Chia seeds: Chia seeds are tiny black seeds from the plant Salvia hispanica that grows natively in South America and has gained popularity as a health food in the last few years. Chia seeds have a very low content of digestible carbohydrates and contain 40 per cent 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 health benefits. Chia seeds have a very mild nutty flavour and are very easy to incorporate into the diet.
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.
Pumpkin seeds: Normally discarded while cleaning a pumpkin, these seeds are packed with nutrients. Pumpkin seeds are a good source of protein, essential fatty acids, potassium, phosphorous, magnesium, manganese, zinc, iron, and copper and eating only a small amount of them can provide a substantial amount these nutrients. They also contain antioxidants that help protect against disease and inflammation.
Pumpkin seeds have been associated with several health benefits. They have been shown to promote heart health by reducing blood pressure and increasing the levels of HDL cholesterol. Pumpkin seeds have a high content of zinc which may help improve sperm quality and fertility in men. Diets rich in pumpkin seeds have been shown to be associated with lower levels of stomach, breast, lung, prostate and colon cancers.
Pumpkin seeds are a rich source of the amino acid tryptophan which gets converted in the body into serotonin, the relaxing hormone and melatonin, the sleep hormone. Having a few pumpkin seeds before bed, with a small amount of carbohydrates such as a piece of fruit, may provide one’s body with the tryptophan needed for melatonin production which helps one get good sleep.
Sunflower seeds: Delicious, nutty and crunchy, sunflower seeds are widely considered as a health food. They are high in energy, protein, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
The seeds are especially rich in the PUFA linoleic acid and also contain good amounts of the MUFA oleic acid that helps lower LDL cholesterol and increases HDL cholesterol in the blood. Like other seeds and nuts, sunflower seeds are also an excellent source of protein, vitamin E, B-complex vitamins, calcium, magnesium iron, zinc, manganese, selenium and copper. They also contain antioxidant polyphenol compounds such as chlorogenic acid, quinic acid and caffeic acids. Eating sunflower seeds may help lower cholesterol levels, provide anti-inflammatory and cardiovascular benefits and prevent cancer.
Sunflower seeds can be roasted and salted and enjoyed as a healthy snack. They can also be used to garnish salads, vegetable dishes or can be sprinkled over porridge or breakfast cereals.
Sesame seeds (Til): With their pleasant nutty taste and small size, sesame seeds are widely used in Indian cuisine in the preparation of a variety of dishes. Sesame seeds are rich in the MUFA oleic acid, protein, B-complex vitamins, vitamin E, calcium, magnesium, iron, manganese, zinc selenium and copper. Sesame seeds are rich in lignans and phenolic compounds sesamol and sesamin which have antioxidant properties and help lower blood pressure.
Sesame seeds are versatile and can be used in a number of culinary preparations. Toasted seeds can be sprinkled over sandwiches, biscuits, bread, cakes, salads and stir fries. They can be combined with jaggery or sugar syrup and other nuts and made into chikki or ladoos. They are the main ingredient in the preparation of tahini or sesame seeds butter. When combined with spices, they make a delicious dry chutney powder which is eaten as a delicious accompaniment to a meal. Sesame seed oil is traditionally used in Indian cuisine and also in ayurvedic medicines.
Melon seeds (Magaz): The dried seeds of musk melon also known as magaz are a prized ingredient in Indian cookery and are used as a substitute for almonds and pistachios in sweets. Magaz is protein and fat rich and contains calcium, magnesium, zinc, vitamin E and folic acid. Magaz offers many health benefits. The seeds boost the immune and cardiovascular systems, help regulate levels of blood fats and promote wound healing and bone health.
(The writer is a consultant nutritionist with 18 years of experience, practising at Panaji and can be contacted on email@example.com)