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Food 

The Whole-Body Health Benefits of Poppy Seeds

October 26, 2020 6 min read

A field of poppies

People have been growing poppies for their colorful flowers and analgesic properties for thousands of years. Beyond their vibrant appearance, though, science reveals an array of health benefits linked to this versatile seed. 

What are poppy seeds?

Poppy seeds are kidney-shaped oilseeds obtained from dried seed pods of the poppy plant. You can find them in bakery products and traditional dishes around the world. 

You may have heard that poppy seeds contain opium, but the opium in the plant actually comes from a sap-like substance encasing the seed pods. Small traces of the opioid can rub onto the poppy seeds during the handling process. This has led scientists todetect negligible amounts of opium alkaloids like morphine, codeine, and thebaine in the seeds.

While these trace amounts consumed in bagels or muffins won’t induce dangerous effects or dependencies, they cantrigger false positives on drug tests at work. If you’re tested frequently or know a test is in your future, you may want to avoid poppy-seeded pastries in the days leading up to it. 

Poppy seeds come in several varieties. The most common are:

  • White poppy seeds, also known as Indian/Asian Poppy
  • Oriental poppy seeds, also known as Opium Poppy
  • Blue poppy seeds, also known as European Poppy
Jar full of black poppy seeds

Now that you know the basics, let’s get into the wide-ranging health benefits of poppy seeds.

Wide-ranging health benefits of poppy seeds

Rich in nutrients and antioxidants

Poppy seeds are rich in fiber, plant fats, and other nutrients. One hundred grams of poppy seeds contain around 500 calories and provide you with thiamine, folate, and several essential minerals like calcium, iron, manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, and zinc. On a macronutrient level, poppy seedscontain 6% water, 28% carbohydrates, 42% fats, and 21% protein.

They have exceptionally high concentrations of manganese, a trace element involved in healthy bone formation, blood clotting, and immune response.Manganese is also involved in the metabolism of cholesterol, glucose, carbohydrates, and amino acids.

Poppy seeds are also rich in copper.Copper is involved in many physiologic processes like gene expression, homeostasis, brain development, immune health, and pigmentation. It also helps to build defenses in the body againstoxidative damage

Poppyseed oils contain high amounts of omega-6 and omega-9 fats, along with traces of the omega-3 alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). When replacing saturated fats in the diet, the consumption of polyunsaturated fats like ALA has shown to help enhance overall health and lower the risk ofcardiovascular diseases

Improves skin and hair health

The Romans nourished their skin by making a paste of poppy seeds and milk, which revealed a stunning glow. 

Since poppy seeds are rich in antioxidants and essential nutrients, they help reduce skin inflammation and scalp issues. Poppy seeds are also extremely effective intreating skin conditions that lead to itching due to their high concentration of linoleic acid. 

The benefits don’t stop there. The polyunsaturated fatty acids inpoppyseed oil are great for nourishing your scalp and promoting thick, healthy locks. Its oils contain nutrients like palmitic acid, palmitoleic acid, stearic acid, oleic acid, linoleic acid, and gadoleic acid.

The high levels of palmitic and linoleic acid found in poppyseed oil nourish brittle hair by infusing it with moisture, thereby preventing breakage. It coats the strands without quickly dissolving, creating a protective barrier that restores the hair’s hydrolipidic film. These fatty acids also helpmaintain a healthy scalp and minimize moisture loss in the hair, preventing dandruff.

Improves digestion

The outer coating of poppy seeds, called the husk, is rich in insoluble dietary fiber. Just 100 grams of these seeds provide up to 51% of the recommended daily intake. 

Thisinsoluble fiber helps to improve digestion, nutrient absorption, and gut health. Insoluble fiber speeds up digestive transit time by adding bulk to the feces. This puts pressure on the colon walls and stimulates a bowel movement, which can help alleviate occasional constipation.

Supports heart health

In addition to supporting digestion, the dietary fiber in poppy seeds can support healthy heart function by helping to reduce cholesterol levels. 

One study showed that replacing saturated fats with poppyseed oil in food significantly reduced its cholesterol and saturated fat content. It also balanced the ratio of polyunsaturated and saturated fats, which carries additional benefits like reduced blood pressure and chances of cardiovascular events.

