Eat Well to Be Well: Plant 6 seeds of health into your diet

In case you haven’t noticed, seeds are everywhere and I’m not talking about the kind you buy at a greenhouse. I’m talking about the kind you buy at the grocery store to feed yourself. These tiny nutritional superstars come in all shapes, sizes and colors, and need to be a part of your daily diet. Once mainly relegated to health food stores, seeds are being recognized as a wholesome dietary addition offering a wide range of nutrients, textures and flavors. A spoonful or two each day is all you need to reap the vast nutritional benefits they provide in keeping us healthy and possibly decreasing risk of diseases.

Here are six seeds of health to try today:

Chia seeds

Did you ever have a chia pet where you grew the seeds from a terracotta figurine that spouted chia? This same seed is now recommended for its excellent source of alpha-linolenic acid, an omega-3 essential fatty acid,  which helps support cardiovascular function. Its high fiber content helps the digestive tract to function normally and keeps lipids within normal levels. It’s also a rich source of calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese and zinc. This teeny-tiny seed can be brown, gray, black or white and was once a staple food of the Aztecs. The smoothie chain Smoothie King offers a “Super Grain” enhancer that includes chia along with other seeds and grains. Looking for an energy boosting breakfast? Consider Chia Pod containing one full serving of chia seeds mixed with fruit and coconut milk along with 3 grams of omega-3 and 6 grams of fiber. Chia Pods are vegan, non-GMO, and preservative and additive free. If eaten raw or cooked, chia seeds have a mild, nutty flavor and can be sprinkled in yogurt, cereal, oatmeal, added to a smoothie or to baked bread or muffins.

Flax seeds

Sometimes called linseed, flax seed comes from the flax plant that flourishes both in tropical and subtropical climates. There are two varieties – brown and yellow or golden – both having similar nutritional value. Flax seed is known for its rich omega-3 fatty acid content helping to lower LDL or “bad” cholesterol and increase HDL or “good” cholesterol. The omega-3 content may also help lower coronary artery disease, blood pressure, strokes, breast, colon and prostate cancers. Flax seed are also packed with vitamin E along with thiamin, and folate. This seed is also a concentrated source of fiber – one tablespoon of whole or ground flaxseed has 3 grams of soluble and insoluble fiber, helping prevent constipation. Whether used as seed or ground flax, it can be sprinkled over yogurt, desserts, waffles, pancakes, salads, or added to baked goods.

Hemp seeds

Even though it comes from the hemp plant, Cannabis sativa L., it is not to be confused with marijuana as the two are quite different. Hemp seeds do not contain THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the active substance in marijuana. Hemp seeds abound with significant healthy nutrients such as an ideally balanced ratio of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. These fatty acids promote heart health, reduce inflammation, promote brain health and support the immune system. They are an excellent source of magnesium and 2 tablespoons contains 5 grams of protein. The creamy texture and nut-like flavor go well with hot cereal, yogurt or smoothies, along with sprinkling over salads, pasta dishes, pancakes or added to pilaf or rice to give an interesting texture.

Pumpkin seeds

In Central America, pumpkin seeds are popularly known as pepita. These edible crunchy kernels of pumpkins contain the monounsaturated fatty acid, oleic acid, helpful in preventing coronary artery disease and strokes. They’re an excellent source of the amino acids tryptophan and glutamate. Tryptophan is converted into serotonin and niacin while glutamate is necessary for synthesizing gamma-amino butyric acid, an anti-stress neurochemical in the brain, helping reduce anxiety and other neurotic conditions. Like most seeds, it doesn’t take much for their calorie content to add up as 1/4 cup contains 296 calories. Enjoy them roasted, added to vegetable and rice dishes, or sprinkled over salads.

 Sesame seeds

These tiny seeds come from the sesame plant, an herb grown throughout Asia, particularly in China, Burma and India. Sesame seeds deliver a delicate nutty flavor and are often used to sprinkle over muffins, breads, salads, and over stir-fry or steamed vegetables. Sesame seeds provide 25 percent of the recommended daily intake of folic acid, which may help prevent neural tube defects in newborns. In addition, they are rich sources of calcium, iron, zinc, magnesium and selenium. These minerals have important roles in bone mineralization, red blood cell production, hormone production and enzyme synthesis.

 Sunflower seeds

Often a staple at baseball games, sunflower seeds are not only fun to eat but an important source of key nutrients. Two B-complex vitamins they provide are niacin and folic acid. Niacin reduces LDL cholesterol in the blood. Folic acid is essential for DNA synthesis. Sunflower seeds are rich in vitamin E, a fat-soluble vitamin, and act as a powerful antioxidant that protects us against harmful free radicals, slowing down aging and boosting the immune system. They can be bought as whole seeds, hulled, roasted or salted and used in numerous ways – add to salads, casseroles and baked goods, serve over sautéed vegetables, or just eat them as is.

Consider adding these seeds as a nutritional part of your diet and reap their benefits of helping you keep healthy and reducing risk of diseases.

Cheryl's-Headshot-2015-80x1Cheryl Mussatto MS, RD, LD, is a registered dietitian and an adjunct professor at Allen Community College, Burlingame, and Butler County Community College, Council Grove; she teaches Basic Nutrition and Therapeutic Nutrition. She is also a certified health and wellness coach, and a consulting dietitian for the Cotton O’Neil Clinic in Osage City. She writes Eat Well to Be Well, a column about health and nutrition, and is a blog contributor for Dr. David Samadi at www.samadimd.com. Contact her at [email protected], visit her website www.eatwell2bewellrd.com, or like “Eat Well 2 Be Well” on Facebook.


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