Here’s the skinny…we need to be adding more seeds to our diets. Seeds are incredibly nutritious! They contain healthy fats, fiber, plant-based protein, minerals, and antioxidants.
Recently, I’ve noticed a huge trend in “seed cycling,” i.e. eating various seeds throughout different phases of your menstrual cycle to support your hormones. While I personally love this practice and find it has greatly benefited my cycle and overall health, unfortunately, there is limited scientific evidence that actually supports this practice.
Whether or not there is scientific proof that “seed cycling” t works, there is no denying that seeds are loaded with nutrients and a great addition to your daily diet.
In general seeds are a great source of plant-based protein, fiber, minerals, and polyunsaturated fats (healthy fats).
While the research surrounding the health benefits of seeds in humans is ongoing, and at times inconclusive, there are some promising findings.
5 Healthy Seeds To Add To Your Diet
The five healthy seeds I always have on hand include pumpkin, flax, chia, sunflower, and sesame.
Here’s a brief overview of the health benefits of each seed.
- Fiber: 10.6 grams (42% Daily Value (DV))
- Protein: 4.4 grams (9% DV)
- Calcium: 177 mg (18% DV)
- Zinc: 1mg (7% of the DV)
- Phosphorous: 265 mg (27% DV)
- Potassium: 44.8 mg (1% DV)
- Polyunsaturated Fats: 6.5 grams
Chia seeds are a great source of antioxidants. Various studies have reported that polyphenolic antioxidants, such as Quercetin, chlorogenic acid, and caffeic acid, are believed to have various health benefits such as anti-carcinogenic, antihypertensive, and neuron protective effects.
Consuming chia seeds may also help reduce appetite and weight gain due to their high fiber and protein content, help lower triglycerides, and possibly improve blood sugar levels in type 2 diabetes. In fact, according to a study published in Diabetes Care, “one 3-month study in 20 people with diabetes showed that eating 37 grams of chia seeds daily reduced the inflammatory marker hs-CRP by 40%. In contrast, those who got wheat bran didn’t experience a significant benefit.”
- Protein: 1.3 grams (3% DV)
- Fiber: 2 grams (8% DV)
- Polyunsaturated fat: 2.0 grams
- Omega-3 fatty acids: 1,597 mg
- Folate: 6.1 mcg (2% DV)
- Calcium: 17.9 mg (2%DV)
- Magnesium: 27.4 mg (7% DV)
- Phosphorus: 44.9 mg (4% DV)
- Potassium: 56.9 mg (2% DV)
Similar to chia seeds, flax seeds contain healthy fats (omega-3 fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), fiber (both soluble and insoluble dietary fiber) and lignans. Just one tablespoon of whole flax seeds contains about 3 grams of fiber, which is approximately 11% of your daily value intake for fiber.
Flax seeds are also the richest source of phytoestrogens (lignans).
What are lignans?
Lignans are phytoestrogens (plant compounds), which are abundantly available in fiber rich plants, cereals (wheat, barley, and oats), legumes (bean, lentil, soybean), vegetables (broccoli, garlic, asparagus, carrots) fruits, and berries. In plants, shares the Institute of Food Technologists, “ lignans function as defensive chemicals, protecting them from attack by insects, microorganisms, and even other plants (Ayres and Loike, 1990).”
Lignans have been found to have high antioxidant and estrogen properties, both of which can help lower the risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and improve health.
That being said, while lignan-rich foods are part of a healthy diet, the roles of lignans in the prevention of hormone-associated cancers, osteoporosis, and cardiovascular disease are not yet clear, shares the Linus Institute.
Fun fact: Flaxseed contains about 75–800 times MORE lignans than cereal grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables. Specifically, flax seeds contain approximately 294.21 mg/100 g lignan, at present the maximal known content of any foodstuff.
Note: you benefit most from flax seeds when they’re ground or crushed. This is due to our bodies inability to break down the whole flaxseed, i.e., you have less access to all the amazing health benefits when flax seeds aren’t ground. Tip: I like to purchase whole flaxseeds and grind them in a blender/food processor. Similarly, you can also purchase pre-milled flax seeds. Although, one article I came across mentioned that “pre-ground flaxseed has been exposed to oxygen longer; oxygen causes polyunsaturated fats to break down.” Plus, whole flax seeds tend to be cheaper than pre-ground flax seeds.
