Are seeds good or bad? Aren’t they full of phytates? What about the omega-6 fatty acids they contain?
In this article, I want to help you get over your seed-phobia. I’m talking here about the seeds that are harvested from flowers or fruits, such as sunflower, sesame, and pumpkin seeds, rather than grains which are the seeds of various grasses.
My anti-seed story
A few years ago, I made a very brief visit into the Paleo world. While I was there, I heard a disturbing fact: seeds are high in the omega-6 fatty acids, and therefore should be avoided at all costs. I was disturbed because I had been eating seeds, mainly sunflower and pumpkin, for years because they are and inexpensive food compared to the nutrition and calories they provide.
But heaven forbid I whack out the omega-3 to omega-6 ratio in my body, so I obediently cut seeds out of my diet. Even when I ditched the Paleo diet, the words of warning against seed consumption continued to nag at the back of my mind, and so I continued eating other foods, such as nuts and raw milk, instead.
Long story short, after doing this for a couple of years I discovered that my iron-deficiency anemia (which, by the way, I was diagnosed with after I’d been on a Paleo diet for several months) had become even worse. Throwing caution to the wind, I added seeds back into my diet, and what do you know? My iron levels went back up.
There’s always another side
But I’m getting a little ahead of myself. First, let me elaborate on the popular idea that seeds are unhealthy. It’s not only the meat-eating Paleos that spread it, but also some parts of the vegan community as well, particularly the high-carb, low-fat part. For them, the emphasis is less on the omega-6 content and more on the fact that seeds are a fatty food, period, and are thus to be consumed in very small amounts, if at all.
What nobody is saying, however, is that when you soak seeds for at least twelve hours – eighteen is even better – the fat content is reduced by somewhere between 20% and 30%. In other words, a fourth cup of sunflower seeds, when soaked for 24 hours, no longer contains 17 grams of protein per serving, but up to a third less than that, something between 11 and 12 grams per serving. Of course, the calories come down a corresponding amount, as well.
Not only that, but after prolonged soaking of seeds much of the omega-6 fatty acid converts to omega-3 fatty acid. This all happens because when you soak a seed that long, it begins the germination process, and when a seed begins to germinate the fats break down into healthier substances and the proteins begin to break down into more digestible forms.
And you know that big bru-ha-ha over phytates, the anti-oxidant chemicals that bind minerals to themselves during the digestive process which prevents the minerals from being absorbed through the small intestine? They are neutralized after a good twelve-hour soak. Thus, the minerals in the seeds can be easily absorbed into your blood.
Benefits of eating seeds
With the understanding that sunflower, sesame, and pumpkin seeds are perfectly safe to eat when they have been soaked for at least twelve hours, and that a truly healthy diet is going to have no more than about 20% of its calories coming from any kind of fat, let’s look at five reasons to include these seeds in your diet.
Soaked seeds are much healthier than whole grains for those of us who are sensitive to whole grains. They do not contain the digestive tract irritants found in the germ and bran of whole grains, and so don’t cause bloating and gas.
Seeds, even in their unsprouted form, are highly nutritious. Think about it: they contain everything needed to grow a large plant. A fourth cup of unsprouted raw sunflower seeds contains about 55% of the daily value of thiamin, 14% of B6, over 90% of vitamin E, over 20% of folate, almost 14% of iron for women and 30% for men, 32% of magnesium, 36% of manganese, and over 30% of zinc.
Pumpkin seeds have twice as much iron, and more of both magnesium and manganese. It also contains 22% of vitamin K, a vitamin most often associated with greens. Sesame seeds have a similar nutritional profile as the other two seeds, but with much more calcium – a whopping 35% for a fourth cup. That’s more calcium than what you get in a cup of milk!
Now, keep in mind these numbers are for seeds that are in their raw, unsprouted form. It’s common knowledge that the process of soaking seeds increases the quantity of many of the vitamins, especially the B vitamins.
Eating seeds for your daily mineral supply is much cheaper, not to mention much easier, than eating enough greens to get your minerals. This is especially good news for raw food vegans, who generally do not consume grains. Strict low-fat raw food vegans rely solely on greens to obtain their minerals.
That sounds like the natural and healthy way to go, but did you realize that this translates to ten to fifteen cups of raw dark, leafy greens every single day? Unless you have a huge garden, indoors and out, this kind of diet is beyond the average family’s budget. Not to mention the amount of time it takes to properly chew that amount of greens.
A fourth cup of sprouted sunflower seeds or pumpkin seeds is easily incorporated either into a salad or a smoothie, and soaked sesame seeds are good blended with bananas and/or mangos. They will only cost you something between fifteen and thirty cents per fourth cup of dry seeds, and take no extra time and energy to consume.
Seeds boast a healthy amino acid profile. Pumpkin seeds are especially high in amino acids. A mix of any of these three seeds every day, and you will get plenty of protein.
Seeds are easy to store. Greens need to be either refrigerated or frozen. Until you decide to soak and sprout them, seeds can be kept at room temperature in an airtight container. Even after you soak and sprout them, if you own a dehydrator you can always dehydrate them so that you can again store them at room temperature. I don’t recommend you do this for all the seeds you eat, however, because some nutrition will be lost during the dehydration process.
So, what’s your verdict? Are seeds good or bad?
In my opinion, it’s time to stop being afraid of seeds because of their overall fat content, and specifically their omega-6 fatty acid content. Soak them for over twelve hours, and as long as you keep your daily total fat intake to below 20% of the calories you consume, they will serve as a healthy, nutritious, and economical part of your vegan diet.
Be sure to subscribe to this blog via the form at the top of the right sidebar so you don’t miss any posts on vegan nutrition, or how to live a more self-sufficient life as a vegan!