You know that a healthy, balanced diet includes protein, healthy fats, and fiber—but did you know that these valuable nutrients, along with many others, are packed into some of the tiniest items you eat?
Along with protein, fiber, and unsaturated fat, seeds provide essential minerals, such as calcium, magnesium, zinc, and copper. Flaxseeds and chia seeds are also good sources of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a type of omega-3 fatty acid that helps protect blood vessel health and reduces inflammation.
Here is nutritional information about several common types of seeds, as well as suggestions for how to include them in your diet.
You may have wondered, “Are sunflower seeds healthy or just tasty?” It turns out, they’re both. A one-ounce serving (about one-quarter cup) of hulled sunflower seeds contains 5 grams (g) of protein and 3 grams of dietary fiber. That same serving also includes about one-third of all the vitamin E you need for the day.
Toast shelled sunflower seeds by placing them in a skillet on the stove over medium heat. Stir them continuously to promote even cooking and prevent burning. Sunflower seeds can be standalone snacks, or they can add crunch to salads, oatmeal, or yogurt. You can sprinkle them on grilled vegetables or fish, too.
Flaxseeds are nutritional powerhouses: One ounce (about three tablespoons) of these little brown dynamos contains 5 g of protein and 8 g of fiber. The fiber in flaxseeds comes in two types: lignans, which are fiber compounds that have antioxidant properties, and mucilage, a type of gel-forming fiber that may help your body absorb nutrients. Flaxseeds also provide heart-healthy unsaturated fat, magnesium, thiamin, copper, vitamin B6, manganese, and zinc.
You’ll gain more health benefits from eating ground flaxseeds than whole flaxseeds, since their tough outer hulls aren’t broken down during digestion. If you buy whole seeds, grind them yourself in a spice or coffee grinder. Sprinkle them into your morning cereal or smoothie, add them to pancake or muffin batters, or mix them into whole-grain side dishes or homemade snack bars.
Just one ounce of chia seeds contains more than 10 g of dietary fiber—almost half of what you need every day—along with 4 g of protein. Chia seeds are also excellent sources of calcium, phosphorous, and manganese.
Chia seeds have the unique ability to develop a gel-like consistency when they are mixed with fluids. You can make chia pudding by adding a quarter-cup of chia seeds to a cup of any healthy beverage, such as 1-percent or skim milk or unsweetened almond milk, soymilk, rice milk, or other non-dairy milk. Chia seeds aren’t very flavorful, so add some cocoa powder, vanilla extract, or fruit to your concoction.
Pumpkin and Squash Seeds
Whether you’re cleaning out a pumpkin for your Halloween jack-o’-lantern or for your Thanksgiving pie, keep the seeds; once you’ve rinsed and dried them, they can be baked into tasty snacks in about 15 minutes in a 275-degree oven. You can do the same with seeds from several varieties of winter squash, such as acorn and butternut. For a flavor boost, sprinkle seeds with garlic powder, a dash of cayenne pepper, or other favorite seasonings.
One ounce of pumpkin or squash seeds provides 5 g of protein and 5 g of fiber, along with healthy fat, potassium, zinc, and magnesium. Toss them into trail mix or use them as a garnish for soups and stews.
Hemp is finally overcoming its negative reputation based on its relative, the marijuana plant. While both of these plants belong to the cannabis family, hemp plants are extremely low in the cannabinoid THC, the substance that gives marijuana its potency.
Hemp seeds provide 10 g of protein and 3 g of fiber per ounce (about three tablespoons), along with iron, thiamin, magnesium, zinc, and manganese.
Sprinkle hemp seeds over fruit or cottage cheese, blend them into smoothies, or add them to stir-fries.
Try different types of seeds to find your favorites, and inject some cholesterol-free, plant-powered protein into your diet.
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