Nutrition – seeds

Tuesday 08 May 2018

Some time ago I wrote a blog on the nutritional value of nuts and how they can be used as part of a healthy diet. Well this week I thought that I would do a similar blog but this time focus on seeds.

I can remember that when I started looking at nutrition, many years ago, if anyone mentioned the use of seeds in the diet it was thought of as a bit whacky or way out. These days they are now considered more the norm, thank goodness, because their nutritional value and versatility makes them a very important part of a healthy balanced diet.

In this blog I am not going to look at the nutritional value of each seed individually as this is not only laborious for you to read but also not so useful. I will look at their benefits generally and uses in the diet.

Top 3 seeds
Having said that, there are 3 seeds that I will mention specifically, simply because they have been shown to have superior benefits nutritionally. These are pomegranate seeds, chia seeds and flax seeds (also known as linseeds).

General benefits of seeds
Generally all seeds are very nutritious because a seed has all the nutrients capable of germinating a new plant. A plant goes to great lengths to produce each seed, filling it with vitamins, minerals, protein and dormant enzymes. So if you are looking for a high quality, nutritious and filling snack, seeds are tough to beat.

How to use seeds
They are great mixed with unsalted nuts and some chopped dried fruit like apricots and used as a quick nutritious snack. They are excellent sprinkled onto muesli, over porridge at breakfast, or sprinkled over salads to boost the nutritional value. I use them in cakes and flapjacks and also into smoothies.

Once seeds are toasted then some of the nutritional value is lost and the fat in the seed becomes damaged so it is best to eat them raw although I do know that toasted seeds are very moorish.

Ground seeds tend to be more nutritious simply because the grinding process helps to release the nutritional value. The husks of seeds tend to be quite tough and, unless they are chewed very well to break the husk down, most seeds can pass through the digestive system undigested. Once they are ground they should be used straight away or stored in the fridge because the fat content of the seed can deteriorate quite rapidly. Most people buy them ready ground but you could do it yourself using a coffee grinder.

More about the top 3

1. Chia seeds, quite new on the market as a super food and beginning to be used more and more in the diet. Their high profile is for good reason because of all of the seeds they seem to be the most nutritious. Consider some of the facts. According to one source they have been shown to have:

  • 2.5 times more protein than kidney beans.
  • 3 times more antioxidant content than blueberries
  • 3 times more iron than spinach
  • 6 times more calcium than milk
  • 7 times more vitamin C than oranges
  • 8 times more omega 3 than salmon
  • 10 times more fibre than rice
  • 15 times more magnesium than broccoli.

Quite impressive and no wonder their popularity is gaining momentum. All of the nutrients found in chia have been shown to support the immune system, benefit bone health, help to stabilize blood sugar, and boost energy. Apparently the Aztecs and Incas used chia seeds as part of their staple diet as an energy food. Chia means strength in Myan language.

The seeds readily dissolve in water creating a substance that looks like gelatin, which is due to the soluble fibre in the seeds. Because of this it is important to remember that if you eat chia seeds without pre- soaking you need to drink plenty of fluid to prevent the gel swelling up in the digestive tract and causing constipation.

Here is a very simple recipe using chia seeds which illustrates really well their ability to absorb liquid. This recipe would be very suitable for breakfast or a mid-afternoon snack. The blueberries could be exchanged for any berry fruit.

Blueberry, almond and chia seed pudding. (makes 4-6 portions).
500-700 ml of almond milk
250g of blueberries
4 medjool dates
½ tsp of vanilla extract
½ tsp of cinnamon
115g of chia seeds
1 handful of chopped toasted almonds
Runny honey (optional).


1.     Blitz the milk, blueberries, vanilla, dates and seeds in a blender until smooth.

2.     Pour into a serving dish or individual ramekin dishes and leave to set.

3.     Serve topped with toasted nuts and honey.

2. Pomegranate seeds.
These are very rich in polyphenols, one in particular is called ellagic acid. Cancer cells have to go through a series of biochemical pathways in order to grow faster, invade adjacent organs and metastasise. A number of laboratory experiments using cancer cells and normal cells in petri dishes has shown that some foods directly inhibit these pathways. Pomegranate seeds and the ellagic acid is a good example.

Research has shown that in prostate cancer ellagic acid induces natural cell death (apoptosis). In breast cancer it has been shown to reduce cells metastasising.

Research by Robert Thomas, an oncologist working in Cambridge, who has a passion for nutrition, has produced a supplement called PomiT which contains natural extracts of pomegranate seeds among other extracts.  He has done extensive research and won an award for his work.

3. Flaxseeds (linseeds).
I have singled these out because they have a unique property. They are a very rich source of plant nutrients called lignans. Although lignans are present in a wide variety of seeds and other foods flax seed has far the highest level. For example, a 25grm portion of flax contains 85mgs of lignin whereas the same portion of sesame seeds will give 11.2mgs. Quite a difference.

So what are the benefits of lignans? More and more research is telling us that if we eat more lignin rich foods it reduces the risk of several types of cancer and even after diagnosis lignans have been shown to be of benefit. Many people are concerned because lignans belong to a group of foods known as phyto-oestrogens or plant oestrogens (like soya and its products). Plant oestrogens are very weak and appear to be protective rather than antagonistic as first thought. This is because the plant oestrogens present in the flax may actually block or antagonize the effects of oestrogen in some tissues. Scientists are interested in the tissue-selective activities of plant oestrogens because their anti-oestrogenic effects on reproductive tissues could help to reduce the risk of hormone related cancers.

It is recommended that 1-2 tablespoons of flax a day is sufficient to give the beneficial effects. Any more than that may lead to loose stools. A good idea if you are constipated but not generally.

This feels like a bit of a whistle stop tour of seeds but I feel it is enough to perhaps encourage their use as part of a good mixed diet. You may have your own uses for them which I have not mentioned and which you could share with us.

Blog originally written by Caroline December 2014 – Checked 2020

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