Paddle Healthy | Five Seriously Nutritious Seeds
We've talked about the nutritional benefits of nuts and grains in past Paddle Healthy articles, but now, we're putting the spotlight on seeds and how they can positively impact your overall health; here’s a look at five seeds that pack serious nutrition. —Shari Coble
Versatile and powerful, hemp seeds are one of nature's greatest sources of plant proteins. They’re packed with omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which our body requires but cannot produce, and also have many benefits, including reducing the risk of heart disease and helping maintain brain and nerve function. Hemp seeds are also high in magnesium, zinc and iron, and may have positive effects in helping improve skin diseases like eczema. When whole hemp seeds are consumed, they're a great source of soluble and insoluble fiber, which reduces blood sugar spikes as well as the risk of diabetes. Additional benefits of hemp seeds include fighting inflammation, reducing blood pressure, and decreasing the risk of heart disease too.
If Ch-Ch-Ch-Chia Pet owners knew the nutritional impact of the tiny seeds stuck to their terracotta figurines, they'd be munching away rather than growing healthy heads of chia 'hair.' The chia seed is another little powerhouse for fatty acids and magnesium. Chia seeds stave off hunger and help control blood sugar because of their high fiber content. They also provide a significant amount of calcium, phosphorous, and manganese, in addition to antioxidants that fight free radicals. When soaked in water, chia seeds make a good egg substitute because they turn gelatinous, and that 'chia gel' (in collaboration with the protein and fiber content) contributes to a healthier gut and a satisfied feeling after consumption too.
They're not just a snack for the ballpark; sunflower seeds are an incredible source for the minerals magnesium, manganese and copper, and are also high in folate, zinc, selenium, niacin and iron. Like other seeds on the list, sunflower seeds are a good source of plant protein and fiber. They contain vitamins B1 and B6, and are rich in vitamin E, which may help reduce the risk of cancer due to its antioxidant properties. Sunflower seeds are also high in phytochemicals—plant chemicals that fight heart disease and some cancers—but are some of the more budget-friendly seeds too, so go ahead and snack up.
Popular in Asian dishes, as paste (known as tahini) and on hamburger buns, sesame seeds offer a high amount of calcium, iron, and magnesium. They’re also rich in copper and manganese, and are a good source of monounsaturated fats, phosphorous, zinc and fiber. Sesame seeds contain the chemical compounds sesamin and sesamolin, both of which are beneficial to the body, as they're known to help prevent diseases related to free radicals. Studies show that while the entire body benefits from sesame consumption, in particular, the liver, kidneys, stomach and spleen benefit most. Also, they may help lower cholesterol, and, sesame oil can help treat minor burns (like sunburn).
Pros like Candice Appleby and Lina Augaitis eat the seed daily with breakfast, and for good reason. Flax is full of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which are polyunsaturated fats (or one of the healthy types), and may even be equivalent to fish oil in terms of nutrition. Flax also contains heart-healthy alphalinolenic acid and can help improve dry eye symptoms for those with Sjogren's syndrome. Daily intake of flax may help improve blood sugar for diabetics, improve cholesterol levels, fight inflammation by blocking pro-inflammatory agents, and combat hot flashes for women going through menopause. Downing some flax regularly may also reduce the risk of lung disease and even help prevent strokes. Just make sure to chew well or grind up flax because you won't get the benefits if your body passes it, which experts say is most likely to happen.
Editor Note: *As always, consult your doctor before making changes to your diet, or, if you have allergies, are pregnant, or have other health concerns.