Seeds: small servings pack a nutritional punch!

Eating just 2 to 3 tablespoons of seeds provides protein, healthy polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fat, and a variety of vitamins and minerals. Each seed profiled here has a distinct flavor and texture that can be enjoyed when prepared in different ways -- whether it's raw or roasted, salted or unsalted, whole or ground.



Pictured from left to right: sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, flax seeds, chia seeds and hemp seeds.


If this were a game show and I was given about 10 seconds to tell you the nutritional benefits of each seed (or "nut" in the hemp seed's case -- it's actually a nut), I would say this:


Chia seeds are a good source of calcium; pumpkin and sunflower seeds are good sources of iron; flax seeds are a great source of omega-3 fat and hemp seeds are the whole package -- they include all 9 essential amino acids and its vitamin and mineral profile is out of this world. If there was any time left on the clock I would make sure to mention that they're all delicious. This dietitian approves! [Stephanie looks to the video camera with a big grin and gives two thumbs up]



Since I have a bit more than 10 seconds on this platform I'll take the liberty to go into more detail...


Seeds contain anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Studies have shown they can help reduce blood sugar, cholesterol and blood pressure.(1, 2) Lignans, a group of polyphenols which are micronutrients, are particularly high in flax seeds (and also sesame seeds). "Due to their various bioactive properties, dietary intake of lignan-rich foods may prevent certain types of cancers (e.g., breast cancer in post-menopausal women and colon cancer). Regarding chronic lifestyle-related diseases, some pieces of evidence indicate that lignan intake is associated with a lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease." (3)


I'm a fan to say the least. I like to have a variety of seeds in clear jars on my kitchen counter. That way it serves as a nice reminder to grab a small handful or sprinkle some into my yogurt or smoothie.





Flax Seeds:





Flax seeds are also known as linseed. You can find them at the grocery store in their whole or ground form. You'll most likely see the brown or tan colored seed (pictured above). Golden flax seeds (light yellow or golden in color) are also available. The seeds have a nutty, earthy taste and can be added to a variety of dishes. Add 2 tablespoons of ground flaxseed to smoothies, yogurt, oatmeal or add them to some of your favorite baked goods. Good Karma makes a great flax milk. It's fortified with calcium and vitamin D. Be sure to opt for their "protein" version if you're looking for a dairy free milk alternative that also offers protein.



A 1-ounce (28-gram) serving of flaxseeds contains a wide mix of nutrients:

  • Calories: 152

  • Fiber: 7.8 grams

  • Protein: 5.2 grams

  • Monounsaturated fat: 2.1 grams

  • Omega-3 fats: 6.5 grams

  • Omega-6 fats: 1.7 grams

  • Manganese: 35%

  • Thiamine (vitamin B1): 31%

  • Magnesium: 28%

*Percentages (%) listed on nutrition information is based on how much a nutrient in a serving of food contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice. Keep in mind that the % listed could be more or less based on your calorie needs.



It's important to note that the nutrients in seeds cannot be accessed or absorbed in the body unless the shell is broken. The body's digestive enzymes cannot break the shell so the seeds need to be chewed thoroughly or you can grind them at home. I like to grind my own flax seeds. To do this I clean out my coffee grinder and grind them that way. You could also use a small food processor. I find the capacity of a blender is too much unless you're grinding a large quantity -- otherwise they just dance around the empty space and aren't thoroughly broken up.




Pumpkin Seeds:



Nutstop.com tells me that Pepita is Spanish for pumpkin seed and its direct translation is little seed of squash. Microsoft translator, on the other hand, tells me that pepita translates to "seed nugget." I digress.


Despite the seasonal reputation of pumpkins, their seeds are available year-round. If you've ever carved a pumpkin you might recall that the seeds are white. The outer casing, or the hull, is what you see. Just inside the white husk is the green seed (pictured above).



A 1/4 cup (30 gram) serving of pumpkin seeds contains:

  • Calories: 170

  • Total Fat: 15 grams Saturated fat: 2.5 grams

  • Carbohydrate: 3 grams Fiber: 2 grams

  • Protein: 9 grams

  • Iron: 11%

*Percentages (%) listed on nutrition information is based on how much a nutrient in a serving of food contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice. Keep in mind that the % listed could be more or less based on your calorie needs.

Pumpkin seeds are a great snack whether roasted or unroasted, salted or unsalted (personal preference!). They're great in granola, cereals and baked goods.





Sunflower seeds:





Sunflower seeds are an excellent source of vitamin E and selenium which act as antioxidants in the body. Antioxidants play an important role in the body by donating electrons to free radicals in the body. An excess of free radicals can lead to oxidative stress and cell damage. (5, 6) In short, sunflower seeds in moderation are a great addition to your diet!


