Herbfacts
A range of seeds on individual wooden spoons

The nutrient benefits of seeds

Seeds are one of the most concentrated sources of nutrients and there are lots of interesting ways to add them your diet, says editor Jane Garton.

Pumpkin, sesame, sunflower and flax seeds feature high on the must-have healthy food chart and a quick glance at their nutrient content will tell you why. They contain high levels of essential fatty acids, the full profile of amino acids, needed to form complete and digestible protein, plus vitamins A, C and E and the full Vitamin B Complex. They also contain the minerals calcium, magnesium, potassium, zinc, iron, selenium and manganese.

Why are seeds so nutrient-dense?

Seeds provide the DNA for the next generation of plants, so it is not that surprising that they are such a complete food. They contain all the nutrients required for germination so that the plant can come into full fruition and produce seeds for the next generation. Seeds are also low GI meaning they don’t increase your blood sugar levels.

Because seeds are so nutrient-rich you don’t need that many, so say the experts. Aim for a handful – around 67 grams – a day. Keep a jar of mixed seeds in your fridge and sprinkle over cereal, salads, soups, yoghurt and stir-fries or simply have as a snack when you feel peckish.  Try them too in seed butters spread on an oatcake or rye bread, or in salad dressings. The main thing is to have a variety of different seeds because each has its own unique nutritional profile.

Read on for the benefits of different seeds and some ideas on how to use them.

Pumpkin seeds

Silky smooth and deliciously nutty, these large dark green seeds are members of the gourd family, which includes cantaloupe melon, cucumber, and squash.

Rich in minerals, polyunsaturated fatty acids and various plant chemicals, pumpkin seeds may help ease benign prostatic hypertrophy (BPH), harmless enlargement of the prostate that affects men as they get older. Potentially prostate-friendly nutrients include bitter plant compounds called curcubitacins, carotenoids (green, yellow and orange plant pigments) and zinc.

Roast to bring out their full flavour and sprinkle over salads or muesli. Try grinding the seeds with garlic and parsley and/or coriander leaves to make a ‘pesto’ to have with pasta or as a sauce for vegetables.

Sesame seeds

Popular in the Mediterranean, the middle and Far East the tiny seeds of the sesame plant add a delicious and healthy crunch to many dishes.

Rich in a host of minerals and vitamins, sesame seeds are about 20% protein.  They also contain carbohydrates, iron, zinc, and calcium as well as magnesium and vitamin E, which may help prevent furring of the arteries.

Sprinkle whole on salads, soups and stir-fries or mix with carrots or butternut squash and roast in a little oil. Grind to make tahini paste to spread on bread, mix with pureed chickpeas in hummus or use as a sauce for vegetables.

Sunflower seeds

Native to Mexico and Peru, the grey-green seeds of the sunflower have a mild flavour like that of Jerusalem artichoke.

A great source of B complex vitamins, which help ease stress and calm the nervous system, sunflower seeds also contain a wealth of phytosterols. These are plant compounds which may help to reduce cholesterol and enhance immunity. They are a good source of magnesium, needed for healthy bones and to regulate blood pressure.

They also contain the polyunsaturated linoleic acid (one of the omega-6 fatty acids) needed for healthy hair and wound healing.

Eat as a tasty snack, or add to salads or scrambled eggs for a delicious breakfast treat.

Linseeds (also known as Flax seeds)

Slightly bigger than sesame seeds with a shiny golden or reddish-brown shell, flax seeds – aka linseeds – have been known for their health benefits since Greek and Roman times.

High in soluble fibre, which helps keep bowels regular, flaxseeds are also rich in alpha linolenic acid (ALA) – an omega-3 fatty acid needed to make eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) – and one of the ingredients in fish oils. This helps boost bone health and reduces inflammation in conditions such as asthma, osteoarthritis and migraines.

According to some research a daily dose of ground flaxseed may help reduce cholesterol and blood pressure. Flaxseeds are also a good source of lignans, which can help rebalance oestrogen levels and prevent menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes.

Grind in a coffee grinder for maximum digestibility. Sprinkle on your breakfast cereal or add to homemade cakes or bread. Add a tablespoon of flaxseed oil to a smoothie or shake. To ease constipation, soak a tablespoon in a glass of water, strain and drink the jelly-like liquid.

Try roasting all your seeds

Place seeds on a roasting tray and place in oven pre-heated to 180C for 10-15 minutes until golden brown. Alternatively, place seeds under a pre-heated grill and turn regularly until golden brown. For added favour, sprinkle first with a little light soy, tamari, Worcester, chilli sauce, Cajun seasoning, garlic or onion salt.

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