24 Feb Healthy Seeds: 5 Unexpected Gems
I was recently interviewed by about the health benefits of nuts and seeds. Sunflower, chia, and flax seeds have all had a lot of press lately, so I wanted to share some of the lesser-known benefits of readily available seeds. I’ve been incorporating more seeds into my menus and have included easy ways you can, too.
Seeds contain the embryo of future plants. To support their development along the journey from embryo to plant, seeds are stocked with energy and nutrients. This efficient packaging means they offer a concentrated amount of calories. It’s easy to overdo it when choosing seeds for a snack or as an addition to a smoothie, so be mindful about measuring your servings sizes. Each type of seed offers unique nutrition profiles, therefore including a variety of seeds in your diet can be very health supportive. Generally speaking, seeds are a great source of protein, minerals, and phytonutrients. Additionally, they are a great substitute for those with nut allergies. Seeds and seed butters of all kinds are readily available in many supermarkets.
For those avoiding dairy, but concerned about calcium and other bone-building minerals, consider adding sesame seeds to your diet. Sesame seeds are rich in minerals including copper, manganese, magnesium, and iron. A quarter cup of dried sesame seeds offers 351 mg of calcium for a little over 200 calories. Compare that to 300 mg of calcium and around 150 calories in a cup of whole cow’s milk. Sesame seeds are easily incorporated into foods you likely already enjoy. I stir a quarter cup or so into waffle batter for an easy nutrient boost that’s kid-approved.Toasting sesame seeds in a sautee pan brings out their nutty flavor, which adds an extra layer of flavor to salads, stir fries, or noodles.
This one is probably new to you, but cucumber seeds contain a host of health-supporting nutrients including carotenoids and flavonoids. A recent study concluded that cucumber seed extract had beneficial impacts on serum lipid profiles in hyperlipidemic subjects. You don’t have to head to a specialty marked looking for cucumber seeds, just eat the ones that come conveniently packed within this cool fruit. Cucumbers are great served sliced, as part of a Greek salad, or fermented into pickles.
If a recipe calls for tomatoes with the skin, seeds, fluid within the tomatoes to be removed, keep the following in mind. Results of a New Zealand study showed that, “ . . . removal of skin and seeds of tomato during home cooking and processing results in a significant loss of all the major antioxidants. Therefore, it is important to consume tomatoes along with their skin and seeds, in order to attain maximum health benefits.” 1 Tomato pomace (the peel, pulp, and crushed seeds) have been shown to reduce platelet aggregation without negatively impacting blood clotting, making it beneficial in preventing coronary vascular disease. Additionally, there is indication that the pomace has anti-inflammatory and anti-allergy properties. Save yourself a lot of work seeding and skinning the tomatoes, and reap the health benefits of the whole fruit.
Packed with magnesium and tryptophan, pumpkin seeds can improve sleep, which supports total health, mood, and anxiety management. L-tryptophan has been used as a remedy to help depression. First, a bit of clarification around the subject of pumpkin seeds vs. pepitas. Pumpkin seeds are what you might scoop out of your jack-o-lantern. They are the complete pumpkin seed, including the shell. They can be enjoyed shell-on, salted and roasted, typically as a savory snack. Pepitas are the small seed inside the shucked pumpkin seed. Pepitas are great additions to trail mix, granola, smoothie bowls, and salads. Look for pumpkin seed butter as an alternative to nut butters.
Yep, quinoa is a seed. It’s often referred to as a pseudo-cereal because it’s typically cooked and eaten like grains, which makes it a great option for those who avoid gluten. Quinoa can boast that it’s one of the only plant foods that is a complete protein, offering all the essential amino acids. The high ratio of protein to carbohydrate found in quinoa translates to feeling full longer. Quinoa has a glycemic index of around 53, which means it doesn’t tend to cause dramatic spikes in blood glucose levels. Quinoa is easy to prepare and quite versatile. It can be served cooked or sprouted. Cooking in stock or broth adds extra flavor and nutrition to your quinoa, but it can also be prepared using water. Serve as a side dish, mixed with greens for a hearty salad, or with your favorite milk and spices like cinnamon or nutmeg for an easy breakfast.
- Toor Ramandeep K and Savage Geoffry P, Antioxidant activity in different fractions of tomatoes, Food Res Int, 2005, 38 (5), 487-494