We hear many things these Covid days about hand-washing, social distancing, and perhaps most importantly, mask wearing. These are all good measures for managing the current crisis. However, we hear precious little in the news about strengthening our immune systems, so that they can better withstand the onslaught of corona virus and other harmful pathogens that may be standing in wait for us down the road.
It doesn’t take a complete diet makeover to add valuable nutrients to our food. The idea is to eat as many fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds as we can, in as close their natural states as possible. This is the best bet for providing the absolute best protection to our systems that is possible, so let’s just start there – adding more good foods – even the smallest ones – and becoming stronger and healthier with just a little more effort.
Tiny powerhouses of nutrition, those little superfoods! Small but mighty, seeds are crops at their very beginning stage of life. They contain all the nutrients essential for growing a healthy and resilient plant and offer our bodies a wealth of benefits when we eat them. Pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, watermelon seeds, and flax seeds are true superfoods, packing in high quality protein, heart-healthy fats, and essential vitamins and minerals into a tiny, versatile and delicious package.
You can forget the multivitamins – seeds offer many of the same nutrient-dense energy, while leaving a low environmental footprint on the planet.
With a similar nutritional profile to nuts, seeds are a great source of plant-based protein, without the troubling allergy problems for some people that nuts afford.
Seeds are not just for people with nut allergies, though. They provide and excellent source of protein and healthy fats for omnivores, are fans of many dieters and vegans alike, serve as a portable and gut-friendly fuel for athletes, and boost optimal immune, hormonal, and cardiovascular health in every body – all at a very friendly price.
The shelled kernels inside the seeds of the tall, sun-worshiping sunflower are bursting with vitamin E, which servers as an antioxidant in our bodies, and is important for maintaining the strength and integrity of cellular membranes. Hence, it often is given the credit for giving people glowing skin and strong, shiny hair. Recent estimates show that nearly 90% of Americans don’t get enough Vitamin E, and just two tablespoons of sunflower seeds provides the recommended daily amount of it.
Sunflower seeds are also rich in thiamin and Vitamin B-6, which are both essential for healthy metabolism. They are a great source of magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, copper, and selenium. When magnesium is combined with Vitamin B-6 as it is in sunflower seeds, it helps to maintain strong bones, proper muscle contraction, and low blood pressure, even as it keeps us calm, cool, and collected by staving off symptoms of anxiety.
Green in color, pepitas – the kernels of the seeds inside the orange-fleshed pumpkin – are ripe with Vitamin K, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, and manganese. Vitamin K helps promote optimal bone strength and healthy blood clotting. Offering many similar benefits as other seeds due to their mineral content, pumpkin seeds stand out for providing a great dose of iron. They are a complete protein, providing all nine essential amino acids, along with a rich dose of heart-healthy, inflammation – fighting fats, and provide an alternate source of protein for non-meat-eaters.
Pumpkin seeds make a great topping in salads, soups and breads.
These little gems have been touted a superfood, and not without good cause. They contain more protein than almonds and peanuts and are loaded with magnesium, iron, and zinc. Magnesium helps to regulate blood pressure and blood sugar levels. Additionally, watermelon seeds are a good source of, niacin and folate – B Vitamins that support the nervous and digestive systems, and promote healthy skin. Then, they contain healthy fats that have been shown to improve blood cholesterol levels and reduce inflammation in the body.
Flaxseeds, also known as linseeds combine an unrivaled dose of gut-strengthening fiber with a heart-healthy blend of fats as one of the best sources of plant-based omega-3 fatty acids. All these nutrients are locked inside the indigestible shells, which have to be broken (ground) or soaked to access.
The fibers in flax contain a unique type of plant chemical called lingnans, which recent research shows may play a role in the prevention of certain types of cancers and are effective at reducing “bad” cholesterol. These seeds also contain a very high amount of omega-3 fatty acids, which help reduce overall inflammation that has been linked to asthma, heart disease, and many other chronic illnesses.
These seeds contain more protein than any other plant food except for soy, yet hemp seed is easier to digest than soy and is less likely to cause allergic reactions. They are sweet and warming, and like flaxseed are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, only with a longer shelf life. The anti-inflammatory action of the omega-3 fatty acids may help improve symptoms of eczema. One study found that people with eczema experienced less skin dryness and itchiness after taking hemp seed oil supplements for 20 weeks, and subsequently used much less medication.
Chia seeds are an ancient superfood – the mainstay of Aztec and Mayan diets because of their nutritional value. The word “chia” means strength in the Mayan language, and the seeds were known as runner’s fuel. This concentrated protein source is also rich in fiber, helping keep the body full and energized for hours. Chia seeds are easy to add to any diet and can be used to make puddings, added to baked goods, or sprinkled on cereal or savory dishes. When added to a liquid, chia seeds expand into a gel, which makes them a great plant-based option for thickening sauces or replacing eggs.
Chia seeds are similar in nutrition values to flax seeds and are a good source of fiber, protein, and omega – fats, along with a number of other nutrients.
There are many other seeds to consider adding to your diet as well – Poppy, Sesame, and Mustard, to name a few. They all have nutrients in common with the other seeds, yet each one has its own particular set of gifts.
Try them all. Some, like flax and chia, can be mixed with water to make an egg substitute. Others like pumpkin, sunflower, and watermelon do well as topping on salads. Some can be blended into smoothies nicely, while others combine nicely with some nuts for homemade trail mix. Be creative. You’ll be glad you did.
Seeds are great sources of healthy fats, vegetarian protein, fiber and antioxidants. They can help reduce the risk of certain diseases, and otherwise help the body to function smoothly as it was meant to, given the right ingredients.