Seeds seem to be all the rage right now and it might leave you wondering what the hype is all about. I mean, what’s the big deal with seeds anyway? Should you be eating them? Are they really that healthy? Or should you leave them for the birds? I’ve put together a little guide to help you navigate the world of seeds to help you decide if you should start eating seeds and which ones to eat.
A guide to seeds – what’s the big deal?
Let’s go back to biology class for a second. Seeds are basically the embryo of a new plant with stored energy (food) around it. Within these tiny little seeds is loads of energy-packed nutrition. They aren’t low calorie necessarily, but they’re healthy, nutrition dense calories that are worth adding to your diet.
They contain oils (healthy fats), protein and vitamins. Many seeds give you a big boost because they are high in dietary fiber, Vitamin E, selenium, iron, zinc, omega-3 fatty acids and other nutrients. Because they are high in oil, they can go rancid quickly. So if you plan on buying the seeds in bulk, store them in the fridge or freezer to keep them fresh. Let’s break them down seed by seed.
Let’s start with one of my favorites, chia seeds, pictured on the left. I eat chia seeds in some capacity every single day, mostly by adding them to my daily smoothie. They are pretty amazing little seeds! They are grown primarily in Mexico where they have been a food staple for thousands of years.
Chia seeds are a superfood containing omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, protein, carbs, calcium, antioxidants and iron. One tablespoon of chia seeds is about 7o calories, which is 4.5 grams of (healthy) fat, 6 grams of carbs, 2 grams of protein, and also provides 20% of your daily value of dietary fiber. That’s a lot of nutrition packed into those tiny little seeds!
The tiny white and black seeds can absorb up to 12X their weight in liquid. They make tasty gels and puddings, and can be added to drinks, or sprinkled on top of cereal, salads, yogurt, breads and muffins, smoothies, and other dishes. They can also be ground and mixed with water as an egg replacement.
To try: Chocolate Chia Smoothie
Hemp, pictured on the right, are another favorite of mine. Hemp hearts are the shelled hemp seeds from the Cannabis sativa L plant. Hemps seeds do not contain THC, and will not get you high.
Hemp seeds are awesome because they contain 20 amino acids, including all nine essential amino acids that our bodies cannot produce themselves. They are also a great source of healthy polyunsaturated essential fatty acid, GLA (gamma-linolenic acid), vegetarian protein (33% by weight), dietary fiber and vitamin E. They are also easier to digest than other seeds.
They have a nice nutty flavor. And I find they add a little creaminess to smoothies when they are blended up. Otherwise, I sprinkle them on salads or oatmeal. They’re tasty little seeds! You can find them in bulk or in bags at health food stores and some grocery stores.
To try: Acai Bowl with Kale and Berries from Cafe Johnsonia
Flaxseed is one of the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids and lignans. In order for our bodies to reap their healthy benefits, they must be ground before consuming. Adding a daily recommend spoonful of ground flaxseed will give you plenty of dietary fiber, as well as those healthy omega-3s. They are high in phytic acid and have caused adverse reactions in some people. But generally they are still recommended for their heart health and cancer prevention benefits.
Add a spoonful to a smoothie, or use ground flax to replace fat, eggs or part of the flour called for in a recipe. Light and dark flaxseeds have the same health benefits, so one is not healthier than the other. Because of their high oil content, flaxseed whole or ground should be stored in the fridge or freezer.
Sesame seeds have been a food staple for thousands of years, particularly in Asia and the Middle East. Sesame is a great source of minerals including copper, manganese, magnesium, calcium, phosphorus, iron, zinc, molybdenum and selenium. They are also a good source of Vitamin B1 and dietary fiber. Sesame contains lignans, which help lower cholesterol and prevent high blood pressure.
Sesame is more resistant to rancidity and can be kept in a cool, dark place. Use them to sprinkle on top of salads, in granola or energy bars, cereals, to top baked goods, add to dressings or vinaigrettes, and sprinkle on vegetables, chicken and meat.
The seeds of the bright yellow sunflowers are one of nature’s greatest sources of vitamin E. They are also high in B vitamins, copper, selenium, magnesium and phosphorus. They phytosterols in sunflower seeds may help prevent cardiovascular disease by lowering cholesterol.
Eat them plain, raw or roasted, added to salads, cereals and snack mixes, or sprinkled on top of main and side dishes.
Pepitas (Pumpkin Seeds)
Pepitas, or pumpkin seeds, are high in several forms of vitamin E and other antioxidants. They are the same seeds you scoop out of your Halloween pumpkin and are available shelled (pictured above) or still in their white outer seed coating. Pepitas are a very good source of the phosphorus, magnesium, manganese, copper, zinc and iron. They can be consumed in or out of their shell.
Popular in Mexico and South America, China is now one of the biggest producers of pumpkin and pumpkin seeds. They are excellent toasted, added to cookies and other baked goods, used in pesto, in granola bars, sprinkled on top of curries and soups or eaten by the handful.
To try: Blueberry Cucumber Basil Salad by Cafe Johnsonia
What’s your favorite way to eat seeds? Do you have a favorite?3