Seeds provide a range of micronutrients. They prevent the development of heart disease and the accumulation of bad cholesterol.

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As a health enthusiast, you’re likely always keeping an eye out for trending foods to keep you feeling your best. You’ve tried other superfoods like avocado, kale, kefir and mushrooms—but maybe now you’re looking to up your health game. Your new secret weap- on? Seeds!

Known as nutritional powerhouses, seeds are packed with healthy fats, protein and a range of micronutrients— think of them as pint-sized kernels with super-sized benefits. Many studies have shown that seeds can help prevent weight gain, the development of heart disease and accumulation of bad cholesterol. A high intake of nuts and seeds is also associated with reduced inflammation.

These four seed superheroes have been consumed in many different ways and have nourished ancient cultures for thousands of years. If you haven’t already, it’s time to add them into your diet, too!

FLAXSEEDS

A great source of protein and soluble fibre, these tiny, brown, nutty super seeds help boost eye health, lower cholesterol, make you feel full longer and aid in stabilizing blood sugar levels. They are also packed with omega-3 fatty acids, which are beneficial for brain health and can help lower triglycerides.

Flaxseeds also contain a number of different polyphenols, especially lignans, which act as important antioxidants. Lignans are a plant-like form of estrogen, which have been found to help prevent some forms of cancer. Studies have shown that consuming flaxseeds may reduce markers of tumour growth in women with breast cancer.

Also, lignans found in flaxseeds can also help reduce cholesterol levels and other risk factors in heart disease. A 2015 review of studies published in the journal Clinical Nutrition found that the consumption of flax helps keep blood-pressure numbers from “boiling over” into an unhealthy range that rais- es the risk for cardiovascular disease.

It is important to note that the omega-3 fatty acids in flaxseeds are contained within the fibrous outer shell of the seed, which people have trouble digesting. The best way to get your omega-3 intake from these seeds is to go for ground flaxseeds, rather than whole, or to grind them up or blend them before consumption.

Adding flaxseeds to your diet is easy. Bake them into muffins, add them to your morning yogurt, cereal or smoothie or even put them in soups and stews. Ground flaxseeds can even be used as an egg substitute.

CHIA SEEDS

Tiny yet powerful, chia seeds are a member of the mint family. They are packed with high soluble fibre, protein, healthy oils, calcium, zinc, iron and antioxidants.

This super seed promotes bone and dental health, thanks to its calcium and magnesium content and also supports heart health with its omega-3’s by lowering triglycerides, known as unhealthy fats.

Eating chia seeds can also increase ALA in the blood. ALA is an important short-chain omega-3 fatty acid that helps reduce inflammation, but it is not as potent as long-chain fatty acids like eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and do- cosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which are commonly found in oily fish. However, your body can convert ALA into EPA and DHA according to a study in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. The study also found that chia seeds may be able to increase levels of EPA in the blood.

Offering up to five grams of soluble fibre per tablespoon, the fibre in chia seeds helps decrease cholesterol, while stabilizing blood sugar levels. When the fibre in chia mixes with the digestive liquids in your stomach, it forms into gel—which makes you feel full longer and helps keep junk-food temptations away.

Chia seeds are easy to incorporate into your favourite snacks or dishes. Sprinkle them on your cereal, in your yogurt or make chia pudding as a healthy alter- native to other sugary desserts.

HEMP SEEDS

With a three to one omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids ratio, hemp seeds, also known as “hemp hearts,” are loaded with iron, calcium, magnesium and other essential minerals. Hemp seeds are an excellent source of vegetarian A study by Canadian researchers found that the Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score (PDCAAS), which speaks to the protein value of food sources, is greater for hemp than other plant sources like grains, nuts and legumes—because it is one of the

few plants that is a complete protein source—meaning they contain all of the essential amino acids your body can’t make. Complete protein sources are rare in plants, as they often lack the amino acid lysine.

Hemp seeds are also an excellent source of fibre, which can benefit di- gestive health. Whole hemp seeds are the best source for both soluble and insoluble fibre, compared to de-hulled hemp seeds, which have the fibre-rich shell removed.