A 1/4 cup (33-gram) serving of sunflower seeds contains the following: (7)

  • Calories: 210

  • Fiber: 3 grams

  • Protein: 8 grams

  • Total fat: 17 grams Saturated Fat 2.5 grams Monounsaturated fat: 5 grams Polyunsaturated fat: 9 grams

  • Magnesium: 27%

  • Manganese: 40%

  • Phosphorus: 19%

  • Selenium: 46%

  • Vitamin E: 42%

  • Iron: 9%

*Percentages (%) listed on nutrition information is based on how much a nutrient in a serving of food contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice. Keep in mind that the % listed could be more or less based on your calorie needs.



Try sunflower seed nut butter if you're looking to change up your peanut butter or almond butter routine. It's delicious! And I can't pass up this opportunity to praise Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Sunflower Seed Butter Cups. They are magical. They're a nice treat to have available when that sweet tooth creeps in.





Chia Seeds






Ch-ch-ch-chia! Once upon a time the chia pet was the gift that grows. Please treat yourself to an 80's flashback here. If only I knew as a kid about the nutritional benefits of these tiny, unassuming little seeds. What a pleasant surprise to find that they're a good source of calcium and iron. They're also high in fiber and omega-3 fats. (8)


A 2 tablespoon (24 gram) serving of chia seeds contains:

  • Calories: 120

  • Total Fat: 8 grams Saturated Fat: 1 gram Polyunsaturated Fat: 6 grams Monounsaturated Fat: 0.5 grams

  • Total Carbohydrate: 8 grams Dietary Fiber: 8 grams

  • Protein: 4 grams

  • Potassium: 5%

  • Calcium: 15%

  • Iron: 10%

*Percentages (%) listed on nutrition information is based on how much a nutrient in a serving of food contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice. Keep in mind that the % listed could be more or less based on your calorie needs.


Chia seeds can be enjoyed in a number of ways: some people like to eat them raw. For example: sprinkle some chia seeds over your nut butter on toast with fresh banana slices. I like to let my chia seeds sit in yogurt for 5-10 minutes before eating it. This allows the chia seeds to soak up some moisture which softens them.


Chia seed pudding is a fun dish to try and easy to make.





Hemp seeds (the whole package):





Hemp seeds (or hemp hearts) are actually a nut. I would describe their texture as almost creamy like pine nuts.


A 3 tablespoon (30 gram) serving of hemp seeds contains:

  • Calories: 180

  • Total Fat: 15 grams Saturated Fat: 1.5 grams Polyunsaturated Fat: 12 grams Monounsaturated Fat: 2 grams

  • Total Carbohydrate: 2 grams Dietary Fiber: 1 gram

  • Protein: 10 grams

Vitamins and Minerals:

  • Iron: 20%

  • Potassium: 8%

  • Vitamin E: 6%

  • Thiamin: 25%

  • Riboflavin: 8%

  • Niacin: 20%

  • Vitamin B6: 10%

  • Folate: 10%

  • Phosphorus: 35%

  • Magnesium: 45%

  • Zinc: 25%

  • Copper: 45%

  • Manganese: 100%


*Percentages (%) listed on nutrition information is based on how much a nutrient in a serving of food contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice. Keep in mind that the % listed could be more or less based on your calorie needs.

I love the texture and taste of hemp seeds so I don't mix them into smoothies or baked goods. I like to enjoy them in yogurt along with raw pumpkin seeds. Everyone's preferences are different so I encourage you to enjoy, test, experiment, and go out on a limb with these seeds.



Closing thoughts:


I was recently talking to some clients about how easy it is to get distracted by fad diets and those eye-catching "before and after" photos in marketing ads for weight loss products. One of my responses was that "good health is boring." And by that I mean that sound nutrition isn't difficult. We have so many incredible whole foods that aren't flashy or always eye-catching. They're in the produce section and the bulk section. Some are in the seed nugget section! I want to write posts that highlight how simple it can be to eat well and nourish ourselves. Boring is underrated.

[Stephanie looks to the camera and shoves a handful of seeds in her mouth. Two thumbs up.]




Pro tips:


1. Eating more than the suggested serving sizes aren't needed in order to obtain additional (perceived) benefit from the nutritional qualities. Keep in mind that seeds, like nuts, are not low fat foods. The majority of calories come from their fat content. "...Consumption of these seeds should be limited to one portion a day to prevent an intake of excess calories in the usual diet. This amount provides sufficient levels of health-enhancing 3n-PUFA, ALA, tocopherols, and phenolics." (9)


2. If your diet tends to be low in fiber, add some of these seeds into your diet gradually. Too much fiber too soon can cause stomach upset like bloating and constipation. Add a couple of teaspoons each day until you're having a couple of tablespoons a few days a week to allow your digestive system to adjust.


3. Plant sources of iron are not as bioavailable (easily or efficiently absorbed) as animal sources of iron. When eating an iron-rich plant food like sunflower seeds or pumpkin seeds, pair them with some vitamin C as this will help the body increase the absorption of iron. Some examples of vitamin C rich foods are citrus, broccoli, strawberries and bell peppers.




Fun facts:


Chia seeds and ground flax seeds can be used as an egg alternative when baking. Combine 1 tablespoon of chia or ground flax and 3 tablespoons of water. Set aside for a minute or two so the seeds can absorb the water.


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