A seed is one of the miracles of nature--from one tiny seed you can get beautiful flowers, bountiful vegetable plants or hardy trees. And seeds are a nutritional wonder, too."It's amazing that something so small can have such a huge effect on your diet, but incorporating seeds into your meals can do just that," says Cali Kent, MS, RDN, supervisor of clinical dietetics at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital. "Depending on the type of seed you choose, you can boost your fiber and calcium intake, expand your definition of a protein source, consume vital nutrients such as potassium and iron, and help ensure heart health with omega-3 fatty acids. Plus, adding seeds to a variety of dishes gives them a satisfying crunchy texture."
Here are some ways to plant the seeds of good health in your diet:
This seed has been dubbed a superfood, and with good reason. Packed with protein and calcium, plus antioxidants, fiber and omega-3s, chia seeds are a valuable addition to any diet. "They are a good complementary texture in soft baked goods such as muffins and quick breads and can improve the nutritional profile of dishes such as pancakes and jams," Kent says. "But one of the best things about chia seeds is their capacity to absorb liquid, as seen in the rising popularity of chia seed puddings." Simply blend chias with a liquid, such as almond or coconut milk, and the flavorings of your choice, and let the seeds work their magic--you'll end up with a creamy, thick pudding. The internet is rife with recipes; try this one for starters.
"Flax seeds are great for your heart health, thanks to an abundance of the type of omega-3 called alpha-linolenic acid as well as the plant compounds called lignans that have the potential to lower the risk of cardiovascular disease," Kent says. Flax seeds are usually sold ground or as flaxseed oil; if you buy whole seeds, you'll want to mill them in a spice grinder because the body can't properly digest them for the full health benefits. Flax seeds are slightly nutty and can be added to baked goods and smoothies or sprinkled on yogurt or hot cereal. Vegans, or people who want to watch their egg consumption, use the seeds to make a flax egg for baking (it can work with chia seeds, too). Like most seeds high in fatty acids, flax seeds should be stored in the refrigerator.
Sesame seeds are a wonderful source of copper, which may be one of the more unheralded minerals when it comes to good health. "Copper helps the nervous and skeletal systems thrive, assists in controlling blood sugar levels and may ease the pain associated with arthritis," Kent says. "Sesame seeds also offer calcium, magnesium, vitamin E, iron and other nutrients." While sesame seeds are a common topping on bagels and hamburger buns, Kent says you should avoid those because of the refined carbs from white flour. Instead, use the sesame seeds (or sesame oil or paste, the latter of which is called tahini) in Asian dishes that feature lean protein, such as tofu, and vegetables.
Sunflower seeds are an ideal snack. "In a handful, you get calcium, protein, fiber, minerals such as phosphorus and potassium, folate and vitamin E," Kent says. "Sunflower seeds are also one of the best sources of the plant chemical phytosterol, which lowers blood cholesterol, and linoleic acid, a fatty acid that promotes heart health." In addition to eating them as a snack, sunflower seeds can be added to salads, trail mix and homemade bread, energy bars or crackers. "And don't forget sunflower-seed butter, which is a great peanut butter alternative, especially for kids with nut allergies or who go to school on a nut-free campus."
Zinc has been credited with healing stomach ulcers, clearing up acne, improving attention span, strengthening the immune system and easing depressive feelings, among other things. And you know what has a lot of zinc? Yes, pumpkin seeds. "They have about 20 percent of the recommended daily allowance of zinc in just a 1-ounce serving," Kent says. "They are also high in protein, vitamins and phytosterol." Pepitas can be added to salads, soups or granolas, but as any kid can tell you during Halloween, pumpkin seeds are great roasted and eaten on their own.
Surprise! Although many people think of quinoa as a grain, it's actually a seed. "The use of quinoa has become commonplace in recent years because of its well-known health benefits--it's high in fiber, antioxidants, minerals and all nine essential amino acids, which is important because the body can't manufacture them on its own so they have to be consumed via food sources," Kent says. "When it comes to taste and texture, quinoa mimics other whole grains, so it tends to be used that way, as in bowl meals, salads and casseroles. It can also serve as an alternative to wheat, such as an ingredient in pastas and cereals, because it is gluten free."
This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.