Lately, a lot of my patients have been coming in with questions about seeds: What kind should they eat? How much? What are the benefits? I thought it might be a good idea to come up with a little seed cheat sheet (say that 10 times fast!) to break it down and help my patients figure out what seeds (if any) would be best for them.
One of the most popular seeds around these days, flaxseeds are famous for being nutrient powerhouses. They are rich in B vitamins, magnesium, omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, and antioxidants. B vitamins and magnesium are essential for cell metabolism. Omega-3 fatty acids play an important role in reducing inflammation in the body. Flax has both soluble and insoluble fiber, which have been shown to help lower total cholesterol, stabilize blood sugar, and promote intestinal function. Antioxidants help to protect our cells from damaging free radicals that can occur from exposure to certain chemicals, radiation, pollution, and smoking.
2 tablespoons of ground flaxseed contains 4 grams of fiber, 2.4 grams of the omega-3 fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), and 300 milligrams of lignans (an antioxidant). It’s important to grind flaxseeds into flaxseed meal before eating them to ensure that you will get all of these nutrients. Flaxseed can be added to almost anything to get its benefits – cereal, oatmeal, smoothies, or even into baked goods.
Hemp seeds are very versatile. They can be eaten raw, sprouted, ground into a meal, made into milk, steeped like a tea, or used in baking. Like flaxseeds, hemp seeds are a good source of ALA and fiber. They are also one of the few plant sources that are considered a “complete” protein, meaning that it contains all 21 known amino acids (building blocks of protein), including the 9 “essential” ones that cannot be produced by the human body, making it a helpful addition for those who follow a vegetarian or vegan diet.
2 tablespoons of hemp seeds contains 882 milligrams of ALA, 2 grams of fiber, and 5 grams of protein. Hemp seeds can be eaten whole or shelled. Add them to your salad for some extra crunch!
While they might be the new seed on the block to many North Americans, chia seeds are native to South America and have been a staple of the Mayan and Aztec diets for centuries. Like flaxseeds and hemp, chia is a good source of antioxidants. Due to their high antioxidant content, they have a long shelf life, and they can last nearly 2 years without refrigeration. Chia is an excellent source of fiber, with 10 grams in just 2 tablespoons. It also boasts an impressive amount of calcium (18% of the Daily Recommended Intake), phosphorous, magnesium, and manganese, nutrients that are important for cell metabolism, preventing hypertension, and maintaining a healthy weight. Unlike flaxseeds, chia seeds can be digested whole and do not need to be ground to get their nutrition benefits. Interestingly, chia seeds can be used as an egg replacement: the outer layer of the seeds swells when mixed with liquid, causing it to form a gel. This gel can be used in place of eggs (for those who are vegan) in baked goods. To make the egg replacement, mix 1 tablespoon of chia seeds with 3 tablespoons of water and let sit for 15 minutes.