100g of sesame provides 97% of the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) of calcium and 87% of the RDA of magnesium.
In addition, scientists think sesame seeds may reduce blood pressure. They contain a lot of iron relative to their size (14.6 mg per 100g). Consequently, they also help prevent anaemia. Because of their high selenium levels, sesame seeds aid thyroid health.
Sesame seeds are found in many cultures and cuisines. You may be familiar with sesame seed oil from Japanese cooking. Many Middle Eastern cuisines also use sesame seeds in dishes like halva or tahini.
….. and fantastic fenugreek seeds
While we may be most used to them as a spice here in the UK, fenugreek seeds are regularly used in alternative and Chinese medicine. They have a high nutritional value; 100g provides 186% of your RDA of iron and half your RDA of magnesium. Fenugreek seeds may help people process carbohydrates more efficiently.(10)
Fenugreek is also thought to help lower inflammation, which is linked to many harmful diseases.(11) However, more research is needed into many aspects of how fenugreek may affect our health.
Once you begin to use seeds regularly in the kitchen, it will become second nature! Sprinkle seeds over your salads and yogurt bowls. Use them in soups to add texture and crunch. If you still eat some meat, seeds make a wonderful topping for everything from chicken to salmon filets. Add them to baked goods in the same way you add nuts. Make healthy pesto sauces, or enjoy them in sweeter dishes. If you keep a jar of mixed seeds in your kitchen, you will find it emptying fast.
As you have read, each seed offers a unique nutritional profile. However, in general seeds offer healthy plant protein, fibre, and a variety of nutrients. They help control appetite and maintain healthy weight, improve digestion and stabilise blood sugar.
They truly are the seeds of a healthy diet. And a healthy diet is the seed for so much else!
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