At this point, you’re likely well aware of the nutritional and weight-loss benefits from whole foods like fruits and vegetables, lean protein, fish, ancient grains and nuts. Seeds, on the other hand, remain one of the most underrated staples of a healthy diet.
“Although small in size, seeds are nutritional powerhouses, loaded with heart-healthy fats, protein and fiber, as well as vitamins and minerals,” says Sarah Rueven, RD, founder of Rooted Wellness in New York City. Seeds may help support weight loss (thanks to filling fiber), protect heart and brain health (with omega-3 fatty acids and minerals like zinc and magnesium), and even benefit hormone function and fertility. For example, “vitamin E, found in pumpkin and flaxseeds, can increase blood flow to the corpeus luteum, a structure responsible for producing progesterone in early pregnancy,” says Rueven.
Here, seven seeds to stock up on and ways to enjoy them:
Chia seeds are rich in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. “They’re also packed with fiber, antioxidants, calcium and iron, and they’re a good source of plant-based protein, providing over 4 grams in just 2 tablespoons,” says Rueven.
Chia seeds are a versatile ingredient: You can sprinkle them into your smoothies, salads and baked goods. Of course, chia pudding is a classic, quick and easy snack, too. Jazz it up with fruit, vanilla extract, cinnamon or chopped nuts for additional flavor, suggests Rueven.
We rarely consider the seeds inside our cucumbers, but they’re highly nutritious. “Cucumber seeds contain a host of health-supporting nutrients including calcium, antioxidant carotenoids and flavonoids,” says Kristin Koskinen, RD.
Serve cucumbers sliced, as part of a Greek salad, or fermented into pickles, she suggests.
“Flaxseeds are an excellent source of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) or omega-3 fatty acids, which can reduce your risk for heart disease by decreasing systemic inflammation,” says Rueven. They’re also packed with fiber, which can fill you up, promote healthy digestion and lower cholesterol levels. Pro tip: Make sure to eat ground flaxseed (our bodies can’t digest flaxseeds in their whole form, so you won’t absorb all of their nutrients).
“You can buy flaxseeds pre-ground or toss them into your coffee grinder,” suggests Rueven. Add a tablespoon to your smoothies or as a topping on your yogurt or oatmeal. You can also sneak them into baked goods like muffins, breads and pancakes.
“Unlike most plant-based protein sources, hemp seeds provide all nine essential amino acids, making them a complete source of protein,” says Rueven. This means hemp seeds can help your body build the proteins it needs to function, and you can find nearly 10 grams of protein in just 3 tablespoons. Even better, they’re also a good source of filling fiber and heart-healthy omega-3’s.
“For a simple snack, sprinkle 2 tablespoons on half an avocado or roasted veggies,” suggests Rueven. “You can also use them to add a nutty flavor to pasta sauces; they’re especially good in alfredo-type sauces and can be used in place of pine nuts in pesto sauces.”
“Packed with magnesium [a relaxing mineral] and tryptophan [the same amino acid which triggers turkey day food comas], pumpkin seeds can improve sleep, which in turn supports your overall health, weight, mood and anxiety management,” says Koskinen. Beyond this, pumpkin seeds are also a great source of plant-based protein, healthy fats and essential nutrients like manganese, phosphorous and iron, which are key for immune function and bone and heart health, adds Rueven.
Enjoy pumpkin seeds as a part of trail mix, energy bars or roast them for a savory snack, says Koskinen.
Sesame seeds are a good source of calcium as well as micronutrients like copper, manganese, magnesium and iron. “If you’re avoiding dairy but concerned about calcium and other bone-building minerals, consider adding sesame seeds to your diet,” says Koskinen. What’s more, some studies show sesame seeds may lower cholesterol and improve blood sugar levels.
For an easy nutrient boost that’s kid-approved, stir 1/4 cup of sesame seeds into waffle batter, suggests Koskinen. To bring out their nutty flavor, toast the seeds in a sauté pan before sprinkling them on salads, stir-fries or noodles.
“Tomato seeds are rich in antioxidants and vitamin C, which is why you should eat tomatoes in their whole form to reap maximum health benefits, says Koskinen. “If you do remove the pomace (the peel, pulp and crushed seeds), consider spreading it over garlic toast with a drizzle of olive oil and a pinch of salt,” suggests Koskinen.