Guest blog by Vicky Ware,
Healthy Seed Mix
Packed with nutrients that are good for health, seeds are nature’s perfect snack – easy to add to your meals and take with you on the fly. They’re the opposite of the high calorie, low nutrient fast foods that litter the shelves of supermarkets and can be tempting if you get hungry while out of the house.
What’s more, they’re associated with a whole host of health benefits. Different types of seeds have different nutritional qualities and when mixed together they pack an impressive nutritional punch. Read on to find out what adding flax, sesame, sunflower, hemp and pumpkin seed mix could do for your daily nutrition.
The key to the benefits of seeds in general seem to come mainly from their fats, fibre and minerals.
These qualities have health benefits when seeds are consumed regularly. After 3 months of consuming 28 grams a day of a mixture of flaxseed, sesame seed and pumpkin seed people in one study had improved blood values for glucose, insulin, fats and markers of inflammation 1.
When levels of these markers are poor, people are more likely to develop Type II Diabetes and cardiovascular disease along with a whole host of other health issues 2;3;4. The fact that these blood value improvements were seen just by adding seeds, with no other lifestyle changes, is quite exciting given how easy it is to eat them.
Omega-3 fats are generally low in Western diets but they are crucial to health, and are found in flaxseed. The health benefits of omega-3 are wide ranging, with the results of some studies quite impressive. For example, a recent study has shown that dietary supplementation with omega-3 fats (700mg of an omega-3 called eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and 480mg of docosahexaenoic acid (DPA)) significantly reduced the chances of people developing psychotic symptoms, even though the people in the study were at a very high genetic risk of developing those symptoms 5.
Flaxseed in particular contains high levels of omega-3 fats. Other seeds tend to contain more omega-6 fats, which are already high in Western diets and can lead to inflammation – I’ve written more about the importance of the omega-3 to omega-6 ratio in another blog*. It’s therefore a good idea to consume flax along with other seeds to ensure you’re getting omega-3 to balance the omega-6 6.
Seeds contain both soluble and insoluble fibre, both of which are really important for health. Soluble fibre is a source of food for the bacteria that live in your intestine** which are essential for health. You can read more about the benefits of fibre over in a blog*** I wrote on that topic.
Different seeds have different mineral contents, but in general they’re dense in minerals compared to other foods. Minerals are really important to health and need to be topped up daily – deficiencies in certain minerals like magnesium**** are common, making seeds a good addition to your diet if you don’t already eat them.
1 tablespoon of ground flaxseed contains lots of minerals 7. I’ve made the nutrients flax contains lots of in bold:
Calcium (18mg/2% of your RDA), iron (0.4mg/2%), magnesium (27mg/7%), phosphorus (45mg/4%), potassium (57mg, 2%), zinc (0.3mg/2%), copper (0.1mg, 4%), manganese (0.2mg, 9%), selenium (1.8mg, 3%).
1 tablespoon of ground flax also contains:
- Fibre (1.9 grams, 8%).
- Omega-3 fats (1597mg)
- Omega-6 fats (414mg)
- Small amounts of B vitamins, mostly thiamine (0.1mg/8%).
- 1.3g protein (3%).
Flaxseed is also a good source of both soluble and insoluble fibre. The soluble fibre is in the form of lignans 8. Lignans are thought to be a particularly good fibre to include in your diet because they act as food for the bacteria in your gut** which are really important for health 9. Flaxseed has also been shown to reduce blood pressure 8.
Flaxseed is also a good source of alpha-linolenic acid which is a building block for EPA – an omega-3 fat, the benefits of which are discussed above 10. This conversion from alpha-linolenic acid to EPA seems to happen more readily in women than in men, making flaxseed a better source of this omega-3 fat for women 10. It’s important to note however that these improvements in omega-3 levels in the blood after consuming flaxseed are only seen if the flax is ground, probably because the outer shell of the seed isn’t easily digested meaning the fats inside don’t get absorbed by your body if you eat the whole seed un-ground 11.
Sesame seeds 12.5%
These little seeds contain a serious amount of minerals 7. 28 grams contain:
Calcium (277mg, 28%), iron (4.1mg, 23%), magnesium (100mg, 25%), phosphorus (179mg, 18%), potassium (133mg, 4%), zinc (2mg, 13%), copper (0.7mg, 35%), selenium (1.6mcg, 2%).
