They may be small, but seeds are huge on social media right now. Seeds like pumpkin and sunflower are being touted as the newest natural way for women to help regulate their hormones. Is there any truth to it?
The concept is called seed cycling, and it involves eating different kinds of seeds at different times of the month in the hopes of boosting fertility, easing symptoms of PMS, and keeping the body healthy during menopause.
How it works: You eat one tablespoon each of flaxseed and pumpkin seeds daily during the first two weeks of your menstrual cycle, then switch to sunflower and sesame during the second two (menopausal women are supposed to use the moon phases as a guide). The idea is that the seeds contain natural plant compounds that can either work as a weak estrogen in the body (helpful for menopausal women who have low levels) or usher some estrogen out and boost progesterone (which could help those who suffer from things like heavy periods).
If it sounds like an easy fix, consider that there is very little research showing that seed cycling actually works. There’s been some research on the individual seeds, like this study showing flaxseed could influence the menstrual cycle. Researchers have also looked at flaxseed for easing symptoms of menopause like hot flashes. And one study found that sesame seed powder might positively impact hormone levels (and help lower cholesterol) in menopausal women. But that doesn't mean that seed cycling will cure things like infertility or irregular periods.
As for the “easy” part, maybe not so much. To do it right, you have to buy whole, raw seeds and grind them fresh yourself, keep track of which seeds you’re eating when, then find ways to incorporate them every day. That daily seed routine can get pricey too.
The upside to seed cycling: It’s probably harmless – and seeds are small-but-mighty when it comes to nutrients. Here are some of their perks and how to work them in:
Sunflower Seeds: They’re rich in phytosterols, which are plant chemicals that naturally block some cholesterol from being absorbed by the body. One-quarter cup also has seven grams of protein (that’s about the same amount as an ounce of beef).
How to eat them: Sprinkle on salads, stir into muffin batter, enjoy as sunflower seed butter spread on apple slices or toast.
Flaxseed: They contain ALA, an omega-3 fat ALA – it’s not the same kind found in fish, but still heart-healthy. Buy it ground (or grind it yourself) to get the health benefits.
How to eat them: Replace ¼ of flour in baking recipes with flaxseed meal, blend a tablespoon into smoothies, or swap a regular egg in recipes for a “flax egg” (1 tablespoon flaxseed + 3 tablespoons water).
Sesame seeds: These contain protein, fiber, healthy unsaturated fats, plus cholesterol-blocking phytosterols.
How to eat them: Toss the seeds onto stir-fries, sprinkle over steamed veggies like broccoli or snap peas, or dip into some hummus (one of its primary ingredients, tahini, is made from ground sesame seeds).
Pumpkin seeds: Shelled pumpkin seeds are green and called pepitas. A quarter-cup has eight grams of protein (the same as a glass of milk) plus iron and potassium.
How to eat them: Stir into homemade granola, add to oatmeal, toss into a grain or veggie bowl.
Correction: The original version mistakenly indicated that the second two weeks of seed cycling called for pumpkin and sesame seeds; the seeds suggested for that period are sunflower and sesame.