Seeds are sprouting up in recipes, in grocery stores, on cooking shows and in conversations about a eating a well-balanced diet. A simple way to ensure the appropriate amounts of nutrients are consumed each day is by utilizing a variety of small, but mighty seeds.
Consuming seeds is beneficial to all types of eaters. Meat eaters benefit from eating seeds because seeds are rich in fiber. Vegetarians and vegans can benefit from eating seeds because seeds are packed with good fats, like omega 3s, protein, vitamins and minerals.
Karla Meyer, Rochester grocery manager at People’s Food Cooperative, says "Seeds are nature’s little storehouse for new plants. There are a lot of nutrients needed to start a plant, and if we consume them, we benefit from those concentrated storehouses. And really, a small amount can make a big difference."
There is an abundance of seeds available, each with a different nutritional value to add to your diet.
Chia seedsare a complete protein, which is rare in plant sources. "A complete protein contains all essential amino acids which help the body function," says Meyer. Chia seeds can help balance blood sugar, provide a steady flow of energy and they’re loaded with fiber. They readily absorb liquids, making them easy to digest. Meyer says to sprinkle chia seeds on oatmeal, yogurt or add them to a glass of water. "They don’t have a distinctive taste. The biggest concern for many people is the texture—chia seeds form a gelatinous shell when soaked in water."
Flaxseedsare an excellent source of fiber and they help maintain ideal cholesterol levels. Flaxseeds are best used after they are ground because they cannot break down in the digestive tract. Meyer says, "You can put whole flaxseeds in a coffee grinder to break them down prior to consumption." Ground flaxseeds can be added to baked goods, cereal, smoothies, sandwiches and salad dressing. Like many seeds, flaxseeds are perishable and should be stored in the refrigerator. "It’s best to consume smaller amounts at first to avoid digestive distress," says Meyer. This can be the case for many seeds because they’re high in fiber.
Sesame seedshave a distinct, nutty flavor and are rich in calcium, magnesium, copper, vitamin B1 and zinc. Meyer loves to add sesame seeds to her homemade veggie burgers or sprinkle them atop fresh cooked green beans. Grinding sesame seeds creates a spread called tahini which is added to hummus and sesame butter, which Meyer says is a wonderful alternative to peanut butter. She has also used ground sesame seeds in stir fry.
Hemp seedsare fiber-rich and high in minerals including magnesium, iron, zinc and potassium. These mild, nutty tasting seeds contain all essential amino acids and are abundant in omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids. Sprinkle them on cereal, yogurt, casseroles, salads and smoothies.
Raw sunflower seedscontain vitamins and minerals and are an excellent source of essential fatty acids. They’re rich in calcium, iron, manganese, zinc, magnesium and selenium. Add these nutty tasting seeds to tuna, chicken or egg salad. Meyer also creates a dip with these seeds. "I use sunflower seeds, lemon juice, water and salt to taste and then blend in a quality blender." A hint of dill weed is a nice accent to the dip as well.
Pepitas, or pumpkin seeds, are crunchy and delicious. Pepitas contain zinc, which is difficult to get in your diet. "Zinc is good for a healthy immune system," says Meyer.
Milletis consumed fully cooked. It takes about 50-60 minutes to prepare and is similar to sticky rice. "Millet is like porridge; it makes a great hot cereal. I usually cook it and add dates, cinnamon and almond milk." Millet is rich in potassium and magnesium, which helps lower blood pressure.
Quinoais a seed but it’s treated like a grain and must be fully cooked as well. It’s high in carbohydrates and protein. In fact, quinoa is also considered a complete protein. "Quinoa cooks in about 20 minutes, making it a quick and easy meal," says Meyer. Add black beans, corn, lime juice and cilantro to quinoa for a tasty side dish.
Most seeds are easy to incorporate to any meal and many are gluten-free. Meyer says seeds can be a wonderful alternative to people with nut allergies. They add a similar crunch and taste with healthy fats and fiber.
Nicole Czarnomski is a regular Radish contributor.