Chia, hemp, flax: are super seeds worth the hype?

Seeds may look small, but they offer tremendous benefits. These nutritional powerhouses are packed with vitamins, minerals, fiber, protein, beneficial fats, antioxidants and other bioactive substances that protect your health. It's no wonder seeds are all the rage right now. Here are some of the top seeds to add to your menu, what makes them so special, and some fun ways to sneak them into your daily diet.

Sesame seeds
You may think of sesame seeds as a garnish, but they shouldn't be an afterthought. One ounce of sesame seeds provides 6 grams of protein, 3 grams of fiber and about 23% of your daily magnesium requirement. Magnesium is the fourth most abundant mineral in the body, and it is essential for regulating heart rhythm, blood pressure, blood sugar, muscle contraction and relaxation, and sleep cycles.

In addition to many other vitamins and minerals, sesame seeds are rich in antioxidants that prevent disease-promoting cell damage. Research has linked them to blood pressure and cholesterol-lowering effects, and laboratory studies suggest they also have anti-cancer potential.

Add these crunchy seeds to any meal or snack. Here are some ideas to help you get started.

Mix them into oatmeal

Use them on chicken, fish or tofu

Add them to baked goods

Shake them on salads and vegetable dishes

Pumpkin seeds
Crunchy pumpkin seeds are a major source of plant-based iron; one serving provides 13% of the daily value of this mineral. Inadequate iron intake is common among women and children, and is therefore considered a nutrient of public health concern in the United States.

In addition to iron, one serving of pumpkin seeds contains nearly 9 grams of vegetable protein and 3 grams of fiber. In addition, this super seed provides 37% of your daily target of magnesium - a mineral that helps regulate the stress hormone cortisol, making you feel more at ease.

Pumpkin seeds are also prized for their phytosterol content. These naturally occurring compounds mimic cholesterol, so they compete with it for absorption, which may help lower cholesterol levels.

Pumpkin seeds are heavier than some other super seeds, so they are perfect for snacking. In addition to this, there are a number of ways to add them to your menu.

Add them to trail mixes

Use them to garnish soups

Sprinkle them on guava or hummus

Make pumpkin seed butter for a protein-rich, nut-free spread

Flax seeds
These small, slightly nutty seeds may be especially good for your heart. After analyzing data from 15 studies, scientists found that supplementing your diet with a variety of flaxseed products can significantly lower blood pressure levels. Blood pressure is considered an important risk factor for heart disease.

Flaxseed may also be your ticket to more fiber - a nutrient deficient in the diets of 95 percent of people. Two tablespoons of flaxseed provide about four grams of fiber, including both soluble and insoluble fiber. Both types are needed to support intestinal regularity and gut health.

Lignans are another bioactive plant compound that is particularly concentrated in flax seeds. Flax seeds contain up to 800 times more lignans than other plant-based foods. Lignans have antioxidant, antitumor, anti-inflammatory and antiviral properties.

There are many other vitamins and minerals in flaxseed, including plant-based omega-3 ALA. a two-tablespoon serving contains more than twice the daily value of ALA.

Using ground flaxseed is better than using whole flaxseed because the whole flaxseed passes through your digestive system intact. If they are not digested, you may not get the nutrients of flax.

Here are some ways to add ground flaxseed to your favorite foods.

Blend into smoothies and cereals

Use in baked goods, such as banana or zucchini bread

Sprinkle avocado or nut butter on toast

Tossed in nut or seed butter

Ka seeds
These tiny spheres hold their weight in water 12 times over and have a lot of fiber. Almost all of the carbohydrate chia seeds come from fiber, with one ounce providing about 10 grams or 36% of the daily requirement.

Of course, chia seeds provide vitamins and minerals, but they are also rich in polyphenols and antioxidants. These compounds protect your cells from oxidative stress, a phenomenon associated with disease progression. These seeds are also known for providing omega-3 ALA, an anti-inflammatory fat that can prevent heart disease. A study found that consuming a little over an ounce of chia seeds per day lowered systolic blood pressure and levels of inflammatory markers associated with heart disease.

These super seeds have another superpower - they are an excellent plant source of calcium. A one-ounce serving provides 14 percent of the daily value of this bone-building mineral. If you're drinking plant-based milk or avoiding dairy products, you may be vulnerable to inadequate calcium intake, so chia seeds can help fill the calcium gap.

In addition to their impressive nutritional profile, chia seeds can also help you control your appetite. A study tested this by giving people a quarter or half ounce of chia seeds and yogurt as a morning snack. People who consumed chia seeds were fuller, less hungry and had a lower desire for sugary foods than those who were given chia seed-free yogurt.

To benefit from chia seeds, try adding them to your diet by

Using them in chia puddings

Adding them to heated frozen fruit to make quick chia jam

Use them to garnish breakfast toast and scrambled eggs

Stir them into agua frescas and unsweetened iced tea

Sunflower seeds
These snacking seeds deserve super seed status for their vitamin E content and more. One serving of sunflower seeds can provide nearly 40 percent of your daily requirement of vitamin E and selenium. Selenium is a mineral needed to repair DNA damage and prevent oxidative stress. It also has anti-cancer potential through a process called apoptosis, which destroys damaged cells. Also, selenium has been studied because of its role in the prevention and treatment of depression.

Adding sunflower seeds to meals and snacks is easy:.

Throw them into salads

Add them to hot breakfast or cold breakfast cereals

Use them to coat energy balls

Swap them for pine nuts for pesto

Hemp seeds
Just three tablespoons of these little seeds can provide up to 10 grams of plant-based protein to your diet. They also provide about 50 percent of your daily magnesium requirement, as well as a host of other nutrients, including potassium, iron and zinc.

Like some other seeds, hemp seeds are rich in plant-based omega-3 ALA, which has anti-inflammatory properties that can prevent heart disease and protect your brain health. These gentle seeds are also rich in antioxidants and other bioactive substances that can boost your internal defenses against disease progression.

Since hemp seeds are the edible seeds of the cannabis (marijuana) plant, you may be wondering if they get you high. They don't. This FDA considers hemp seeds to be safe and says the trace amounts of psychoactive substances naturally present in hemp seeds won't give you a buzz.

Also, because of their mild flavor, cannabis seeds are suitable for almost any dish.

Sprinkle them on sautéed vegetables

Use them as a source of protein in smoothies

Mix them with other seeds to make super-seeded chocolate bark

Crush them to give soups and salad dressings a creamy flavor

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