Seeds of Health
Seeds contain nearly everything they need to start a new life: the embryo of a plant, the nutrients to sustain it, and a coat of armor to protect it. Small wonder then that they can add significant nutritional bang for the bite.
“Not only do seeds offer good taste and good crunch, they also provide a good source of healthy fat and fiber,” says Dawn Jackson Blatner, RD, LDN, author of The Flexitarian Diet (McGraw-Hill, 2008). For example, flaxseeds do more than help keep you regular—they also protect against cancer. Sesame seeds also aid in cancer prevention, and pack cholesterol-lowering phytosterols. These five seeds top the nutritional charts and are easier than you might imagine to sneak into your diet.
Found just as often among the supplements as in the bulk-food aisle, flaxseeds take the health-food crown thanks to their plentiful omega-3 content. Just two tablespoons contain more than 3 grams of this anti-inflammatory fatty acid—a whopping 140 percent of the daily recommended intake. Studies also show that flax’s hefty load of lignans, which the body turns into beneficial hormone-like chemicals, provides protection against prostate and breast cancers.
Try it: Your body absorbs ground seeds more easily, so crush flaxseeds in a coffee grinder (they’ll keep for about a week if you store them in the fridge) or buy flax meal, says Blatner. Sprinkle on pancakes, salads, or hummus. Flaxseeds also give stir-fried dishes a great nutty flavor.
This fall favorite is available year-round and comes loaded with antioxidant minerals like magnesium, zinc, iron, and phosphorous—all vital for bone health and normal heart function. Men in particular have reason to chow down: Research shows that the carotenoids (the antioxidant pigments in fruits and veggies) in pumpkinseeds may prevent prostate enlargement.
TRY IT: Sub pumpkinseeds anywhere you’d usually use nuts—as an on-the-go-snack, on top of salads, or in oatmeal cookies.
So much more than just hamburger-bun decoration, these tiny seeds provide plenty of copper, a nutrient essential for joint health, as well as a hefty dose of phytosterols, which help lower your cholesterol and decrease your cancer risk. Sesame seeds also contain high levels of the amino acid tryptophan, which may help mitigate insomnia and depression by boosting serotonin and melatonin levels in brain.
TRY IT: Use sesame seeds instead of bread crumbs to coat chicken, salmon, or tofu before baking or grilling. Sesame seeds brown nicely and add a tasty, crunchy texture to food.
Snack on sunflower seeds if you want a glowing complexion: A quarter cup provides 90 percent of the recommended vitamin E intake and 55 percent of what you need in vitamin B1—both essential vitamins for healthy skin, hair, and nails. This favorite ballpark snack also hits a home run with selenium, a mineral that helps repair DNA damage and kill cancer cells.
TRY IT: Move over peanut butter—sunflower butter has hit the shelves of health food stores and rivals the PB&J staple with its natural sweetness and creamy texture.
Sometimes good things come in extra-small packages. These miniature seeds teem with both fiber and heart-healthy fats, says Blatner. You’ll get a gram of fiber in each tablespoon, 2.7 grams of cholesterol-lowering polyunsaturated fat, plus about 15 percent of your daily calcium needs.
TRY IT: Move beyond the poppy-seed muffin or bagel and make lemon–poppy seed salad dressing. Mix 1/4 cup lemon juice, 1/4 cup olive oil, 1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar, 1 clove of minced garlic, 1 tablespoon honey, and 2 tablespoons poppy seeds.
With the ideal balance of omega-6s to omega-3s (about a 4-to-1 ratio), hempseeds help ward off depression and keep the body’s inflammation to a minimum. Hempseeds, which resemble sesame seeds in appearance, also contain the eight essential amino acids—making them a good protein choice for vegetarians.
TRY IT: For a tasty pesto alternative, combine 2 garlic cloves, 2 tablespoons hempseeds, 1/4 cup olive oil, 3 cups spinach leaves, 1 cup basil leaves, and 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese in a food processor until smooth.
A relative of broccoli and other members of the cruciferous veggie family, mustard seeds boast an impressive load of phytonutrients and specialized enzymes that help the body ward off colorectal cancer. These spicy, pungent seeds also deliver selenium, omega-3s, and magnesium—all anti-inflammatory nutrients that can reduce the severity of asthma and lower blood pressure.
TRY IT: Make your own mustard by soaking 5 tablespoons of seeds in 1/3 cup white wine and 1/3 cup vinegar overnight. Grind until the consistency is right, then season with paprika, turmeric, or your other favorite herbs and spices. The darker the color, the more pungent the seed—black seeds give a spicy punch to meals while white seeds (used to make American-style mustard) taste more mild.