by Tara Postnikoff
Don’t be fooled by seeds’ small size—they can pack a big nutritional punch. Like nuts, seeds contain a mixture of healthy fats including monounsaturated fatty acids, polyunsaturated fatty acids and Omega-3 fatty acids. They also contain a variety of antioxidants and phytochemicals that offer potential health benefits. Seeds are a source of protein, vitamins, minerals and fibre, and their high fat content can help increase satiety.
It’s a mistake to overlook seeds as part of a healthy diet, especially for runners. Seeds contain Omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential for the body and must be obtained from food. Two powerful components of Omega-3 fatty acids are EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). EPA is known to have anti-inflammatory and immune boosting properties, and is thought to assist in joint lubrication and shock absorption. DHA is good for the brain as it improves blood flow during mental tasks, in addition to promoting cardiovascular health and muscle recovery. Read on to see what you think of these super seeds.
Unsplash/Cathal Mac an Bheatha
These contain the highest amount of Omega-3s, at just over 6 grams per one-ounce serving. However, only ground flax seeds provide this nutrient; otherwise, they act mainly as insoluble fibre and pass through the gastrointestinal tract. Two tablespoons of ground flax seed have about 2 grams of protein and 3 grams of fibre, as well as magnesium, iron, calcium, vitamin B1 and B6. Flax seeds contain lignans, plant compounds that help with immune system functioning and hormone balance.
After flax, chia seeds are the next-highest source of Omega-3 fatty acids in the plant kingdom, containing approximately 30% ALA (alpha-linolenic acid). The outside of a chia seed is covered with a water-absorbing mucilage, which can help with water retention; in fact, a chia seed can swell to up to nine times its original size. Chia seeds are gluten-free and full of antioxidants, fibre, vitamins and minerals. Two tablespoons of chia seeds have approximately 90 calories, 4 grams of protein and 7 grams of fibre. They can also help provide a percentage of your daily amount of magnesium (24% of recommended daily intake), calcium (10%) and iron (7%).
These little guys contain a 3-to-1 ratio of Omega-6 and Omega-3 fatty acids, which equals about 2.2 grams of Omega-3 and about 10 grams of protein per one-ounce serving. Hemp seeds are a complete protein—meaning they contain all eight essential amino acids—which is rare in the plant kingdom. They also contain GLA (gamma linolenic acid) which produces prostaglandin E1, reducing the effect of prolactin and helping to ease some of the physical symptoms of PMS. Hemp seeds contain Vitamin E, potassium, magnesium, calcium, iron and zinc. They also contain the amino acid arginine, which produces nitric oxide and assists with vasodilation and decreasing blood pressure. Hemp’s soluble fibre forms a gel-like substance in the gut, acting as a pre-biotic for gut bacteria to aid digestive health and blood sugar management.
Because they’re high in zinc, pumpkin seeds are a great choice to help bolster your immune system. A one-ounce serving contains about 1.7 grams of fibre, 5 grams of carbohydrate, 7 grams of protein, and 6 grams of Omega-6s. In addition to zinc, pumpkin seeds contain magnesium, iron, phosphorus, copper, vitamin K and vitamin B2. Pumpkin seeds are also a natural source of tryptophan, an amino acid that plays a key role in producing serotonin and regulating the sleep cycle.
One ounce of sunflower seeds has about 163 calories with 14 grams of fat (most of which is polyunsaturated) and 5.5 grams of protein. Sunflower seeds also contain vitamin E, B3, B5, B6, folate, as well as the minerals iron, selenium, magnesium, zinc and copper.
These tiny seeds can aid bone health, as they are high in both calcium and magnesium. Three tablespoons of sesame seeds contains 5 grams of protein and 3.5 grams of fibre. Unhulled sesame seeds have considerably more minerals than the hulled form. Soaking them before consumption can help improve the absorption of these nutrients, as it deactivates the oxalates and phytates that inhibit mineral absorption.
Seeds are versatile, portable and easy to add to your diet. You can have them as a snack or spread them in seed-butter form. Try sprinkling them on salads, incorporating them into baked goods or adding them to smoothies, soups, stews and chili. Try roasting them and adding turmeric, cinnamon or cocoa powder for additional flavour. If you search online, you’ll find many healthy and easy snack recipes that include seeds, especially homemade granola bars and energy balls.
Tara Postnikoff is a Registered Nutritional Consultant, certified Personal Trainer and triathlon/running coach in Toronto. She is an avid distance runner and triathlete, and a regular guest speaker for Running Room training programs. To learn more, visit her website at www.heal-nutrition.com.