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

These nutritional powerhouses deserve a spot on your plate. A dietitian explains the health benefits of super seeds.
Seeds Assortment
Seeds pack a nutritional punch into a tiny package.Mizina / Getty Images stock

Seeds may look small, but they offer mighty benefits. These nutritional powerhouses contain vitamins, minerals, fiber, protein, beneficial fats, antioxidants and other bioactive substances that protect your health. It’s no wonder that 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 eats.

Sesame seeds

You may think of sesame seeds as a garnish, but they shouldn’t be an afterthought. An ounce of sesame seeds supplies six grams of protein, three grams of fiber and about 23% of your daily magnesium requirement. Magnesium is the fourth most abundant mineral in the body, and it’s needed to regulate heart rhythm, blood pressure, blood sugar, muscle contraction and relaxation, and sleep cycles.

In addition to numerous other vitamins and minerals, sesame seeds are packed with antioxidants that guard against disease-promoting cellular damage. Studies have linked them to blood pressure and cholesterol-lowering effects, and lab studies suggest they also have anti-cancer potential.

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

  • Mix them into oatmeal
  • Use them to coat chicken, fish or tofu
  • Add them to baked goods
  • Shake them over salads and veggie dishes

Pumpkin seeds

Crunchy pumpkin seeds stand out as a top source of plant-based iron; a serving supplies 13% of your daily value for this mineral. Insufficient iron intake is common among women and kids, and for this reason, is considered a nutrient of public health concern in the United States.

Besides iron, a serving of pumpkin seeds boasts nearly nine grams of plant-based protein and three grams of fiber. Additionally, this super-seed supplies 37% of your daily target for magnesium–a mineral that helps regulate the stress hormone cortisol, making you feel more at ease.

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

Pumpkin seeds are heftier than some other super seeds, so they’re great for snacking. Besides that, here are a few ways to add them to your menu:

  • Add them to trail mixes
  • Use them to garnish soups
  • Sprinkle them over guac or hummus
  • Make pumpkin seed butter for a protein-packed, nut-free spread

Flax seeds

These small, mildly nutty seeds may be particularly good for your heart. After analyzing data from 15 studies, scientists found that supplementing the diet with various flaxseed products significantly reduced blood pressure levels. Blood pressure is considered a significant risk factor for heart disease.

Flax seeds could also be your ticket to getting more fiber — a nutrient lacking in 95% of people’s diets. Two tablespoons of flaxseeds supply about four grams of fiber, including soluble and insoluble fiber. Both types are needed to support bowel regularity and gut health.

Lignans are another bioactive plant compound especially concentrated in flax seeds; flax seeds contain up to 800 times more lignan than other plant foods. Lignans have antioxidant, anti-tumor, anti-inflammatory and antiviral properties.

There are numerous other vitamins and minerals in flaxseeds, including the plant-based omega-3 ALA. A two-tablespoon serving contains more than twice the Daily Value for ALA.

It’s better to use ground flax seeds than whole ones since the whole seeds may pass through your digestive system intact. When undigested, flax’s nutrients may not be available to you.

Here are some ways to incorporate ground flaxseeds into your favorite foods:

  • Mix into smoothies and oatmeal
  • Use in baked goods, such as banana or zucchini bread
  • Sprinkle over avocado or nut butter toast
  • Stir into nut or seed butter

Chia seeds

These tiny orbs are notable for holding 12 times their weight in water and having an extraordinary amount of fiber. Nearly all the carbohydrate in chia seeds comes from fiber, with an ounce providing about 10 grams or 36% of the amount needed daily.

Of course, chia seeds provide vitamins and minerals, but they’re also packed with polyphenols and antioxidants. These compounds defend your cells against oxidative stress, a phenomenon tied to disease progression. These seeds are also known for providing omega-3 ALA, an anti-inflammatory fat that may protect against heart disease. One study found that consuming a little over an ounce of chia seeds a day reduced systolic blood pressure and levels of an inflammatory marker associated with heart disease.

These super seeds have another superpower — they’re an excellent plant-based source of calcium. A one-ounce portion provides 14% of the daily value for 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 you fill the calcium gap.

Aside from their impressive nutrient profile, chia seeds might help you manage your appetite. One study tested this by giving people a quarter or half-ounce of chia seeds with yogurt as a mid-morning snack. Compared to the people who got the yogurt sans chia seeds, those who consumed chia seeds were more satiated, less hungry, and experienced a decreased desire for sugary foods.

To benefit from chia seeds, try adding them to your diet in these ways:

  • Use them to make chia pudding
  • Add them to heated frozen fruit to make a quick chia jam
  • Use them to garnish breakfast toasts and scrambled eggs
  • Stir them into agua frescas and unsweetened iced tea

Sunflower seeds

These snacking seeds deserve super seed status because of their vitamin E content, among other things. A serving of sunflower seeds has nearly 40% of your daily requirement for vitamin E and selenium. Selenium is a mineral needed to repair DNA damage and protect against oxidative stress. It also possesses anti-cancer potential through a process called aptosis, which destroys damaged cells. Meanwhile, selenium is also being studied for its role in both protecting against and treating depression. 

It’s easy to add sunflower seeds to meals and snacks: 

  • Toss them into salads
  • Add to hot or cold breakfast cereals
  • Use them to coat energy balls
  • Swap them in for pine nuts to make pesto

Hemp seeds

Just three tablespoons of these small seeds lend a whopping 10 grams of plant protein to your diet. They also supply about 50% of the daily magnesium needed, plus a slew of other nutrients, including potassium, iron and zinc. 

Like some other seeds, hemp seeds are rich in plant-based omega-3 ALAs, which have an anti-inflammatory effect that can protect against heart disease and preserve your brain health. These mild seeds are also packed with antioxidants and other bioactive substances that boost your internal defenses against disease progression.

Since hemp seeds are the edible seeds from cannabis (marijuana) plants, you may wonder if they make you high. They don’t. The FDA deems hemp seeds safe and says the trace amounts of psychoactive substances naturally found in hemp seeds won’t give you a buzz.

Meanwhile, since hemp seeds are so mild-tasting, they work well in almost any dish. 

  • Sprinkle them over sautéed greens
  • Use them as the protein source in smoothies
  • Mix them with other seeds to create a super seed chocolate bark
  • Pulverize them to lend creaminess to soups and salad dressings