The nutrition powerhouse we should eat more of
Seeds are a nutrition powerhouse that can easily be added to everything from soups and stir-fries to breads and salads, bringing flavour and texture. As a family they contain heart-, bone-, muscle-, brain- and immune-supporting nutrients, many of which we aren’t eating enough of.
Seeds are packed with fibre
More than 90 percent of adults in the UK don’t eat enough fibre. Yet it can reduce your risk of heart disease, stroke, Type-2 diabetes and bowel cancer and improve your blood pressure and cholesterol levels. The average UK adult daily intake is 18g fibre, compared to 30g recommended by the NHS.
Seeds contain healthy fats
Many seeds contain healthy, unsaturated fats. “There’s good evidence that replacing saturated fats [such as butter, lard, ghee, fatty meats and cheese] with some unsaturated fats can help to lower your cholesterol level” and keep your heart healthy, according to the NHS.
Omega-3 fats are important for heart health. Some seeds contain the Omega-3 fat ALA (alpha linolenic acid). This can be converted by the body into the more beneficial EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) fats, which are found in oily fish (although it is not as beneficial as eating oily fish because this conversion happens slowly and only small amounts of EPA and DHA are formed).
Chia, flax and hemp seeds are good sources of ALA. It is within the outer shell of flaxseeds, which isn’t easily digestible, so for this nutrient it’s best to buy and eat them ground – you can add them to porridge, cereal, smoothies and salads.
A complete plant-based protein
Protein is important for muscle maintenance and development, and unlike many vegetarian sources of protein, hemp and chia seeds contain all nine of the essential amino acids (building blocks of protein) we need.
Seeds for immunity
Many of the vitamins and minerals that are important for normal immune function are found in seeds.
Selenium is “vital for producing new immune cells and can help to strengthen response to infection”, says Sarah Stanner, Science Director at the British Nutrition Foundation. Between 47 percent of women and 25 percent of men in the UK eat below the Lower Reference Nutritional Intake (the amount of a nutrient that is enough for only a small number of people) of selenium, according to the National Diet and Nutrition Survey. It is found in nuts and seeds, particularly sunflower seeds, which make a great snack when toasted in the oven.
Zinc “helps produce new immune cells... develops ‘natural killer cells’ that help to fight off viruses... [and] supports communication between immune cells”, says Stanner. Men need about 9.5mg a day and women 7mg. 20g pumpkin seeds contain about 1.5mg of zinc.
Vitamin B6 “helps produce new immune cells, helps process antibodies and helps immune cells to communicate,” said Stanner, adding it is found in sesame seeds.
Seeds provide minerals for bone health
Calcium, phosphorous and magnesium are key nutrients for bone health. 22 percent of females aged 11–18 are eating below the LRNI of calcium, according to the National Diet and Nutrition Survey. In the same age group, 50 percent of females and 27 percent of males are consuming below the LRNI of magnesium. Chia, ground flaxseed, pumpkin and sesame seeds are sources of all three nutrients.
Cooking with seeds
Chia and hemp seeds both work well in granola. Chia seeds swell up when they come into contact with water, which makes a luxurious smoothie bowl and means they can be used as an egg replacement in recipes such as vegan ‘meatless’ balls.
Botanically speaking, grains, many nuts, pulses, cocoa and coffee are seeds. To keep things simple, we’ve looked at the foods known in the culinary world as seeds.