Seeds 101: Nutritional Benefits and Food Sources
Seeds pack a powerful nutritional punch. They’re a great source of ALA (the version of heart-healthy, unsaturated Omega-3 fats that are found in plant foods), contain fiber that helps with digestion and stabilizing blood sugar levels, and even provide a boost of protein. Seeds are a portable snack and can help you feel satiated throughout the day. They can also be an excellent way to incorporate more plant foods into your daily meals and snacks. These different seed varieties can be found in most grocery and health food stores in aisles with other nuts or baking add-ins. Keep reading for the 411 on nature’s superfood: what different types of seeds exist, what makes them so special from a nutrition perspective, and how to incorporate them into your foods!
Flax seeds: These can be sold in whole or ground forms. However, our bodies cannot digest whole flax seeds, so it would pass right through us without absorbing any of its nutritious benefits. Choosing ground flax seeds (or grinding them yourself) ensures your body will receive that boost of Omega-3 fats, protein and fiber. Research shows that the nutrients in flax seeds can help reduce levels of LDL cholesterol and inflammation within the body when consumed as part of a balanced diet.
Chia seeds: Chia seeds look like tiny black dots, and don’t have any distinct taste on their own. They are a nutrition powerhouse, providing protein, Omega-3 fats, and vitamins and minerals in just one serving. One tablespoon even has 4 grams of fiber!
Hemp seeds: Hemp seeds come from the hemp plant and despite common misconceptions, eating these nutty-tasting seeds will not cause a psychoactive effect. Instead, hemp seeds will provide you with heart healthy fats, numerous vitamins and minerals, and count as a complete protein. This means they contain all the essential amino acids that our body cannot make, and therefore must get from food. One tablespoon of hemp seeds provides 10 grams of protein!
Pumpkin seeds: Next Halloween, consider saving the seeds you scooped out of the pumpkin and roasting them to reap their nutritional benefits. They are an excellent source of vitamin K, unsaturated fats, various minerals, and iron, which is important for helping deliver oxygen to our cells. Individuals who do not consume animal products, which are rich in easily absorbable iron, should pay attention to plant-based sources of iron to make sure they receive enough of this nutrient.
Sunflower seeds: The dark centers of sunflowers hold seed-containing kernels that are a great source of vitamin E. This nutrient helps prevent damage within our cells and plays a role in maintaining healthy skin. Sunflower seeds are also rich in B vitamins and several minerals, allowing your metabolism, bone health, and muscle contraction to go smoothly.
Try these easy ways to add seeds to your meals and snacks:
- Blend flax seeds into a smoothie or soup
- Create your own trail mix with sunflower or pumpkin seeds, dried fruit, and chocolate chips
- Sprinkle on top of a colorful veggie salad
- Mix into a bowl of yogurt or oatmeal
- Add into a baking recipe, like muffins or banana bread
- Make homemade jam by stirring together chia seeds, berries of your choice, and a small amount of water. As it sits in the fridge, the chia seeds will absorb the water and thicken the jam!
By Inna Kagan, Registered Dietitian