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There is nothing seedy about the health-enriching properties of five types of seed: flax, black seed, hemp, sesame and chia. Each of them has their own distinct time-tested benefits for wellness and fighting off diseases the natural and affordable way
Seeds, as the starting point for growing rich, thriving plants, are a source of complex nutrition. They deliver not just fiber but also a formidable list of good fats and nutrients of great health value and importance.
They are rich in minerals, vitamins and antioxidants that protect the plant DNA from oxidative stress and help perpetuate the species, as well as contain beneficial components in the endosperm to sustain the embryo's growth.[i]
Seeds played a major role in pre-agricultural diets due to their high energy content and nutrient density. But they remain a crucial part of nutrition today for their unique composition -- and distinct benefits for wellness. Here are five seeds that can be a rich addition to your everyday diet.
Flaxseed is a rich source of the plant-based omega-3 fat alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) as well as lignans and fiber, all assisting in enhanced health through their anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.[iii] Current evidence highlights the role of flaxseed in a range of cardiovascular conditions, breast cancer and other cancers, gastrointestinal problems and hormonal status in menopausal women.
In a systematic review, researchers associated flax with decreased breast cancer risk, where the seed helped stunt potential cancer spread and reduce mortality risk in those already afflicted with the disease.[iv]
Studies also concluded that flax can heal arteries, help manage weight and reduce it in obese and overweight subjects, protect against ovarian cancer and even help treat carpal tunnel syndrome.[v],[vi],[vii],[viii]
If you're wondering if you should eat flaxseeds ground or whole -- or if you can maximize the benefits by favoring flaxseed oil -- here is a comprehensive article on flaxseed that explains the best way to consume this wholesome seed, along with more of its benefits. There are also at least 150 abstracts found on our database related to this wonder food.
2. Nigella Sativa (Black Seed)
Nigella sativa (N. sativa), or black seed, has a long history of dietary and medicinal uses. It hails from the Ranunculacaeae family and is native in areas such as Southern Europe and North Africa, maintaining a rich historical and religious background.[ix]
N. sativa and its oil have been widely used for centuries in the treatment of various ailments. Among Muslims, it is deemed a great miracle for healing that can remedy many illnesses, thus earning a revered place in Tibb-e-Nabwi, or Prophetic Medicine. As a remedy, N. sativa's flexible benefits include:
- Type 2 diabetes -- Two grams of black seed a day led to decreased fasting glucose, reduced insulin resistance, increased beta-cell function and decreased glycosylated hemoglobin (HbA1c) in human subjects.[x]
- Epilepsy -- A 2007 study with epileptic children, whose condition was resistant to conventional drug therapy, found that a water extract of black cumin significantly slashed seizure activity. Black seed is traditionally known to have anti-convulsive action.[xi]
- High blood pressure -- Using 100 milligrams (mg) to 200 mg of black seed extract twice every day for two months led to a blood pressure-lowering effect in mildly hypertensive individuals.[xii]
- MRSA -- Black seed has strong antibacterial properties against clinical isolates of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).[xiii]
3. Hemp Seed
Hemp seeds are tiny seeds that offer a creamy, nutty taste and have versatile uses in the kitchen as a welcome addition to cereals and granola, salad dressings and desserts, to name a few. But they are also a rich source of easily digestible proteins, along with providing an ideal balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fats. Hemp seeds also provide essential amino acids, antioxidants and other nutrients aiding optimal health.
Hemp seeds have a vast array of health benefits, including nourishing hair, skin and nails to fight dryness and inflammatory conditions such as eczema; exhibiting anti-rheumatoid arthritis properties; and providing an abundance of fiber, brain-nourishing omega-3s and minerals such as iron, phosphorus, magnesium and zinc.[xiv],[xv]
Hemp seed can be added to your smoothies, sprinkled on your morning bowl of granola or added to breads or muffins as effective ways to incorporate it into your diet.
4. Sesame Seed
Sesame seeds are interesting in their variety of colors, from black to white to yellow or red. They come from the tropical plant Sesamum indicum, believed to have hailed from Africa, and are commercially cultivated today in countries like India, China and Mexico.
The magic phrase "open sesame" from "Arabian Nights" likely rings a bell for many, and it may be interesting to know that this is based on the seeds growing pods and bursting open once ripe. It's just as curious to know that sesame seeds are packed with nutritious components, from vitamin B1 to minerals such as calcium, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus and zinc.
As a therapeutic agent, sesame seed is widely recognized for its healthful effects against cardiovascular disease and diabetes. It was thought to exert a beneficial effect on endothelial function in hypertensive males,[xvi] as well as lead to a synergistic effect with an anti-diabetic medication in Type 2 diabetes patients.[xvii]
You can see more primary research on sesame seed benefits on the GreenMedInfo.com database.
5. Chia Seed
We're wrapping up this list with a superfood that's popular and has found its way to virtually everything from water and juices to salads and stir-fry to pancakes.