They also contain:
- 4.7 grams protein (9%)
- B vitamins, especially thiamine (0.2mg, 15%) and B6 (0.2mg, 11%).
These seeds are more omega-6 heavy, with 5784mg of omega-6 and 102mg of omega-3.
Sesame seeds are a good source of linoleic acid – an omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA) 1. Although omega-6 fats are thought to be bad for health when not combined with omega-3 fats, linoleic acid is thought to be good for cardiovascular health when they’re eaten instead of animals fats such as dairy products and lard 12.
Sesame seeds also contain oleic acid which is one of the fats responsible for the health benefits of olive oil because of its anti-inflammatory nature and beneficial effect on the immune system 1;13.
Including sesame seed in daily diet has been shown to improve blood lipid levels in women – essentially lowering blood cholesterol levels, which are linked with cardiovascular disease (Wu, 2006). It is thought to be the high fibre and linoleic acid content that result in lowered cholesterol, however a component of sesame seeds also affects absorption of cholesterol in the intestine which would also have a lowering effect in the blood stream 14.
Sesame seeds are also rich in lignans – a type of insoluble fibre. Flax seed was originally considered the best source of lignans, but sesame seeds contain even more 14.
Sunflower seeds 12.5%
28 grams of sunflower seeds contain 7:
Calcium (21.8mg, 2%), iron (1.5mg, 8%), magnesium (91mg, 23%), phosphorus (185mg, 18%), potassium (181mg, 5%), zinc (1.4mg, 9%), copper (0.5mg, 25%), manganese (0.5mg, 27%) and selenium (14.8mg, 21%).
- 5.8 grams of protein per 28 grams (12%);
- Vitamin E (9.3mg, 47%);
- B vitamins especially thiamine (0.4mg, 28%);
- vitamin B6 (0.4mg, 19%); and
- folate 63.6mcg, 16%).
Again, sunflower are omega-6 heavy with 6454mg of omega-6 versus only 20mg of omega-3. Too much omega-6 can eventually lead to increased blood cholesterol, inflammation and a higher risk of cardiovascular disease 15. However, sesame seeds also contain phytoesterols, compounds which lower blood cholesterol and improve immune health 16. Combining sesame seeds with flaxseed, which are high in omega-3 may help balance the omega-6 intake.
Hemp seeds 12.5%
These seeds are particularly high in protein with 10.3 grams per 28 grams of seed – that’s 21% of your RDA 7.
The mineral content includes good amounts of iron (2.7mg, 15%), magnesium (179mg, 45%) and zinc (3.2mg, 21%).
Hemp seed contains the optimum ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fats (1:2). It also contains antioxidants which mop up free-radicals but also act on the immune system to reduce inflammation 17.
Pumpkin Seeds 12.5%
Pumpkin seeds contain 5.2 grams of protein per 28 grams of seed, that’s 10% of your protein RDA 7.
Mineral content includes calcium (15.4mg, 2%), iron (0.9mg, 5%), magnesium (73.4mg, 18%), phosphorus (25.8mg, 3%), potassium (257mg, 7%), zinc (2.9mg, 19%), copper (0.2mg, 10%) and manganese (0.1mg, 7%).
Pumpkin seeds are a great source of linoleic acid (omega-6), oleic acid and antioxidant vitamins such as vitamin A and E 1.
Pumpkin seeds may have a beneficial effect on blood glucose levels, lowering chances of developing diabetes 18. Another study found that pumpkin seed oil lowered blood pressure and improved blood lipid levels along with reducing symptoms of menopause in post-menopausal women 19.
Why a Mix of Seeds is Good
As you can see, each seed comes packed with its own mixture of nutrients making a mixture of seeds a good choice to add to your daily diet to make sure you’re getting a variety of nutrients. It’s a good idea to have flax with other types of seeds, because flax contains omega-3 fats while other seeds tend to contain more omega-6. Western diets tend to contain too many omega-6 fats already, so flaxseeds go some way towards your daily quest to get enough omega-3.