Poppy seeds are also a great source ofantioxidants like polyphenols, which may help lower the risk of heart disease. This topic is undergoing further research as scientists work to understand the optimal quantities for humans to promote cardiovascular health.

Could help enhance fertility

Scientists postulate that poppyseed oil could help women with conception, particularly for those struggling to conceive naturally. This is possible with a medical treatment calledLipiodol, whichflushes a woman's fallopian tubes with a substance containing poppyseed oil.

How are poppy seeds used?

In the form of whole seeds

Poppy seeds are used as a spice and texture element in several baked goods. Baked items containing poppy seeds like muffins, bagels, and cakes are quite popular in North America. They can also be used in place of sesame seeds on burger buns or in candy. Greece is famous for its poppy bars, which are made by boiling poppy seeds with sugar or honey. 

White poppy seeds are preferred for use as a thickening agent, while people use black seeds for their flavor. Certain German breads and Polish dishes also feature blue poppy seeds. 

Poppy seed breads

In the form of a paste

Poppy seed paste is made by grinding poppy seeds into a paste. It’s commonly used to fill pastries, poppy seed rolls, and croissants. Due to its rich oil content, commercial poppy seed pastes may have emulsifiers and preservatives to keep the paste from separating. 

In the form of an oil

Pressing poppy seeds gives rise to poppyseed oil. As much as 45-50% of the poppy seed is oil, which is rich in vitamin E. In addition to cooking with it, you can also use the oil for moisturizing the skin. 

How to incorporate poppy seeds into your diet

Poppy seeds are enjoyed around the world. The cuisines below can help provide inspiration for incorporating this versatile seed into your diet.  

European Cuisine

In Europe, poppy seeds are commonly sprinkled on breads and pastries. They’re also commonly boiled with milk and used as a topping on various kinds of sweets. 

States in Eastern Europe have a long-standing tradition of making poppy seed pastries and dishes. In Poland and Lithuania, poppy seeds are ground and mixed with water or milk. This poppy seed milk is enjoyed with round yeast biscuits. 

Central Europe enjoys poppy seeds in the form of a poppy strudel, which is very popular around Christmastime. Germany makes poppy seed pastries calledMohnkuchen. This pastry is made by soaking poppy seeds in water or boiling them in milk before adding them to a cake filling.

Jewish cuisine

Poppy seed pastries are a long-standing tradition in Jewish cuisine. Before baking, the pastries are filled with black poppy seeds in a sugary paste. These poppy-filled pastries are a popular dessert prepared during the traditional Jewish holiday of Purim.

Indian cuisine

In Indian cooking, poppy seeds add texture and flavor. They’re often ground with coconut and other spices before being added into gravies. Some regions of India also cook poppy seeds with potatoes to make a creamy dish, which is enjoyed with rice. Potatoes can be replaced by any other ingredient such as onions, gourds, and so on.

Another popular recipe involves grilling or frying patties made from poppy seeds. Yet another combines uncooked, ground poppy seeds with mustard oil, green chilies, and onion. Finally, topping traditional Indian breads with poppy seeds is common in Kashmir. 

In addition to basil seeds, many people in India add poppy seeds to refreshing beverages like cold almond milk, milkshakes, and rose milk. 

A word of caution

While poppy seeds are generally safe to consume in food, consuming unprocessed seeds in large quantities—as in poppy seed tea, for example—canincrease your risk of addiction, overdose, and sometimes even death.

Poppyseed oil is safe for topical application. However, if you experience itchiness, dryness or rashes, discontinue use immediately and seek medical advice.

In summary

Poppy seeds are kidney-shaped oilseeds obtained from dried seed pods of the poppy plant. They’re rich in minerals like manganese, zinc, and magnesium, which comes with a host of health benefits. They’re also rich in antioxidants and nutrients that boost heart, skin, hair, and digestive health.

You can enjoy poppy seeds in the form of seeds, paste, or oil. To include more of these seeds in your diet, consider adding them to pastries, curries, and refreshing beverages. With so much nutrition packed into such a tiny seed, it’s hard to pass up.

Ramya Satheesh - Contributing Writer, Physician’s Choice