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Seeds pack a nutritional punch

Note from Jan:
Here is some excellent nutritional information about seeds.
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Theres something seedy going on, and its taking place in the kitchen.

Not just for birds anymore, seeds are being incorporated into the human diet and are smiled upon by those in the nutritional world. Varieties such as hemp, sunflower, sesame, pumpkin, chia and flax offer a variety of health benefits, including being rich in fiber, antioxidants and essential fatty acids.

Each seed has a different nutrient profile, and if you incorporate them throughout the course of the day, you get great nutritional benefits, said Jessica Crandall, a spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly the American Dietetic Association).

They are all good sources of fiber, the Colorado-based registered dietitian added. Its recommended that people get between 25 and 35 grams per day, but most Americans only get 11. Its important to get fiber from a digestion standpoint, but also for fullness and satiety, and it helps keep cholesterol low.

Jodie Foster, founder and director of Ultimate Fitness and Wellness in New Springville, believes people are becoming aware of seeds benefits as more turn toward a vegetarian diet.

Although seeds may not sound appetizing on their own, the registered dietitian said they can be used in numerous ways, from being added to yogurt, cereals and smoothies to mixing them into pancake batter, salads and rice or fish dishes.

One drawback people need to know, she warned, is that seeds are nutrient-dense and can add up in calories. For someone looking toward a weight control program, use them sparingly. But for someone who just wants a healthy snack, these are great.

Heres a look at six seeds becoming widely recognized for their nutritional benefits:


Loaded with omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which have a variety of benefits including increased heart, brain and bone health hemp seeds are good sources of protein and vitamins and minerals such as iron, vitamin E, magnesium and phosphorus, Ms. Crandall said. The protein in hemp also is very digestible and doesnt cause much bloating or gas, Ms. Foster noted, adding, Another thing people are not aware of is that they dont contain phytic acid, an antinutrient that interferes with the absorption of minerals. It [hemp] will help your body absorb more nutrients.


With a hard shell, flax seeds need to be ground to get the most nutritional benefits, Ms. Crandall said. They are a rich source of Omega-3s, and help to promote bone and heart health. You can help lower inflammation for [protection from] heart disease and arthritis, Ms. Crandall noted. Regular intake of flax seeds also may help lower total and bad cholesterol levels and increase good cholesterol, Ms. Foster added, and they have been known to lower the risks of breast, prostrate and colon cancers and stroke. Additionally, flax seeds are a good source of vitamins E and B, calcium, potassium, iron, zinc and magnesium, among other nutrients.


Chia seeds once mainly known for growing into kitschy plant animals are making waves in the health world. Athletes mix them with water to form a gel that can help them stay hydrated longer, and researchers suggest they help slow down the process in which digestive enzymes break down carbohydrates and convert them to sugar. This, Ms. Foster said, can help people stay full longer and keep their glucose and energy levels steady. They also are higher in omega-3s than flax seed and rich in antioxidants. Another benefit is that the seeds dont deteriorate and can be stored for long periods of time, she said. And unlike flax, they dont have to be ground to be eaten.


The seeds commonly found in Asian cuisine are high in antioxidants called lignans, Ms. Crandall said, which are anticarcinogenic. Studies have linked lignans to a reduced risk of certain cancers and cardiovascular disease; the antioxidants also can be found in other seeds like flax and pumpkin. Sesame seeds also contain sesamol, a compound that may protect the body from harmful free radicals, the cells that can lead to cancer, Ms. Foster noted. Additionally, they contain nutrients like niacin, folic acid, calcium, iron, zinc, manganese and magnesium.


A more well-known variety, pumpkin seeds may actually promote prostate health, Ms. Foster said, due to their antioxidant power. The seeds also possess anti-inflammatory benefits to guard against arthritis, the dietitian noted, and their high zinc content may offer protection for bone health, particularly in men. They are a rich source of healthful minerals, proteins and monounsatured fats, Ms. Foster noted. They also contain phytosterols, which can lower cholesterol, enhance the immune response and decrease the risk of certain cancers.


Perhaps the most well-known, sunflower seeds have anti-inflammatory properties and promote cardiovascular health, Ms. Crandall said. They are an excellent source of vitamin E and may help reduce cholesterol, since like pumpkin, they contain phytosterols. Additionally, sunflower seeds are packed with nutrients, including B-complex vitamins such as niacin, folic acid, vitamins B6 and B1, pantothenic acid and riboflavin, Ms. Foster said. Two other health-promoting substances found in both sunflower and pumpkin seeds, according to the local dietitian are: Tryptophan, which can help reduce stress, anxiety and depression, and choline, which increases brain function, particularly memory.
Andrea Boyarsky
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