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  • Writer's pictureSandra Witt

“Seeded” Debates

We all know the heated discussions that occur regarding feeding seed to parrots. Bird groups on social media are everywhere. They were all were started with the objective of helping bird owners provide better for our ‘fine, feathered friends.’ But a disturbing (at least for me) phenomenon has occurred … people don’t check the facts behind the statements made in these groups anymore. What started out as a warning about ALL SEED diets has become a standard (and emphatically stated) response that NO seed is safe.

It is absolutely true that all diets should be balanced, but balance is a condition where different elements are provided in the correct proportion. Seeds have a place in your bird’s diet and some seeds are more nutritious than you think. Do some research on seed nutrition and consider adding it into your chop recipe. Just a sprinkle on top of your daily servings of vegetables and fruits will be a great addition to your bird's diet.

Nuts are nutrient-dense; they provide complex carbohydrates, protein, vitamins, minerals, fiber, phytochemicals, and bioactive compounds that help fight illness. Different types of nuts offer different nutritional benefit so serving a variety is important. For example, Brazil nuts are the highest food source of an essential mineral, selenium; cashews have more iron than other nuts; pine nuts are high in manganese; pistachios are the best nut source of lutein.

The addition of nuts to a parrot's diet is common place, but seeds are regularly dismissed on the basis that they are considered unhealthy. They don’t get the nutritional credit they deserve. Like nuts, seeds have a low glycemic index and excellent nutrient profiles. Glycemic index is a number associated with the carbohydrates in a particular type of food, it indicates the effect of those carbohydrates on a person's blood sugar (glucose) level. Low Glycemic Index is 55 or lower; medium is 56-69; high is 70 and higher.

Seeds (and nuts) do have a high percentage of total fats (this is why birds love them so much and will eat them first) but fat is not all bad. You have to look at the ‘type’ of fat. Trans fats (found in processed foods) and saturated fats (found in meats and full-fat dairy products) are the big offenders. Nuts and seeds provide varying amounts of mostly unsaturated fats (up to 80%), which are important in achieving favorable levels of fatty acids in the diet. They contain healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats along with many important vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. When consumed as part of a healthy diet, seeds can help reduce blood sugar, cholesterol and blood pressure, and they are a great source of fiber.

Raw is the best option. When buying raw nuts and seeds make sure you go to a reliable source. Cheap is not better here. You want properly handled seeds and nuts to minimize bacterial contamination and rancidity.

You can keep unshelled, raw nuts six months to a year in a cool, dry place. Shelled nuts can be stored for up to four months in an airtight container, up to six months in the refrigerator, or a year in the freezer. I store both seeds and nuts in the freezer and have small containers in the fridge for every day portioning.

Here are some of the seeds that I like to use in my seed mix. I buy organic and mix my own.

Chia seeds are very similar to flaxseeds, also a good source of fiber, omega-3, and antioxidant polyphenols. Studies have shown that eating chia seeds can increase alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) which is an important omega-3 fatty acid that can help reduce inflammation. Chia seeds are reportedly effective for reducing blood sugar immediately after a meal.

Fennel seeds contain antioxidants like kaempferol and quercetin which help in protection from degenerative neurological diseases, infections, and cancer. They are a rich source of many essential vitamins, fennel seeds may help in controlling cholesterol levels in the body.

Flaxseeds, also known as linseeds, are a great source of fiber and omega-3 fats, particularly ALA. They have lignans, an anti-carcinogen, and boron, a mineral important for bone health. For humans it’s best to eat them ground up to make nutrients readily available and the the omega-3 fats are contained within the fibrous outer shell of the seed, which humans can't digest easily. Along with reducing the risk of heart disease and cancer, flaxseeds may also help reduce blood sugar, which may help lower the risk of diabetes.

Hemp seeds are one of the few complete protein sources. This means they contain ALL the essential amino acids that your body can't make. Studies have also shown that the protein quality of hemp seeds is better than most other plant protein sources. Hemp seeds contain gamma-linolenic acid, an anti-inflammatory fatty acid and may help reduce symptoms of chronic inflammatory conditions.

Poppy seed is an excellent source of calcium, a good source of iron, contains 5 grams of protein and nearly 6 grams of dietary fiber per ounce.

Pumpkin seeds are a good source of phosphorus, monounsaturated fats, omega-6 fats, and phytosterols, which are plant compounds that may help lower cholesterol in the blood. These seeds have been reported to have a number of health benefits with one study concluding they may lower the amount of calcium in urine which lowers the risk of bladder stones.

Sesame seeds have a very wide nutrient profile. They are the best known dietary source of lignans, especially one called sesamin. Some interesting studies have shown that sesamin may get converted by gut bacteria into another type of lignan called enterolactone. Sesame seeds may also help reduce inflammation and oxidative stress, which can worsen symptoms of many disorders, including arthritis.

Sunflower seeds probably have the biggest ‘black eye’ of all seeds. This is because the practice of filling a bowl with these seeds and feeding nothing else had major negative impacts on bird health. The truth is that sunflower seeds contain a good amount of protein, monounsaturated fats and vitamin E. Studies have shown that almond and sunflower seeds reduced total cholesterol and LDL(bad) cholesterol. Sunflower seed reduced triglycerides in the blood more than the almond diet, but it also reduced HDL (good) cholesterol.

You can probably see by now how it came to be that people thought seed was the right thing to feed. It is a good ADD to the diet but should never, never be the main portion of a diet. Feed in moderation with a sprinkle on top of the daily chop.

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