Did you eat your seeds? This may be another question that dietitians will ask. Seeds are becoming a more popular source of protein, fiber, healthy fats, and important minerals and vitamins such as zinc, iron and vitamin B.
Gone are the days where seeds were a staple just for vegetarians that needed to make up the lack of important protein, fats, minerals and vitamins from meat and dairy. Seeds have become a common diet strategy for managing and losing weight, as well as decreasing cholesterol levels to prevent aging and glucose intolerance.
This love for seeds has taken awhile to blossom. When the goal was to lose weight, seeds were usually voided. This was because of its high caloric and fat content relative to its portion size – some 15 tiny pieces may contain over 175 calories. But thanks to numerous recent studies, the nutritional profile of this food has been put into perspective.
Seeds won’t make you fat
“Because of the high oil content of nuts and seeds, one would suspect that frequent consumption would increase obesity rate. But in a large population study 26,473 Americans, it was found that the people who consume the most nuts were less obese,” Michael Murray, N.D., says in his book "The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods."
Robin Miller, author of "Robin Takes 5” and a host at the Food Network, explains that edible seeds make up an important part of a healthy diet mainly for the essential fatty acids (EFAs) they contain.
“EFAs are polyunsaturated fats that our body can’t produce, so they must be obtained from our diets. The two groups of EFAs are Omega 3s and Omega 6s, both of which are important for regulating and improving energy production in the body, cell growth, blood circulation, nerve function, hormone function and strengthening our immune systems. Studies show that eating seeds may also improve mood,” says the celebrity nutritionist.
Miller also notes that seeds are rich in protein, B-complex vitamins, plus vitamins A, D and E, phosphorus, calcium, iron, fluorine, iodine, potassium, magnesium and Zinc.
Nevertheless, seeds are not perfect. They provide healthy omega 3 and 6 fatty acids. The problem is that the western diet is already high in the “pro-inflammatory” omega 6. Evidence shows a disproportionate ratio between the two, with some saying is 1:10, though the ratio of Omega 3 to 6 should ideally be closer to 1:1.
“Eating a diet high in Omega 6s may create an imbalance of the two EFAs because they both compete for the same enzymes that metabolize them. The Omega 6s use up all the metabolizing enzymes making them unavailable for Omega 3 metabolism and absorption. Since most people’s diets don’t contain enough Omega 3s as it is, overconsumption of Omega 6’s – found in seeds but also animal products – can cause health problems, including a risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer, mood disorders, arthritis, osteoporosis, inflammation, and even obesity,” says Miller.
Moderation and food balance are once more in need to keep a healthy diet. Adding some seeds to your diet may bring plenty of health benefits as long as you include plenty of food sources of omega 3 fatty acids while keeping in control too much sources of omega 6 found in meat and oils such as flax, sunflower, safflower, and soy.
If you don’t want to overload your diet with seeds either, it may be helpful to look for the best ones that fits your health needs. In doubt, check for Miller’s list of seeds nutrients benefits:
- Chia seeds: anti-inflammatory soothes the digestive tract, rich in calcium, omega 3 fatty acids, protein and fiber.
- Flax seeds: cancer protective, anti-inflammatory, soothes the digestive tract, rich in folate and other B vitamins, iron, protein, and fiber.
- Hemp seeds: rich in protein and fiber.
- Pumpkin seeds: good source of zinc, folate and other B vitamins, vitamin E, iron, zinc, potassium, protein and fiber.
- Sesame seeds: excellent source of calcium and rich in folate and other B vitamins, iron, zinc, protein and fiber.
- Sunflower seeds: contain up to 50 percent protein, plus rich in potassium, folate and other B vitamins, vitamin E, iron, potassium, zinc, calcium, and fiber.
Don’t know how to throw some seeds into your dishes, yet? Miller likes to toss seeds into salads or smoothies or toast them (in a dry skillet over medium-low heat for 2-3 minutes) and then sprinkle over soups, stews and baked chicken, fish and pork.
Homemade Seed Energy Bar
Recipe by Lisa Roberts-Lehan, Certified Health and Nutritional Consultant, and Holistic Chef
16 medjool dates, pitted
1/3 cup goji berries
1/3 cup pumpkin seeds
1/3 cup sunflower seeds
3 tablespoons flaxmeal
? cup raw cocoa nibs or dark chocolate chips
1. Line a 9 x 9 inch straight-sided pan with a piece of parchment paper so that the paper hangs over the long edges. Set aside.
2. Place the pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds in a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Pulse until they are uniformly chopped. Add the goji berries, flaxmeal and chocolate and pulse again until finely chopped. Pour the mixture into a bowl and set aside.
4. Add the dates to the food processor and process until a paste forms. Add the mixture from the bowl. Process until evenly combined. Scrape into the prepared pan.
5. Press the mixture evenly over the bottom of the pan. Wet your hands to make the mixture as smooth as possible. Fold the excess parchment to cover the mixture and refrigerate for at least 2 hours before slicing.
6. Transfer the bars from the pan to a cutting board. Cut into desired size and store in the refrigerator in a sealed container.
Calories: 90, Fat: 2.3 g, Carbs: 18.3 g, Protein: 1.5 g
Marta Montenegro is an exercise physiologist, certified strength and conditioning coach and master trainer, who teaches as an adjunct professor at Florida International University. Marta has developed her own system of exercises used by professional athletes. Her personal website, martamontenegro.com, combines fitness, nutrition and health tips, exercise routines, recipes and the latest news to help you change your life but not your lifestyle. She was the founder of nationally awarded SOBeFiT magazine and the fitness DVD series Montenegro Method.