If you eat seeds in the ratio shown above (in the heading of each seed type) you’ll be getting a ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fats of around 1:2. Studies have shown that humans evolved eating a 1:1 or 1:2 ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fats and that modern humans, especially in Western countries, get too much omega-6 with a ratio more like 1:15 15. Studies suggest that this imbalance of omega-3 and omega-6 could lead to increased inflammation in the body, and ultimately cardiovascular disease, autoimmune disease and cancer 15.
Eating a seed mix containing a good amount of flaxseed therefore allows you to get the benefits of the other seeds nutrient content while also ensuring your omega-3 to omega-6 ratio is in balance.
Seeds are pretty versatile in terms of storage. It’s not essential to keep them in the fridge if you’re going to eat them fairly quickly but it’s important to keep them somewhere dry to keep them in their best condition. Used Lucy Bee jars are a great storage system for seed mixtures, air tight and see-through so you can see what’s in each one.
How to Include Seeds in Your Diet
A seed mix that you can keep on stand-by in the kitchen is a great way to add a healthy dose of nutrients, and variety, to your daily diet. Here are some ideas for including seeds in your diet:
- Mix into morning porridge for a long-lasting fuel source and a boost to your daily minerals in the morning.
- Sprinkle over a salad for a filling lunch.
- Mix into, or on top of, bread dough before baking.
- Mix into flapjack before baking – a seed mix can make up a significant proportion of flapjack making it a great nutrient packed energy food rather than eating energy products containing few nutrients and lots of refined sugar. You can also use Lucy Bee Extra Virgin Coconut Oil as the fat in your flapjack rather than butter (I’ve tried this and it works a treat).
- Keep a bag of mixed seeds in your handbag/man bag for a filling snack between meals.
- Eat as a snack before bed with a piece of fruit to keep hunger at bay during the night.
I knew before compiling all the facts for this blog that seeds were a great source of minerals, but I wasn’t prepared for quite how nutrient filled they are. Fibre, minerals and ‘good’ fats account for most of the health benefits – all nutrients which tend to be lacking in the typical Western diet. Keeping your diet varied is a good way to ensure you’re getting a wide range of essential nutrients in your diet, and the different kinds of seeds make this easy to do.
- Ristic-Medic (2014) Effects of dietary milled seed mixture on fatty acid status and inflammatory markers in patients with hemodialysis.
- Hertog (2009) C-reactive protein in the very early phase of acute ischemic stroke: association with poor outcome and death.
- DeFronzo (1991) Insulin Resistance: A Multifaceted Syndrome Responsible for NIDDM, Obesity, Hypertension, Dyslipidemia, and Athersclerotic Cardiovascular Disease.
- Riccardi (2004) Dietary fat, insulin sensitivity and the metabolic syndrome.
- Amminger (2014) Longer-term outcome in the prevention of psychotic disorders by the Vienna omega-3 study.
- Simopoulos (1999) Essential fatty acids in health and chronic disease.
- NSD (2015) Nutrition Self Data
- Khalesi (2015) Flaxseed consumption may reduce blood pressure: a systematic review and meta-analysis of controlled trials.
- Adlecreutz (2007) Lignans and human health.
- Burdge (2004) Alpha-linolenic acid metabolism in men and women: nutritional and biological implications.
- Austria (2008) Bioavailability of alpha-linolenic acid in subjects after ingestion of three different forms of flaxseed.
- Farvid (2014) Dietary linoleic acid and risk of coronary heart disease: a systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies.
- Sales-Campos (2013) An overview of the modulatory effects of oleic acid in health and disease.
- Wu (2006) Sesame ingestion affects sex hormones, antioxidant status, and blood lipids in postmenopausal women.
- Simopoulos (2002) The importance of the ratio of omega-6/omega-3 essential fatty acids.
- Phillips (2005) Phytoesterol composition of nuts and seeds commonly consumed in the United States.
- Rezapour-Firouzi (2013) Immunomodulatory and therapeutic effects of Hot-nature diet and co-supplemented hemp seed, evening primrose oils intervention in multiple sclerosis patients.
- Adams (2014) The hypoglycemic effect of pumpkin seeds, Trigonelline (TRG), Nicotinic acid (NA), and D-Chrioinositol (DCI) in controlling glycemic levels in diabetes mellitus.
- Gossell-Williams (2011) Improvement in HDL cholesterol in postmenopausal women supplemented with pumpkin seed oil: pilot study.
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