Good things come in really small packages. If you’ve ever sat in the bleachers and watched a baseball game on sunflower seeds — many MLB dugouts fill their buckets — you already know the joys of this simple snack. Edible seeds can be a nutritional powerhouse with nutrients like plant-based protein, fiber, fatty acids, vitamins and minerals — plus, they can be a great option for people with nut allergies.
Benefits of seeds
Edible seeds are nature’s sprinkles, packed with nutrients that you can stir into yogurt or oatmeal, toss into a salad, or blend into a smoothie. You can eat them raw, toasted, or roasted, depending on the specific seed, and use them to increase the nutritional value of what you’re eating.
“Seeds are full of heart-healthy fats,” says Amy Shapiro, MS, RD, CDN, of Real Nutrition in New York. “They can also help balance blood sugar levels and hormones.”
Eat this seed!
You only need a few spoonfuls to reap the benefits of most edible seeds, which are high in calories relative to their volume. “It’s best to keep your portions in moderation,” advises Tanya B. Freirich, MS, RD, CDN, CDE, lead dietitian nutritionist at Sweet Nova.
1. Chia seeds
At the top: Fiber, magnesium, omega-3, phosphorus, selenium
Chia seeds are one of the richest plant sources of omega-3 fatty acids on earth. They are also packed with fiber and several minerals. Kids born in the ’80s were introduced to kitschy, terra-cotta pet planters with chia sprouts (be thankful you had a Tamagotchi). They are actually the same chia seeds, but you should never snack on the packets that come with chia pets because they are not approved for consumption.
Edible chia seeds were a staple crop in ancient Mexico and Guatemala, offered to the Aztec gods. Now they are revered for their superfood status. “Chia seeds can absorb up to 12 times their weight in liquid, which helps make chia pudding or thicken smoothies,” says Freirich. “But they don’t need to be soaked; You can drizzle them directly over a salad or cereal.”
2. Pumpkin seeds
At the top: Magnesium, Phosphorus, Zinc
In addition to providing healthy fats and fiber, pumpkin seeds are a good source of protein. In Greece, where the Mediterranean diet helps promote heart health, roasted pumpkin seeds are a common snack nicknamed “passatempo,” or pastime.
“Although roasted pumpkin seeds are delicious, their healthy fats begin to break down after 20 minutes of roasting in the microwave,” says Freirich. “Limit microwave roasting time to about 12 minutes for the most nutritious results.” Eating the shell with the seeds can also increase the amount of fiber and zinc found in pumpkin seeds.
3. Hemp seeds
Like chia and flax seeds, flax seeds (aka flax) are one of the richest sources of alpha-linoleic acid (ALA), an essential omega-3 fatty acid. Along with these “good fats,” they provide soluble and insoluble fiber and lignans. “Lignans are powerful antioxidants,” says Shapiro. In fact, flaxseed actually contains 75 to 800 times more lignans than many other plant foods.
Recent studies have positively linked tamarind seeds to cardiovascular health, blood sugar, and even some types of cancer. A common mistake people make with flaxseeds is eating them whole. “You need to eat flaxseed in order for your body to absorb omega-3s,” says Frierich. “You can buy ground flaxseed from the store, but it has a shorter shelf life than whole, so as an alternative, you can easily grind it at home in a spice or coffee grinder.”
4. Hemp seeds
At the top: Magnesium, Phosphorus, Zinc
Unlike poppy seeds, which in very rare cases can cause you to fail a doping test due to trace amounts of morphine, hemp seeds won’t get you in trouble — or get you high. It is true that hemp is a close cousin of cannabis in the cannabis plant family, but it has a much lower concentration of THC.
In addition to being rich in magnesium, flax seeds are easier to digest than some grains, nuts and legumes. According to Shapiro, they also boast anti-inflammatory properties, which is why they’re sometimes recommended for people with eczema. They also provide some heart-healthy omega-3s, fiber, iron and potassium.
5. Sesame seeds
At the top: Calcium, Iron, Magnesium
Derived from a flowering plant, sesame seeds grow in long pods similar to okra. They have a delicious nutty flavor that makes them a popular topping on everything from sushi rolls to bagels. They provide antioxidant-rich lignans, protein and other minerals.
Tahini paste, which helps turn chickpeas into delicious hummus and makes a great base for delicious salad dressings, is made from crushed sesame seeds. The Japanese also make a tahini-like paste called “Nerigoma”. As an alternative to almonds, tahini has become a hot ingredient recently for its nutty flavor.
6. Sunflower seeds
at the top: Phosphorus, vitamin E
Baseball lore links the history of sunflower seeds in the dugout to health-conscious swaps for chewing tobacco. However, unlike tea, sunflower seeds are rich in vitamin E, which acts as a powerful antioxidant in the body and has been shown to be beneficial for endurance exercise. Sunflower seeds are a good source of vitamin B-6, zinc and iron.
Vitamin B-6 helps support the immune system and protein metabolism, and some studies have even linked it to a reduction in PMS symptoms. So, that happy-looking field of sunflowers can actually make you feel sunnier.