- Dietary Fiber 1.1 g (4% dv)
- Protein: 6.9 g (14% DV)
- Fat: 13 grams (20% dv) (6 of which are omega-6s)
- Vitamin K: 14.4 mcg (18% DV)
- Phosphorus: 329 mg (33% dv)
- Magnesium: 150 mg (37% DV)
- Zinc: 2.1 mg (14% DV)
- Copper: 19% of the RDI
Pumpkin seeds are full of antioxidants, iron, zinc, protein, magnesium, omega-3s, and many other nutrients.
In fact, pumpkin seeds are one of the best natural sources of magnesium. 1 ounce of roasted pumpkin seeds contain 156 milligrams (mg) per serving of magnesium (37% DV).
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), “Magnesium is a cofactor (aka helper molecule) in more than 300 enzyme systems that regulate diverse biochemical reactions in the body, including protein synthesis, muscle and nerve function, blood glucose control, and blood pressure regulation. As well as making DNA, supporting bone health, and normal daily functions like muscle contraction and normal heart rhythm.”
Pumpkin seeds also contain high levels of zinc. Zinc is an essential nutrient (meaning your body can’t create zinc on its own; it must be obtained through your diet) that our bodies need to stay healthy.
Zinc helps the immune system fight off invading bacteria and viruses, makes proteins and DNA (the genetic material in all cells), heals wounds, and is important for proper senses of taste and smell. Basically, Zinc helps keep your immune system strong.
- Dietary Fiber: 3.1 grams (12% DV)
- Protein: 5.4 grams (11% DV)
- Total Fat: 13.9 grams (21% DV) (Monounsaturated Fat: 2.7g // Polyunsaturated Fat: 9.2g)
- Vitamin E (Alpha Tocopherol): 7.3 mg (37% DV)
- Folate: 66.4 mcg (17% DV)
- Phosphorus: 323 mg (32% DV)
- Selenium: 22.2 mcg (32% DV)
Sunflower seeds are a great source of phenolic acids and flavonoids, which function as antioxidants. They’re especially high in vitamin E and selenium.
Vitamin E is an antioxidant that has been found to help protect cells from the damage caused by free radicals.* It also helps boost the body’s immune system, widen blood vessels, and keep blood from clotting within them.
*A free radical, according to cancer.gov, is a type of unstable molecule that is made during normal cell metabolism (chemical changes that take place in a cell).
Selenium, another essential mineral that must be obtained through diet, supports reproduction, thyroid gland function, DNA production, and, similarly to Vitamin E, helps protect the body from damage caused by free radicals and infection.
- Dietary Fiber: 1.1 grams (4% DV)
- Protein: 1.6 grams (3% DV)
- Total Fat: 4.5 grams (7% DV) (Monounsaturated Fat 1.7 g // Polyunsaturated Fat 2.0 g)
- Calcium: 87.8 mg (9% DV)
- Magnesium: 31.6 mg (8% DV)
- Phosphorus: 56.6 mg (6% DV)
- Copper: 0.4 mg (18% DV)
- Folate: 8. 7 mcg (2% DV)
- Thiamin: 0.1 mg (5% DV)
- Like most seeds, sesame seeds are a great source of nutrients that support your immune system, including zinc, selenium, copper, vitamin B6, and vitamin E. Not to mention fiber and antioxidants.
Hulled vs. unhulled sesame seeds?
Most sesame seeds in the United Statesare sold with the hull removed (hulled), i.e., they no longer contain their seed coat. Unhulled means they still contain their outer seed coat.
Nutritionally speaking, there isn’t a huge difference between hulled and unhulled seeds. While unhulled tends to have a higher level of fiber (unhulled: 4 g of fiber per 1 oz to 2.8 g of fiber for hulled sesame seeds (USDA)) and calcium than hulled it’s not always as easy to digest. Meaning, your body might have a harder time absorbing the nutrients.
Flavor wise, unhulled tends to have a bit more crunch and bitterness than hulled.
While seeds are absolutely packed with powerful health benefits, most studies agree and conclude that seeds alone won’t contribute to disease prevention. The takeaway? Make sure you’re eating a varied nutrient-rich healthy diet and incorporating healthy lifestyle behaviors in addition to consuming these five healthy seeds!
Best ways to incorporate healthy seeds into your diet? Add seeds to salad dressing, smoothies, combine with yogurt, sprinkle over toast, make a seeds-based trail mix, add to soups…get creative!