Chia, or Salvia hispanica L., originated in Mexico and Guatemala, serving as an integral part of the human diet for about 5,500 years now.[xviii] It was traditionally used by Aztecs and Mayans in preparing folk medicine as well as for food and canvases.
This seed is a reliable source of the polyunsaturated fatty acids omega-3 and omega-6 as well as soluble dietary fiber. It also has notable amounts of protein and phytochemicals.[xix] This nutritional profile is why chia is used in addressing a number of prevalent non-infectious diseases, including high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer.
A 2010 study probed the effects of chia on postprandial glycemia and prolonging satiety, and concluded that these favorable effects potentially explain improvements in blood pressure, coagulation and inflammatory markers previously observed after 12-week chia supplementation in Type 2 diabetic subjects.[xx] You can find more chia study abstracts here.
[i] Ros E et al "Consumption of Plant Seeds and Cardiovascular Health: Epidemiologic and Clinical Trial Evidence" Circulation. 2013 Jul 30; 128(5): 553-565.
[ii] Ros E et al "Consumption of Plant Seeds and Cardiovascular Health: Epidemiologic and Clinical Trial Evidence" Circulation. 2013 Jul 30; 128(5): 553-565.
[iii] Parikh M et al "Dietary Flaxseed as a Strategy for Improving Human Health" Nutrients. 2019 May; 11(5): 1171.
[v] Francis A et al "The Effects of Dietary Flaxseed on Atherosclerotic Plaque Regression" Am J Physiol Heart Circ Physiol. 2013 Apr 12. Epub 2013 Apr 12.
[vi] Mohammadi-Sartang M et al "The effect of flaxseed supplementation on body weight and body composition: a systematic review and meta-analysis of 45 randomized placebo-controlled trials" Obes Rev. 2017 Jun 21. Epub 2017 Jun 21.
[vii] Ansenberger K et al "Decreased severity of ovarian cancer and increased survival in hens fed a flaxseed-enriched diet for 1 year" Gynecol Oncol. 2010 Feb 12. Epub 2010 Feb 12.
[viii] Hashempur M et al "Effect of Linum usitatissimum L. (linseed) oil on mild and moderate carpal tunnel syndrome: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial" Daru. 2014;22:43. Epub 2014 May 21.
[ix] Aftab Ahmad et al "A review on therapeutic potential of Nigella sativa: A miracle herb" Asian Pac J Trop Biomed. 2013 May; 3(5): 337-352. doi: 10.1016/S2221-1691(13)60075-1.
[x] Bamosa A et al "Effect of Nigella sativa seeds on the glycemic control of patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus" Indian J Physiol Pharmacol. 2010 Oct-Dec;54(4):344-54.
[xi] Akhondian J et al "The effect of Nigella sativa L. (black cumin seed) on intractable pediatric seizures" Med Sci Monit. 2007 Dec;13(12):CR555-9.
[xii] Dehkordi F et al "Antihypertensive effect of Nigella sativa seed extract in patients with mild hypertension" Braz J Med Biol Res. 2006 Apr;39(4):421-9. Epub 2006 Apr 3.
[xiii] Hannan A et al "Anti bacterial activity of Nigella sativa against clinical isolates of methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus" J Ayub Med Coll Abbottabad. 2008 Jul-Sep;20(3):72-4.
[xiv] Callaway J et al "Efficacy of dietary hempseed oil in patients with atopic dermatitis" J Dermatolog Treat. 2005;16(2):87-94.
[xv] Jeong M et al "Hempseed Oil Induces Reactive Oxygen Species- And C/EBP Homologous Protein-Mediated Apoptosis in MH7A Human Rheumatoid Arthritis Fibroblast-Like Synovial Cells" J Ethnopharmacol. 2014 Jul 3;154(3):745-52.
[xvi] Karatzi K et al "Sesame oil consumption exerts a beneficial effect on endothelial function in hypertensive men" Eur J Prev Cardiol. 2012 Jan 25. Epub 2012 Jan 25.
[xvii] Sankar D et al "Sesame oil exhibits synergistic effect with anti-diabetic medication in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus" Clin Nutr. 2011 Jun ;30(3):351-8. Epub 2010 Dec 16.
[xviii] Ullah R et al "Nutritional and therapeutic perspectives of Chia (Salvia hispanica L.): a review" J Food Sci Technol. 2016 Apr; 53(4): 1750-1758.
[xix] Marcinek K et al "Chia seeds (Salvia hispanica): health promoting properties and therapeutic applications- a review" Rocz Panstw Zakl Hig. 2017;68(2):123-129.
[xx] Vuksan V et al "Reduction in postprandial glucose excursion and prolongation of satiety: possible explanation of the long-term effects of whole grain Salba (Salvia Hispanica L.)" Eur J Clin Nutr. 2010 Apr ;64(4):436-8. Epub 2010 Jan 20.