Traditionally,seeds have been used in the preparation of delicacies. A must for pregnant and feeding mothers,they somewhere lost their place in processed urban diets. Scientific research has unfolded their virtues and now they have acquired a health food status.
Seeds are the embryo and the food supply of plants. Strictly speaking most cereals,pulses and nuts are also seeds but here we refer mostly to oilseeds like sunflower,pumpkin,sesame,flax,melon,etc.
Seeds are excellent sources of good fat (40-50%),primarily poly and mono-unsaturated fats (PUFA and MUFA),the kind that lower bad cholesterol in blood. Besides having a profound impact on our blood cholesterol levels,they boost immunity. Frequent seed consumption is associated with lower levels of inflammatory markers (C- reactive protein,interleukin -6 and fibrinogen),which increase the risk to several diseases,including cardiovascular disease. They are cholesterol free and provide significant amounts of plant protein (20-30%).
Seeds are low in starch and carbohydrates. They are high in fiber and have low glycemic index (ability to raise blood glucose).
This means that they do not cause spikes or steep increase in blood glucose levels. Since they keep blood glucose levels more stable,they keep one feeling fuller longer and prevent cravings. This makes them a good snack food compared to breads,biscuits,cakes,rusks,chips and other high glycemic food. This property also makes them useful in diabetes to improve glycemic control.
Being the “future” plants,seeds are also loaded with micro-nutrients. These include B vitamins B1,B2 and minerals like zinc,calcium,magnesium,phosphorous,potassium and iron. Seeds are a rich source of vitamin E and other natural antioxidants which have several health benefits. They are perfect cocktail for radiant skin and hair.
Seeds can be sprouted which makes them richer in vitamins B and C,amino acids,and enzymes.
Flax seeds: One of the richest sources of omega-3 fats,flax seeds are essential for normal growth and development. They are also known to play a role in the treatment of heart disease,high blood pressure,diabetes,arthritis,asthma,inflammatory,auto-immune disorders and cancer. They are also rich in vitamin B-complex and vitamin E. They are useful sources of soluble fiber and protein if taken on a regular basis. A tablespoon or two powdered taken with water,cereal,mil or curd is a good way to add them to your diet.
Sunflower seeds: Rich in vitamin B – complex,vitamin E,magnesium,calcium and proteins,they are useful for cholesterol reduction,inflammatory conditions,osteoporosis and boost immunity.
Sesame seeds: A good source of protein,vitamin E and calcium,they also provide iron,niacin,riboflavin and thiamin. Sesame seeds contain 50 per cent oil by weight,which is essentially a good balance of unsaturated fats. Being a rich source of vitamin E they also help decrease lipid per-oxidation thereby reducing the risk of cardiovascular diseases.
Alfalfa seeds: Best taken as sprouts,alfalfa is useful in liver disease,detoxification of blood,anemia,ulcers,colitis,arthritis and fluid retention. They are particularly useful for reducing blood cholesterol and blood sugar levels. They are also known to be useful in cancer prevention and have antifungal properties. Never eat alfalfa seeds without sprouting because they contain high levels of the toxic amino acid (canavanine). Over time,eating these seeds could result in impaired functioning of the platelets and white blood cells. Pregnant and nursing women should consult their physician before use.
Other seeds: Seeds of pumpkin,cucumber,melon and watermelon are good sources of protein and fiber. They are valuable sources of vitamin E and B-complex. Pumpkin seeds are rich in Panagamic acid-an antioxidant (substance that inhibits oxidation or inhibits reactions promoted by oxygen or peroxides,promotes heart health). These seeds are useful in stimulating anti-stress hormones and fighting fatigue. They also boost immunity,lower cholesterol,prevent arthritis and reduce food cravings. Pumpkin seeds are believed to positively influence prostrate health.
Ishi Khosla is a former senior nutritionist at Escorts. She heads the Centre of Dietary Counselling and also runs a health food store. She feels that for complete well-being,one should integrate physical,mental and spiritual health. According to her: To be healthy should be the ultimate goal for all.