Discover the health benefits of four readily-available seeds and how to add them to your diet.
Seeds contain high levels of essential fatty acids, the full profile of amino acids needed to form complete and digestible protein, plus vitamins A, B, C and E as well as the minerals calcium, magnesium, potassium, zinc, iron, selenium and manganese.
1. Pumpkin Seeds
In China, the pumpkin is called the Emperor of the Sun and has become the symbol of fruitfulness. It is a member of the gourd family and native to Asia. It gets its name from the Greek word pepon, which means cooked in the sun.
Pumpkins seeds are rich in the amino acids alanin, glycene and glutamic acid, as well as being a good source of zinc and omega-3 essential fatty acids. They also contain protein, iron and phosphorus and are low in carbohydrates. The use of pumpkin seeds is well documented in old herbals for the treatment of prostate disorders and modern research backs this up. The reason? They contain curcubitacins, substances which are thought to help prevent conversion of testosterone into dihydrotestosterone, high levels of which can encourage prostate enlargement. Pumpkin seeds are also thought to help urinary tract infections in women.
Roasting pumpkin seeds helps to bring out their natural flavour. They are especially delicious sprinkled over salads.
2. Sesame Seeds
In Hindu mythology the God Yama blessed the sesame seed and these tiny seeds are regarded throughout the East as symbols of immortality.
Sesame seeds are packed with protein, iron, zinc, magnesium, calcium and phytic acid while being low in carbohydrates. They also contain sesamin and sesamolin, substances that may help lower cholesterol levels, and are a well-known source of vitamin E plus omega-6 and monounsaturated fats. These can help to prevent furring of the arteries as well as boost the elasticity of the skin. As an added bonus, sesame seeds are thought to aid digestion, to stimulate blood circulation and help the nervous system.
Snack on sesame seeds or make them into the creamy paste known as tahini. You can spread this on bread, mix with pureed chickpeas in hummus or use as a sauce with vegetables as the Arabs
do. To get the maximum nutrients from sesame seeds you need to chew them well.
3. Sunflower Seeds
The sunflower became the mystic symbol of several early civilisations, notably the Incas who worshipped the sun. The North American Indians used the leaves as animal food, the petals were brewed into a distinctive yellow dye for their clothes and skin and the seeds were ground into food and crushed into oil.
Sunflower seeds are rich in the B complex vitamins, which are essential for a healthy nervous system and are a good source of phosphorus, magnesium, iron, calcium, potassium, protein and vitamin E. They also contain trace minerals, zinc, manganese, copper, chromium and carotene as well as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids – types of ‘good’ fat that may help to protect the arteries. A good natural source of zinc, sunflower seeds are popular immune boosters. They may also help protect against heart disease while their vitamin B can help in the fight against stress.
High in protein and low in carbohydrates, sunflower seeds make the ideal pick-me-up tasty snack.
Originating in Mesopotamia, the flax plant has been known since the Stone Age and the health benefits of flaxseeds, more often known as linseeds, were widely praised in ancient Greece and Rome.
They are an excellent source of omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids, which are needed for most bodily functions, as well as dietary fibre and manganese. They are also rich in folate and vitamin B6 and the minerals magnesium, phosphorus and copper. In addition linseeds contain lignans, a type of phytoestrogen, which it is believed may help relieve menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes. Because they are high in soluble fibre, linseeds are also sometimes used to relieve constipation.
Soak a tablespoon of linseeds in a glass of water for a few hours then drink. Alternatively grind them in a coffee grinder and sprinkle over your morning cereal.