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
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
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."
How do you like to snack on seeds? Share a comment or recipe below.