Hemp seeds have a mild, nutty taste and can be eaten on their own or added to salads, smoothies or baked goods. Hemp milk is also a great alter- native to dairy milk.

Note: While hemp and marijuana are both members of the cannabis family, hemp will not give you the same effect as smoking marijuana as it does not contain THC, marijuana’s active ingredient.

SESAME SEEDS

Despite their tiny size, sesame seeds contain up to 20% protein and are high in calcium, fibre, magnesium, zinc and iron. The seeds also contain about 50% of fatty oil. In fact, sesame plants

are one of the oldest known plant species to be grown for their seeds and oils rather than for their leaves, fruit or vegetables.

Sesame oil is rich in linoleic and oleic acids, which have cholesterol-lower- ing properties, making the oil a great choice to incorporate in salad dressings and other recipes. According to a recent study in healthy adults, taking sesame powder daily has positive effects on total cholesterol levels.

Like flaxseeds, sesame seeds also contain lignans, which help lower blood pressure and can protect the liver from damage. Research also suggests that sesame seeds also positively affects sex hormone production due to bet- ter fatty acid metabolism—especially in post-menopausal women.

In a 2009 study published in The Journal of Nutrition, sesame consumption was found to have positive effects on blood lipids and antioxidant status in adult women that impacted sex hormones. Sesamin, a sesame lignin, was found to be converted by intestinal mi- croflora to enterolactone, a phytoestrogen compound similar to estrogen.

After studying the effects of taking 50g of sesame seed powder daily in 26 postmenopausal women over a five-week period, the group receiving sesame experienced improvements in serum sex hormone binding and production. Because sesame seeds are loaded with powerful nutrients, proteins and healthy fats, researchers believe they are also a superfood for a healthy pregnancy.

Besides using their oil as a salad dressing option, sesame seeds are great to sprinkle on baked goods, toast and cereals. They are also delicious topped onto stir-fry dishes for an added crunch. Tahini, a spreadable paste made from ground sesame seeds, is also fantastic for making into sauces or adding to dishes for a nutty, creamy flavour. You can buy tahini paste in most grocery stores or you can make your own!

SUNFLOWER SEEDS

Sunflower seeds are high in healthy fats, as well as proteins, fibre, phytochemicals, selenium, copper and magnesium. According to the USDA, sunflower seeds are “the richest source of vitamin E.” Aside from salad top- pings, you can add sunflower seeds to muffins or bread recipes, in vegetable dishes or stir-fry, into trail mixes and in cereals or yogurt. Try crushed sunflower seeds as a tasty gluten-free coating for fish or chicken.

They are an excellent source of folate, which boosts immunity, and vitamin E, an antioxidant that protects cells from damage-and may help to prevent cancer. The perfect phytochemical-rich seed for those of us looking to lose weight, they promote healthy digestion and increase fibre intake.

Sunflower seeds are also extremely rich in folate, a very important nutrient for women. They are packed full of good fats, antioxidant-rich vitamin E, selenium and copper, all crucial elements in supporting heart health and balancing troublesome cellular damage.

In one study, consuming sunflower seeds more than five times per week was associated with reduced levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), a key chemical involved in inflammation.

Another study examined whether eat- ing nuts and seeds affected blood cholesterol levels in postmenopausal women with type 2 diabetes. The women consumed 30g of sunflower seeds or almonds as part of a healthy diet every day for three weeks. By the end of the study, both the almond and sunflower seed groups had experienced reduced total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol.

The sunflower seed diet reduced triglycerides in the blood more than the almond diet, though.

However, “good” HDL cholesterol was also reduced, suggesting that sunflow- er seeds may reduce both good and bad types of cholesterol.

Munch them by the handful, or add them to cookie or muffin recipes, salads, and stir-fries. Avoid salted versions, which often have high levels of sodium.

More Inspiration: Check out this quick guide to olive oil too!

Author: Charmaine Millaire was an editor for Optimyz and is off to some amazing adventures in life. She is a graduate from King’s School of Journalism in Nova Scotia.

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