They say that great things come in small packages, which could not be more accurate than for the mighty seed. This tiny superfood packs a serious nutritional punch! Adding seeds to your diet is a simple yet effective way to strengthen your heart.
What exactly is a seed?
Seeds, by definition, are plants. The outside of a seed is composed of a hard, protective shell. Contained inside the shell is an embryo, as well as all of the incredible nutrients required for that embryo to grow into another plant. When you eat a seed, you become the lucky recipient of those nutrients.
People sometimes confuse nuts and seeds, as the terms are often used interchangeably. However, most nuts are considered fruits. Interestingly, nuts are seeds, but seeds can never be nuts. Either way, both are outstanding sources of vitamins, protein, minerals, and fiber.
How seeds work to help your heart
The cardiac benefits of seed consumption are vast. Seeds are loaded with omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, both of which are essential fats that the body can’t make on its own. In addition, seeds contain an important type of omega-3s called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Consumption of ALA is known to improve heart health. One study demonstrated that those who consumed higher levels of ALA had better health, including a lowered risk of cardiovascular death.
Our ancestors ate a diet rich in phytosterols, a compound naturally found in seeds. Studies have found that diets high in phytosterols result in lower LDL cholesterol levels in the body. Adding seeds to your diet ensures that you have sufficient levels of omega fatty acids and phytosterols to help combat cardiac disease.
There is also evidence that some seeds work to lower blood pressure naturally. For example, pumpkin seeds increase nitrous oxide production in the body, helping to expand blood vessels and improve blood flow, thus lowering blood pressure.
How do I add seeds into my diet?
If seeds have not been a regular part of your diet, you may be wondering how to incorporate them into your everyday life.
There are many creative and easy ways to add seeds to your diet. Blend ground flax seeds into smoothies, use sesame seeds to add a delicious crunch to avocado toast, make a chia seed “pudding,” or roast pumpkin seeds with cinnamon and nutmeg.
Buying, soaking, and storing seeds
Not all seeds are created equal. When purchasing seeds, it’s best to buy organic and raw. While roasting is not inherently wrong and can add a unique flavor to seeds, the high temperatures used by commercial manufacturers to roast seeds destroy many vital minerals and vitamins. It’s best to buy raw and roast at home if desired.
For some people, seeds can be hard on the digestive system. If this is you, you may want to consider soaking your seeds before consuming them. Soaking seeds creates an enzymatic change within, allowing for better access to the nutrients and improving your ability to digest them. Different seeds require different soaking times, so do some research before getting started.
Seeds will go rancid if they are not stored properly. They need to be kept cool and dry, so most people keep them in an air-tight container in a dark pantry. If you want to extend the shelf life up to six months, you can also store them in the refrigerator.
The following five tiny seeds will have a considerable impact on your heart.
This robust little seed can grow in various weather conditions, making it a favorite around the world. The nutty, slightly sweet flavor and noticeable crunch make it a versatile seed for many dishes.
Sesame seeds are an excellent source of protein and essential fatty acids. Packed with magnesium, calcium, vitamin E, and iron, these tiny seeds have high levels of cholesterol-lowering phytosterols.
Multiple studies have suggested that increased sesame consumption lowers the risk of heart disease by improving cholesterol levels. For example, one study found that postmenopausal women who consumed three tablespoons of sesame seeds a day for five weeks had lower oxidation LDL cholesterol and higher vitamin E levels.
The value of pumpkin extends far beyond Halloween decorations and pie. The true gem lies in those tiny seeds that fill the inside. You may hear pumpkin seeds referred to as pepitas. While they both derive from pumpkins, they are two different seeds. Pepitas are a type of shell-less pumpkin seed that come from a specific variety of pumpkin.
Pumpkin seeds are rich in heart-healthy vitamins, including zinc, phosphorus, and manganese. However, the real advantage of pumpkin seeds lies in their high magnesium levels. Consuming just half a cup of pumpkin seeds provides 85 percent of your daily recommended intake of magnesium. Magnesium deficits are linked to a whole host of cardiac problems, and most Americans are deficient in this essential nutrient. Pumpkin seeds are a great way to boost your supply.
Flaxseed is another versatile seed that has been cultivated since the time of the Ancient Egyptians. Flax, as many like to call it, has gained popularity in recent years for a good reason.
Flaxseeds are chock-full of antioxidants and provide the highest source of alpha-linolenic acid of any plant. They are an excellent source of heart-healthy potassium. Studies have linked flaxseed consumption with reduced blood pressure, decreased cholesterol, and lower levels of inflammation.
To get the full benefits of flaxseed, you must either chew the seeds carefully or grind them before consumption. Whole flaxseeds are difficult to digest and will likely pass through your body without delivering all of the health benefits. Keep in mind, ground flaxseeds spoil quickly and should be consumed promptly once exposed to air.
Like flaxseeds, chia seeds are tiny but contain many of the same heart-healthy qualities. In addition to the protein and omega-3s, chia seeds are high in phosphorus, magnesium, selenium, and manganese. Even more impressive, just two tablespoons of chia seeds provide nearly 20 percent of your daily recommended intake of calcium.
A significant amount of research has linked chia seed consumption with benefits for the cardiovascular system. For example, a 2014 study found chia seed to be beneficial for lowering blood pressure. Another study found that adding chia seeds to the diet suppressed appetite, which can lead to weight loss.
Chia seeds become gelatinous when exposed to liquid, making them the perfect ingredient for chia seed pudding. A simple combination of chia seeds, unsweetened coconut milk, cinnamon, sea salt, and a touch of maple syrup makes a delicious breakfast or after-dinner treat.
Who doesn’t love a beautiful sunflower? Individual sunflowers produce anywhere between 1,000 and 2,000 delicious, edible seeds. While sunflower seeds are good whole, most people prefer the meaty kernel that lives within the sunflower shell.
Sunflower seeds are rich in protein, fiber, healthy fats, and vitamins. Just one ounce of sunflower seeds provides 75 percent of the daily recommended allowance of vitamin E, an antioxidant proven to reduce the risk of coronary artery disease. A recent study found that regularly adding sunflower seeds to one’s diet significantly decreased cholesterol.
When purchasing sunflower seeds, always read the labels. Many popular brands of sunflower seeds are packed with sodium, artificial flavors, and even MSG.
Although tiny, seeds are one of the best superfoods for heart health. Try adding a variety of seeds to your diet throughout the week so that you gain maximum nutritional benefit. Just remember, a little goes a long way. Be sure not to overindulge.
Eat Well · Live Well · Think Well
Medical Review 2022: Dr. Lauren Lattanza NMD