Seeds are a fundamental ingredient in a number of our Nakd and TREK bars here at Natural Balance Foods. Our nutritionist Lucy-Ann is on board to dissect the powerful benefits that certain super seeds have to offer:
Long gone are the days when seeds were thought only as bird food! And thank goodness for that, for seeds are a tasty, versatile and extremely nutritious part of any diet, but particularly so for the passionate plant-based eater.
This wonderful range of nutrient-dense foods provides us with essential proteins (amino acids), healthy fats (in the form of plant oils containing essential and non-essential fatty acids), and even carbohydrates, for long-lasting energy. Seeds also contain significant amounts of micronutrients such as the minerals calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc, B vitamins, vitamin E, and also beneficial fibres that assist with blood sugar management, and of course, healthy bowel function.
Here are some of my favourite seeds that I build into any meal or diet…
These small, flat dark green seeds are called “pepitas”, a South American word, from where they originate. Pumpkin seeds belong to the gourd family of vegetables, which include courgettes, squash, cucumber, cantaloupe melon, and of course pumpkins, the “crop” of the seeds!
Their nutritional profile reveals a food that’s a wonderful source of the minerals magnesium, zinc, manganese and phosphorus. Pumpkin seeds are also an excellent source of iron and zinc. Just a handful (25g) will provide 2.5mg iron and 1.5mg zinc, which is a significant contribution to our daily requirements for both these essential minerals. Both zinc and iron are especially important to immune function, making pumpkin seeds a great choice to stay healthy.
Pumpkin seeds and phytosterols
Phytosterols are natural plant fats that have been widely researched with regard to their cholesterol-lowering properties and ability to enhance immune function. Plant sterols are the substances that are extracted from foods and packed into spreads, imitation butters, yogurts and cheeses and heavily marketed as “cholesterol-lowering foods”.
Not only are these products expensive to buy on a continual basis, it makes better sense to choose foods that Mother Nature has naturally designed to support our long-term health. Aside from pumpkin seeds, other foods that contain healthy plant sterols include avocados, sesame seeds (which have the highest amount of all nuts and seeds), sunflower seeds and pistachios.
- Sprinkle a good handful of pumpkin seeds on top of a large mixed salad. This adds further colour, taste and texture, as well as added nutrition and a burst of essential fats.
- Pumpkin seeds make a very balanced and simple snack.
- Add pumpkin seeds to the food processor, along with grated carrot, chopped onion and fresh herbs, for a fantastic coarse pâté.
- Try making a delicious “Pumpkin Pesto” - Grind pumpkin seeds with fresh garlic, parsley and coriander or basil leaves. Mix with a little olive oil and lemon juice, and voila! You can use this as a salad dressing, or try adding a spoon to cooked rice or quinoa.
- Be sure to add pumpkin seeds to your wonderful homemade mueslis or granolas!
Consumer demand for hemp seeds and hemp products has grown enormously in recent times, and it’s not surprising as to why this might be. Hemp oil (about 44% of the seeds) is one of the plant kingdom's richest sources of essential fatty acids, and hemp protein (30% of the seeds) provides a full spectrum of amino acids (including all the essential amino acids). Shelled hemp seeds also provides antioxidants such as Vitamin E, as well as lecithin, and many major minerals too.
Hemp seeds are also a direct source of GLA – a very beneficial omega-6 fatty acid, which has strong anti-inflammatory properties, and assists with the body’s hormonal balance. GLA is not present in flax seeds, or other commonly eaten seeds, which is why hemp seeds are often recommended in place of other seeds to help with particular hormone-related disorders. The oil of hemp is rich in chlorophyll, which has many wonderful health properties, and gives it its lovely green “hue”.
How does hemp seed oil compare to flax seed?
- Hemp seed oil has the “optimal” Omega-6 to Omega-3 fat ratio - 3.75:1. Flax seed oil has a 1:4 Omega-6 to Omega-3 ratio.
- Hemp seed oil is a direct source of GLA - flax oil is not
- Hemp seed oil contains chlorophyll, flax oil does not
Incidentally, hemp seeds are an excellent food choice, from an environmental perspective. Their growth span is relatively short (around 100 days) so the use of pesticides is very minimal. As a sustainable crop, and being one of the most highly nutritious foods we have access to, hemp is one of our planet’s most precious foods.
Including hemp seeds in the diet…
Hemp seeds (eaten as shelled hemp seeds) are ideal (and very delicious) when used in fruit or green smoothies. They are equally suited however as toppings or additions to muesli-based cereals and fruit salads, as a major ingredient to homemade energy bars, sprinkled liberally over salads, or simply eaten by the tablespoon! Hemp seeds also make one of the most pleasant and creamy non-dairy milks.
The only requirements for this are a blender, fresh water, and a muslin bag or cloth to strain the blended seed/water mixture. Hemp seeds should not be baked, or cooked in any way. In fact all nuts and seeds are best eaten in their raw state, to preserve all the healthy, unsaturated oils and proteins.
When hemp seeds are shelled and fresh, they have a delicious, and rather unique nutty flavour. They are also very easy to digest, so if you haven’t tried them – now is the time!
So ends part one of our look at super seeds, but we aren’t done yet! Check back soon for part two!