You know the expression: Good things come in small packages. The same can be said of seeds, with their make-up of protein, fiber, healthful fats and antioxidants, the powerful substances that destroy free radicals and reduce our risk of inflammation, diabetes, heart disease and some types of cancer. All of the seeds discussed here have these health benefits and more. From old standbys to newer favorites, I dug through the data to give you the fun facts on these superfoods.
Sunflower seeds provide copper, selenium and manganese, nutrients you might not hear much about but important for your overall health. They are also a great source of vitamin E, one of those antioxidants. They are pretty inexpensive compared to nuts, which offer similar nutrients. Sunflower seeds are high in (healthful polyunsaturated) fat and calories if you go beyond a 1 ounce (1/4 cup) serving, so consider buying them in the shell to slow you down!
Sesame seeds are higher in monounsaturated fats and phytosterols than other seeds. Phytosterols are plant compounds found to lower both total and LDL-cholesterol; these and monounsaturated fats both lower the risk of heart disease when part of a healthy diet. Sesame seeds are also a good source of copper, a cofactor needed for antioxidants to function. Use them to make tahini and hummus, and stir-fry them with your favorite vegetables.
Pumpkin seeds have fewer calories per ounce than most other seeds, while still delivering a fiber and protein punch. They are a good source of zinc, and have been linked to muscle and prostate health. Roasted pumpkin seeds, pepitas, make a great snack and a crunchy addition to salads.
Flax seeds are rich in plant-based omega-3 fats and are a great source of soluble fiber; they have been linked to improved bowel function as well as reduced blood pressure. Be sure to grind them, or buy them ground as flaxseed meal, to obtain these health benefits.
Chia seeds are higher in fiber than most other seeds (10 grams/ounce) and swell when mixed with water, making them filling and a great addition to everything from smoothies to meatballs. Like their fellow seeds, they are a good source of protein and healthful fats.
Hemp seeds are a particularly good source of protein, and thought to be a complete protein, making them a nutritious alternative to animal protein. The protein, along with their high fat content, contributes to a longer feeling of fullness after eating. Hemp seeds are also high in potassium, vitamin E and zinc. Add them to smoothies or baked goods.
Nigella seeds have displayed both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, and there is evidence they help manage asthma, high blood pressure, rheumatoid arthritis and diabetes. They are popular in Indian cuisine, contributing a tasty kick to meats and vegetables.
If you are wondering which seeds to choose, try a variety to increase both health benefits and enjoyment.
As published in the Fort Collins Coloradoan
Chances are, you or someone you know is a coffee drinker. Admittedly, I love coffee and my relationship with it is one of slight dependency. Thus I am fully invested in exploring the research into its health effects.
Coffee is the most consumed beverage in the world, second only to water. It has been known to man for thousands of years, with the roasting process beginning in the 13th century. It has become an increasingly popular beverage unlike any other – one that not only tastes good but offers a pick-me-up.
Many coffee drinkers will attest to its stimulant properties and effectiveness in increasing concentration and alertness. In fact, research supports this with evidence that drinking coffee improves driving ability. On the other hand, drinking coffee while driving is a distraction, so enjoy it before you get in the car.
Additional research shows coffee intake is associated with a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, heart arrhythmia, high blood pressure, heart disease and depression. A daily intake of two to three cups of coffee appears to be safe as well as potentially beneficial for these health outcomes.
Coffee may also be protective against cancer. A 2015 study found coffee intake of four or more cups daily inversely associated with skin cancer after 10 years. Coffee has also been associated with lower risk of colon and liver cancers.
For exercisers, coffee has been of interest as a performance enhancer. Some research shows drinking a cup of coffee 30 minutes before exercise increases endurance and performance. The downside is the stimulant and dehydrating effects in those who do not regularly consume coffee, so test it during training.
Earlier this month, researchers announced findings that coffee appears to decrease liver damage caused by alcohol, obesity, diabetes and other diseases. After analyzing nine large studies, they found risk for liver damage decreased with one cup of coffee daily and continued to decrease with each additional cup up to four cups daily.
Lastly, a large study by the National Institutes of Health found coffee drinkers between the ages of 50 and 71 had a lower risk of death over a 12-year period, with risk decreasing as coffee consumption increased. Compared to non-coffee drinkers, those who drank three or more cups had a 10 percent lower risk of death from heart disease, respiratory disease, stroke, diabetes and infections.
What does all this research mean to you? First, most data on coffee’s health effects are observational, meaning there is an association but not a proven causation. Second, it is unclear in many studies which characteristics of coffee are most beneficial. Coffee is complex, containing hundreds of biologically active compounds, and the type of coffee bean, roasting process and brewing method may all affect the chemical makeup of the beverage.
While we know coffee contains antioxidants, potassium, magnesium, vitamin E and niacin, non-coffee drinkers can certainly get these nutrients from other foods. Finally, the possible benefits of routine coffee consumption have to be weighed against potential risks including stomach upset, reflux, insomnia, tremors and increased heart rate.
As published in the Fort Collins Coloradoan
Melissa Wdowik, PhD, RDN, LDN, FAND
is a nutrition educator with over 20 years experience as a college professor, nutrition coach, presenter and writer, as well as a nutrition consultant and founding director of the Kendall Reagan Nutrition Center.