Seeds are small parts of plants that contain the starting materials necessary to develop into complex plants, many of which are edible by humans. Seeds such as flaxseeds, sesame seeds, niger seeds, chia seeds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, musk melon seeds etc, are not botanically true nuts but have a nutritional composition similar to that of tree nuts.
Seeds are low in carbohydrates and rich in protein and unsaturated fatty acids. Due to their high fat content seeds are high calorie foods. They are also rich sources of B-complex vitamins, vitamin E, calcium, phosphorus, zinc, copper, magnesium, selenium, iron, potassium and contain antioxidant compounds and plant sterols. When consumed as a part of a healthy diet, seeds have many beneficial effects on health.
These are the nutritive values of some commonly consumed seeds.
Flaxseeds: Also known as alsior sonbiya, flaxseeds are a rich source of alpha linolenic acid particularly for vegetarians. They are a rich source of soluble fibre in the form of mucilage gums, protein, vitamins B-1, B-2 and B-6, phosphorus, magnesium, copper and manganese and contain insoluble fibre. They contain the phytochemical lignan which has been shown to have anticancer properties.
Being rich in both omega-3 fatty acids and soluble fibre, flaxseeds help lower levels of total and LDL cholesterol which in turn helps reduce the risk of heart disease. When mixed with water, the mucilage gums in flaxseeds become very thick. This combined with the insoluble fibre content makes flaxseeds a natural laxative thereby preventing constipation.
Flaxseeds are larger than sesame seeds and consist of a smooth and shiny hard shell. They have a mild nutty flavour. Ground flaxseeds are easier to digest than whole seeds as whole seeds pass undigested through the digestive system without providing any health benefits. Due to their high fat content, flaxseeds and flaxseeds powder turn rancid very fast. Hence it is best to store them in the refrigerator.
Flaxseeds can be added to or sprinkled on almost any food. To add them to your diet use them in roasted and powdered form in pancakes, French toast, baked goods, smoothies, yogurt, breakfast cereals, soups and salads. They can also be eaten as a delicious dry chutney powder instead of pickles along with meals.
Chia seeds: Chia seeds are tiny black seeds from the Salvia Hispanica plant that grows in South America. Chia seeds have a very low content of digestible carbohydrates and contain 40 per cent fibre, by weight mostly soluble fibre, and protein, omega 3 fatty acids, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, zinc, potassium, vitamins B1, B2 and B3. They are also high in antioxidants that have various benefits on health. Chia seeds have a very mild nutty flavour and are very easy to incorporate into the diet.
Studies have shown that chia seeds have various health benefits, ranging from weight loss to reduced inflammation, but more research is needed.
Unlike flaxseeds which need to be ground for better health benefits, chia seeds can be consumed whole. They can be eaten raw or cooked and can be sprinkled over breakfast cereals, curd, milkshakes, smoothies or they can be added to baked products like breads and muffins. They can also be added to vegetable dishes or salads. Due to their ability to absorb liquid and form a gel, they can also be used to thicken sauces or as a replacement for eggs especially in vegan recipes.
One thing to remember is that though chia seeds and sabja seeds (falooda seeds) look the same, both differ from each other. Chia seeds are oval in shape and reddish brown in colour, while sabja seeds are black in colour and are shaped like tear drops. On soaking in water chia seeds take time to absorb water while sabja seeds swell up in seconds after being mixed in water.
To be continued. . .
(The writer is a consultant nutritionist with 19 years of experience, practising at Panaji and can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org)