A guest post by Heather Sullivan, R.D.
Seeds are nutrition powerhouses loaded with healthy fats, fiber, vitamins, and minerals not easily found in such beneficially high concentrations in other foods.
We’ve all heard of and likely use seeds like sunflower, pumpkin, and sesame, but what about flax, chia and hemp seeds? And how can you get these tiny powerhouses into your (and your child’s) diet?
I’ve broken down the benefits of and uses for a few of my favorite seeds, all of which have about 150 calories per ounce and are loaded with the poly and monounsaturated fats important for a healthy heart, brain, skin, and eyes.
Chia: Yes, it’s true; the cha-cha-cha-chia pet is grown from the same seeds that are actually edible and loaded with omega-3s (the essential fatty acid important for its beneficial anti-inflammatory effects). In fact, chia seeds have roughly 4 grams of omega 3s per ounce (roughly 3 tablespoons). While there is no RDA for Omega 3s, a good goal is 2 grams or more daily and most people don't get that. Chia seeds are also high in calcium (18% of the recommended daily intake for an adult per ounce) and have a whopping 10 grams of fiber/ounce. While they have very little taste, they do absorb water and take on a gelatinous consistency when wet. This makes chia seeds great for preventing and helping to treat diabetes as they reduce blood sugar spikes when eaten with other carbohydrate foods.
Flax: Flax seeds are also loaded with omega-3s- roughly the same amount as chia. Unlike chia seeds, they should be ground before eating to release the beneficial oil. Flax seeds also have a whopping 8 grams of fiber/ounce and are a great source of the mineral magnesium. Magnesium plays so many important roles including helping to build strong bones, regulating blood sugar and blood pressure and can even help treat migraine headaches and ease muscle spasms and leg cramps. Too many Americans, including children, don’t get enough magnesium especially if they’re eating a lot of processed foods.
Hemp: Hemp seeds have twice the protein of chia or flax seeds at 10g/ounce, more than any other seed in this list. They’re also a good source of iron which makes them a great addition to soups, salads or smoothies when you’re looking for a plant-based protein and iron boost for your child. Hemp seeds can easily be ground with water to make nutritious milk. The seeds themselves have a mild nutty flavor. I find the milk tastes a little too earthy, but my 1 year old really likes it with a little vanilla bean mixed.
Pumpkin: Pumpkin seeds are also high in protein and iron and are one of the best plant sources of zinc. Zinc plays a vital role in a healthy immune system and has been studied extensively for this role, especially in children. Zinc is also important for growth and regulating blood sugar levels. Pumpkin seeds are also great sources of iron and magnesium.
Sunflower: Sunflower seeds are an excellent source of the heart-healthy antioxidant vitamin E providing HALF of an adult’s recommended daily value in a 1-ounce serving! These little snack seeds are also high in selenium, a mineral that is thought to help reduce cancer rates. Also high in phytosterols found only in plants, sunflower seeds can help reduce cholesterol levels. Ground in a food processor with a little olive oil and a touch of honey, sunflower seeds make a great alternative to peanut butter with twice the iron and roughly as much folate!
Any/all of these seeds can easily be added to trail mix, granola, oatmeal, soups, salads, and smoothies. Or you can grind them up in a food processor with your favorite nuts and a few dates (or raisins or a little honey) for a delicious and affordable homemade snack bar similar to those on the market, but much less expensive!
2 heaping tablespoons each sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, almonds, cashews, and walnuts
1 tablespoon each flax, chia and hemp seeds
2-3 Medjool dates (pits removed) (raisins would also work)
½ tablespoon coconut oil
Optional: 1-2 tablespoons cooked quinoa
Grind flax seeds in a coffee grinder and add to a food processor with the rest of the above ingredients (except hemp seeds). Pulse for about 3-4 minutes or until the mixture turns into a thick paste. Add hemp seeds and pulse for about 30 seconds. Spread the mixture over the bottom of a flat dish, preferably one with a lid. Cover and refrigerate. Serve in small slices with fresh seasonal fruit for a nutrient-packed breakfast or snack.
This column is for information only, and no part of its contents should be construed as medical advice, diagnosis, recommendation or endorsement by the author. You should always ask your physician for his or her recommendation before starting any new health-related activity.