Sometimes, the best things come in small packages.
Nutrient-dense seeds are finally starting to get the attention that they deserve. Packed with healthy fats, protein, fiber and lots of minerals and vitamins, the following seven super seeds are an ideal addition to your meals to ensure you’re eating a balanced diet.
1. Chia seeds
Chia seeds are one of nature’s most perfect superfoods. Yes, they get stuck in your teeth if eaten dry and can become quite slimy when soaked in liquid, but they have very little to no flavor, so if used in a recipe or as a topping, you’ll hardly notice that you’re eating them. Once you frequently start consuming chia seeds, you will quickly notice benefits such as increased energy and digestive regularity. Being an incredible source of fiber, a single ounce of chia seeds has nearly half of the daily recommended requirement of fiber. They have more iron than spinach, more potassium than bananas, and more antioxidant strength than blueberries.
One of my favorite health benefits of eating chia seeds is muscle and tissue regeneration. They contain more calcium than milk and are the richest plant-based source of alpha-linolenic acid, a type of omega-3 fatty acid. Increasing your intake of omega-3 fats can reduce joint pain and inflammation.
Because of their soft seed coat, you will benefit from chia seeds’ nutrient content without having to grind them down. Sprinkle them on salads, mixed fruit, yogurt and oatmeal. Soaking them in water or juice for about 10 to 15 minutes results in a gelatinous liquid. Consuming chia seeds in this manner will help your body digest them. If you want this extra benefit, add them to smoothies, make a delicious chia seed pudding, or create a thicker gel and use as an egg or oil replacement in baked goods recipes.
2. Flax seeds
Although they are small, flax seeds must be ground so our bodies can digest the nutrients protected by their hard shells. Flax meal offers a nutty flavor and creates a smooth gel when mixed with liquid; hence, it makes a nice addition to baked goods especially if you’re looking for an inexpensive egg substitute.
An ounce of flax seeds contains nearly 8 grams of fiber and 12 grams of fatty acids, as well as about one quarter of daily recommended requirement of magnesium for increased energy. Some research has shown that consuming flax seeds as part of a healthy diet can lower high blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
Ideally, you want to purchase your flax seeds whole and grind small amounts to store in the fridge for a week’s worth of use. Pre-ground flax seeds have been exposed to oxygen longer, which causes breaks down the polyunsaturated fats, thus lowering levels of omega-3 fatty acids and conjugated linoleic acid that benefit the heart. Because of this, even whole flax seeds are better when stored in a fridge or freezer.
3. Hemp seeds
These nutritious and healing seeds are starting to be a favorite among vegans and health fanatics, and are often added to smoothies, cereals, oatmeal, and on top of salads. Hemp seeds also can be blended with water to make a nice milk substitute, a nice option for people with nut and soy allergies, although the flavor of hemp milk is less sweet than raw almond milk or cow’s milk.
Hemp seeds are often sold shelled, so you can eat them right out of the package. They offer easily digestible protein and all the essential omega-3 and 6 fatty acids needed by the human body. Hemp seeds are also rich in antioxidants, fiber, various minerals such as zinc, and many vitamins including a hefty dose of vitamin E. They have been used to reduce dry skin and hair, help with muscle regenerations, reduce inflammation, ward off heart disease, and improve immune system function.
4. Pumpkin Seeds
You probably know them best from picking out the slimy insides of a pumpkin each Halloween. These flat slimy seeds dry out into a tasty snack whether you roast them or toast them. If you prefer a salty snack, boil them in salty water before you dry them. Smaller to medium size pumpkin seeds can be eaten with their shells when properly toasted, although the larger seeds are probably best to eat shelled. You can also grind them up into a meal to add to baked goods recipes.
Pumpkin seeds are a great way to add protein, iron, zinc and especially magnesium to your diet.
Magnesium helps stabilize blood pressure, assists in bone strength and even reduces stress. Men can benefit greatly from the phytosterols chemicals found in pumpkin seeds, which have been shown to alleviate symptoms associated with having an enlarged prostate.
5. Sesame Seeds
Sesame seeds are a common addition to many Asian recipes and stir fries. They are so small, you typically won’t be eating them as a snack, but they are an essential ingredient to keep in your kitchen because they are incredibly rich in calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc. You can pretty much add them to any stir fry, inside or outside of sushi rolls, or sprinkle them toasted on a salad. A common Middle Eastern paste, tahini, is made from sesame seeds and is used to make hummus, baba ghanoush and halva. Tahini, when mixed with soy sauce, also makes a nice dip for spring rolls or can be spread on flatbread similarly to peanut butter.
6. Sunflower Seeds
Growing up, picking sunflower seeds right out of the sunflowers outside of our living room windows was one of my favorite activities on those slow summer days. At that time, I had no idea that sunflower seeds actually protect you from the sun, so they are a perfect summertime snack. About half a cup of sunflower seeds has more than 100% of the daily recommended requirement of vitamin E, which is packed with alpha-tocopherol, a powerful antioxidant that protects the body’s cells from UV damage. They are also a great source of the amino acid phenylalanine, which is used by the brain as an anti-depressant and will help keep you focused and alert.
Once shelled, sunflower seeds are very versatile. They can be eaten raw or toasted, put on salads, in breads, in trail mixes…you can even use them to make raw vegan cheese. Another one of my favorites is sunflower-seed butter, a great butter replacement if you’re going dairy free or vegan.
7. Papaya Seeds
I won’t deny it. Papaya seeds are definitely not on the most-delicious list, but they are definitely packed with nutritious goodness. Offering a strong, peppery favor, papaya seeds are often discarded because most people find them difficult to eat. I agree – who wants a mouthful of peppercorns?!? But once you learn about the health benefits of this flavorful seed, you could easily become accustomed to the taste, especially since a spoonful in a morning smoothie often goes unnoticed. You can also dry them and grind them up to use instead of pepper in salad dressings and on other foods.
Papaya seeds are rich in oleic and palmitic fatty acids, which are believed to ward off cancer. In Latin American countries they are used to help protect the body from insect-borne diseases, such as dengue, while in traditional Chinese medicine, they are used to detoxify the liver.
Learning to use these seeds in your cooking and baking will quickly transform your kitchen into a superfood pharmacy. Remember, it doesn’t take much to benefit from these amazing super seeds. Use a teaspoon here, a tablespoon there, and guide your body towards optimum health.