I am addicted to chia and flax…and even sesame seeds. I guess I love them all, and I’m in good company. Seeds are everywhere: in snack bags, in salads, and even in bread.
Seeds are just for flavor, not nutrition. Right?
Not so. Seeds are mini-powerhouses packed with nutrition. First, they provide great flavor and a crunchy texture in breads, baked goods, salads, cereals, yogurt, smoothies, etc. Most importantly they are convenient and versatile, making them an easy way to get fiber, protein, antioxidants, healthy fats, and minerals into your daily diet.
But all seeds aren’t the same.
We often dismiss sesame seeds as the pretty decorations sprinkled on top of bread, but they are a great dairy free calcium source containing 88 mg of calcium per tablespoon. For reference, a glass of milk provides about 300 mg of calcium. This mineral is essential for good bone health and proper muscle function.
Surprisingly they are a source of iron, copper, and phytosterols, known for reducing total cholesterol and LDL (or bad) cholesterol. Copper is associated with several reactions in the body, including those for energy production and a healthy nervous system.
Sesame seeds add a tasty texture to baked breads, crackers, and cookies, as well as salads, dressing, and salmon. Surprisingly they are a good source of omega 3 and 6 fatty acids, fiber, and protein—all good reasons not to dismiss these tiny seeds.
Chia seeds seem to have risen to fame due to their usefulness in a variety of foods. Chia is surprisingly a member of the mint family. They have a mild nutty flavor and can be eaten whole or ground. The seeds pair well with sweet and savory foods while adding crunch and texture. Chia can be combined with a liquid to form a gel for an egg substitute in a baked good, a nutrient rich drink, or a thick pudding. I mix the seeds into my overnight steel cut oats prep, and I make sure to buy breads that contain chia seeds, too.
One ounce (2 tablespoons) of chia seeds is 137 kcal and serves up 11 grams of fiber, 4 grams of protein, 9 grams of fat (5 of which are omega-3s), as well as 177 grams of the daily value for calcium and 265 mgs of phosphorus, both important for bone strengthening.
Flaxseed is derived from the flax or linseed plant. Considering it needs to be chopped or ground for proper absorption of its nutrients and requires adequate cool storage due to its short shelf life, you may think it is too high maintenance to try. What you need to know is that it’s totally worth it for the health boost it gives to anything you add it to: smoothies, juices, hot or cold cereals, muffins, pancakes, bread, and waffles. I refrigerate the whole seeds and grind in small portions in my coffee grinder, which seems to do the trick. I tend to sprinkle flax on my salads and yogurt, and it gives them a nutty taste.
Flax seeds are rich in heart healthy properties including soluble fiber, omega 3 (alphalinolenic) acids, and lignans, plant compounds that help lower cholesterol and lower inflammation. Two tablespoons of ground flaxseed has about 90 calories, 4 grams of protein, 5 grams of fiber, and magnesium and thiamin, along with being one of the best plant sources of omega 3 fatty acids.
The taste of hemp reminds me of a sunflower seed, while other descriptions liken it to a pine nut. It seriously packs a lot of protein in a small amount. Hemp contains all nine essential amino acids and it is therefore considered a high quality protein, providing roughly 3 to 5 grams per tablespoon. In addition, hemp is a source of omega-3 fatty acids, and many minerals including manganese, zinc, iron, magnesium, and phosphorus.
Evidence for a Plant Based Diet
Many of the seeds mentioned contain omega-3 fatty acids essential for good health and known for their anti-inflammatory properties that help lower the risk of chronic diseases with a strong link to heart health. Due to the fiber content of most, make sure you are also taking in plenty of fluids, particularly water. There is no other word to describe these seeds again other than mini-powerhouses so sprinkle them into your daily diet.
Other super seeds to try include: pumpkin, sunflower, mustard, poppy, and nigella seeds and even quinoa and wild rice – yes they are actually seeds. Remember proper food storage is key for food safety so always follow storage and usage directions, as well as the use by date on the package.
Lela Iliopoulos is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator and an expert in nutrition therapy, health promotion, and education. She is passionate about impacting nutritional health through the practical application of science-based information