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Though they may be tiny, research has shown that seeds are mighty when it comes to their nutritional potential. Seeds, which are essentially the tiny embryos of plants, are rich in healthful substances, including protein, healthy fats, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals. There are many types of edible seeds around the world, but the most common include flax, pumpkin, sunflower, sesame, chia, and hemp. All of these seeds are worth including in your diet, but we highlight a few super seeds here.
One of the first recorded cultivated crops, the flax plant has been grown in the Mediterranean region for thousands of years, providing material for fabric, string, and linseed oil for wood preservation. However, flax’s dietary role is just as important, and recognition of its nutritional value continues to grow. Flaxseeds are rich in heart-healthy unsaturated fats and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a type of omega-3 fatty acid with anti-inflammatory properties. In addition, flaxseeds are very high in lignan—a plant compound that acts as a powerful antioxidant—and mucilage, a type of gel-forming fiber that may improve absorption of nutrients in the body. One ounce (about three tablespoons) of flaxseed contains 5 grams of protein, 8 grams of dietary fiber, and thiamin, magnesium, zinc, calcium, iron, copper, and manganese. In clinical studies, flaxseed consumption has been linked with lower LDL cholesterol and blood pressure levels, less plaque buildup in arteries, reduced risk of cancer, better blood glucose maintenance, and relief from constipation. Whole flaxseed isn’t broken down in your digestive tract, so use ground flax seed to reap the benefits inside those tiny but tough outer hulls. Sprinkle ground flaxseed over your morning porridge, fold it into lentil patties (it will help provide thickening without the need for eggs), top your yogurt with it, stir it into breads, and blend it into smoothies.
That tiny black seed of Chia Pet fame has become increasingly recognized for its health benefits. You can find chia in everything from breads and snack chips to desserts and nutrition bars. You may think that chia seeds are just the latest superfood trend in the U.S., but they were actually an important dietary staple of the Mayans, Aztecs, Incans, and Native Americans. The tiny chia seed comes packed with sizeable nutrition. Chia provides a healthy dose of protein (4 grams) in a one-ounce serving (about two tablespoons), as well as omega-3 fatty acids in the form of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). And, with 11 grams of fiber per serving, chia seeds provide more fiber than any other type of seed. Chia seeds also are rich in key minerals, including calcium, phosphorus, manganese, and iron. Chia seeds have a mild, nutty flavor that goes well with a variety of foods and beverages. Mix chia seeds with lemon or lime juice and water to make a beverage called chia fresca, and add seeds to granola, yogurt, smoothie bowls, vegetable salads, and grain dishes. When chia seeds are combined with water, they form a gel that can help bind ingredients together, so chia can be used as a replacement for eggs in many recipes, such as cookies, breads, muffins, pancakes, puddings, and cakes. A general rule of thumb is to mix one tablespoon of chia seeds with three tablespoons of water and substitute it for one egg in a recipe.
The awareness of hemp as a healthful food source has finally surpassed its association with marijuana. While both of these plants belong to the cannabis plant group, hemp plants have an extremely low tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content (the substance that gives marijuana its psychoactive properties), and hemp seeds do not cause a “buzz” or a “high” when ingested. Hemp seeds provide an impressive nutrient load: 10 grams of protein and 10 grams of heart-healthy omega-3 and omega-6 fats per ounce (about three tablespoons), along with 3 grams of fiber, and iron, thiamin, magnesium, zinc, manganese, and various phytochemicals.
Sprinkle hemp seeds into your morning bowl of oats or yogurt, stir them into casseroles or muffin batter, or use them as a topping for roasted vegetables or stir-fries. You also can use culinary hemp oil and hemp butter in recipes as a substitute for other nut and seed oils and butters.
Every gorgeous face of a sunflower reveals hundreds of nutritious seeds that deserve special recognition because of their nutrition cache. A one-ounce serving of sunflower seeds provides more than one-third of the daily recommended amount of vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant vitamin that many people fall short on. In addition, sunflower seeds are rich in copper, niacin, manganese, selenium, zinc, folate, and pantothenic acid. Sunflower seeds also provide heart-healthy fats, protein (5 grams per ounce), fiber (3 grams per ounce), and plant compounds, such as cholesterol-lowering phytosterols. Since their hard, thick shells provide protection, sunflower seeds can be tossed into backpacks, lunchboxes, and carry-on bags for an on-the-go, nutrient-rich snack. Mix these nutty seeds into granola, breads, and muffins, or sprinkle them over green salads, pasta, and grain dishes. Sunflower seed butter is delicious spread on whole-grain toast, and it also can be used as a substitute for butter in recipes for baked goods.
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