This article is on seeds that are considered a superfood, and gives the health benefits of 4 different types of seeds.
Superfoods have gained a lot of popularity in the world of food, and for a good reason! Superfoods are packed with essential nutrients that our bodies need to function properly such as vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Many superfoods are from plant sources such as grains, vegetables, and fruits. Just as we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, we shouldn’t judge the benefits of food by its size. Seeds, or “super seeds,” are particularly nutrient-dense and contain some of the most health-enhancing nutrients such as protein, fiber, iron, and omega-3 fatty acids. In this article we will explain the health benefits of 4 different seeds that are considered superfoods.
1. Chia Seeds
Many have heard of chia seeds but may not know that they come from a desert plant! Chia seeds grow from a species of flowering plant in the mint family, Salvia hispanica, native to Mexico and Guatemala. This was an important crop for pre-Columbian Aztecs and other Mesoamerican cultures. Chia seeds contain omega-3 fatty acids, carbohydrates, proteins, fiber, calcium, potassium, iron, folate, magnesium, and copper. With all these essential nutrients, there are many health benefits that can be experienced!
Calcium and magnesium promote bone and dental health, while omega-3 helps the heart by lowering triglycerides and other “bad” fats in the blood which can lead to heart disease. The soluble fibre helps in decreasing cholesterol levels and stabilizing blood sugar, and helps us to feel full longer. This seed can also increase the EPA in the blood which is a fatty acid that helps with cardio health.1
Flaxseed, Linum usitatissimum, means “very useful” in Latin. This plant originated in India and has been farmed across the world for thousands of years, being one of the oldest crops that has been cultivated since the beginning of civilization. Flaxseed contains protein, fibre, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), omega-3 acid, vitamin B1 and B6, phosphorus, and potassium.2 ALAs can help reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke, and is also great for the brain and heart by reducing blood pressure.
The fibre content helps to lower cholesterol while making us feel fuller longer, stimulates the digestive system to function effectively, and aids microbiome gut flora. These seeds are also high in lignans, a plant-like form of estrogen, which may help in preventing certain cancers such as breast, prostate, and colon.3
3. Hemp Seeds
Hemp, Cannabis sativa, originated in Central Asia, with cultivation for fibre being recorded in China as early as 2800 BCE. While hemp can sometimes be confused with the cannabis plants that are used for the drug marijuana, hemp plants grown for their fibre and edible seeds have only small trace amounts of the compound tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) which produces psychoactive effects in humans, meaning the seeds won’t give any psychoactive effects.
Hemp seeds, also called hemp hearts, contain protein, a huge amount of polyunsaturated and long-chain fatty acids like Gamma-Linoleic acid, fibre, vitamin E, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc-containing folate, iron, thiamine, riboflavin, and niacin. These seeds are known to balance hormones, improve digestion, and enhance the metabolism. The fatty acids promote cardiovascular health.4 These seeds also amazingly contain all 21 amino acids including 9 essential amino acids our bodies can’t produce.5 Similar to other high-fibre seeds, hemp hearts help with weight management, reducing appetite, stabilizing blood sugar, and promoting good gut health. The high amounts of the amino acid arginine help to produce nitric oxide in our bodies, which is a gas molecule that dilates and relaxes our blood vessels, leading to lower blood pressure and a reduced risk of heart disease.
4. Pumpkin Seeds
Pumpkins are believed to have originated in Central America over 7,500 years ago, with the oldest domesticated pumpkin seeds having been discovered by archaeologists in the Oaxaca Highlands of Mexico. Pumpkin seeds are packed with valuable nutrients such as healthy fats, magnesium, zinc, fibre, vitamin K, vitamin E, phosphorus, iron, copper, and selenium. These seeds are also high in antioxidants, squalene to be specific, and contain carotenoids.6
Magnesium and zinc are known for assisting with energy and mood, and are also essential for the functioning of cells as electrolytes – particularly muscles. Carotenoids and vitamin E are excellent for skin and eye health, and antioxidants help protect our cells from harmful free radicals which are a cause for numerous diseases throughout the body including cancers. Another surprising benefit of pumpkin seeds is their capability to increase fertility as the zinc and antioxidants improve our reproductive function. These seeds are also a known natural source of tryptophan, an amino acid that improves sleep by increasing the production of sleep hormones (melatonin) which regulate the sleep cycle.
When it comes down to superfoods, not much can supersede a super seed! Chia seeds, flaxseed, hemp seeds, and pumpkin seeds are all great nutrient sources that are abundant with health benefits. As these are very versatile superfoods, these seeds can be added to many meals in various ways such as adding to smoothies or sprinkling in salads. If you are interested in adding more superfoods into your daily meals, seeds are a great place to start!
The final article, Part 5 in this series on superfoods, will cover legumes.
Download this resource Superfoods: Part 4 – Seeds.
1 Kulczynski, Bartosz, et. al. “The Chemical Composition and Nutritional Value of Chia Seeds – Current State of Knowledge.” National Center for Biotechnology Information. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6627181/
2 Parikh, Mihir, et. al. “Dietary Flaxseed as a Strategy for Improving Human Health.” National Center for Biotechnology Information. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6567199/
3 Imran, Muhammad, et. al. “Potential Protective Properties of Flax Lignan Secoisolariciresinol Diglucoside.” National Center for Biotechnology Information. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4517353/
4 Rodriguez-Leyva, Delfin, Grant N. Pierce. “The Cardiac and Haemostatic Effects of Dietary Hempseed.” National Center for Biotechnology Information. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2868018/
5 Reggiani, Remo, Roberto Russo. “Protein Concentration and Amino Acid Profile in Hempseed and Flaxseed Meal.” Symposium on Protein Crops. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/276936163_Protein_concentration_and_amino_acid_profile_in_hempseed_and_flaxseed_meal
6 Kelly, Gregory S. “Squalene and Its Potential Clinical Uses.” Alternative Medicine Review. https://altmedrev.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/v4-1-29.pdf Parikh, Mihir, et. al. “Dietary Flaxseed as a Strategy for Improving Human Health.” National Center for Biotechnology Information. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6567199/