Everyone has a handful of go-to ingredients they reach for when making healthy meals, often varieties of fish, nuts, greens, and whole grains. Despite nutritional values that rival all of these good-for-you eats, seeds never make the list. Maybe it’s simply because most people don’t know enough about these would-be-fruits to give them a chance. Never fear, we’ve done all the studying for you. The next time you head to the store, add these six seeds to your cart.
1. Chia seeds
We see new ingredients emerge as the next “it” superfood every few years and chia seeds definitely fit into this category. While it’s easy to brush off the seed’s popularity as hype, you might want to consider at least trying chia. According to Bodybuilding.com, a 2-tablespoon portion has 117 calories, 8.3 grams of fiber, and 4 grams of protein. On top of that, they’re brimming with omega-3s and other healthy fats.
Health claims range from reasonable to outlandish, but research on the seeds is promising. One study published in the Journal of Nutrition found a diet including noptal, chia seed, soy protein, and oats can help reduce triglycerides and glucose intolerance, which may be beneficial for heart health. Another study found eating chia seeds may help keep you feel fuller longer.
As for what to do with the seeds, their jelling properties make them perfect for a pudding. Try this simple recipe with maple syrup and fruit from Food Network’s Giada de Laurentiis. You can also add them to to a salad for a bit of crunch, toss them into baked goods, or blend them into smoothies.
2. Pumpkin seeds
A staple in Mexican cooking, pumpkin seeds are loaded with nutrients. A 1-ounce serving contains 126 calories, 5 grams of protein, mostly unsaturated fats, and plenty of minerals. While anyone can benefit from munching these seeds, men should particularly pay attention. One study published in Nutrition Research and Practice revealed pumpkin seed oil may be an effective way to treat an enlarged prostate.
With a great crunch and toasty flavor, you can use pumpkin seeds anywhere you would nuts. Use them to make a pesto, as a crust for chicken, or sprinkled over roasted vegetables. If you’re particularly crafty in the kitchen, try making Rick Bayless’ fish in a fragrant pumpkin seed, tomatillo, and chili sauce.
3. Hemp seeds
Hemp seeds have been considered a hippie food for decades, and it turns out those tree huggers are on to something. These seeds boast an impressive nutritional profile, with 40 calories, 1.6 grams of fiber, and 5.3 grams of protein per tablespoon. They’re also loaded with important minerals and loads of healthy fats to keep your body functioning properly. According to one review published in Nutrition & Metabolism, these seeds may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
If you need some ideas on how to include these seeds in your diet, check out The Kitchn’s recipe roundup. And don’t fret about the possibility of failing a drug test. While related to marijuana, hemp doesn’t contain nearly as much of the psychoactive agent tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Berkeley Wellness explained you would have to consume extremely large amounts in order to test positive.
4. Flax seeds
Everyone’s trying to find more ways to sneak omega-3 fatty acids into their diet, but it can be tricky if fish makes you gag. Though flaxseeds won’t give you quite as much of the heart- and brain-boosting nutrient as salmon, they still offer an admirable dose. According to Men’s Health, ground flaxseed is easier to digest and boosts good gut bacteria. You’ll also score 2 grams of protein and 3 grams of fiber per tablespoon.
Because the outer hull is so tough, you really want to grind flaxseeds before eating to make sure your body is able to digest the nutrients. You can simply do this in an electric coffee grinder. Add the ground meal to yogurt, smoothies, or mix it into nut butter. Vegans particularly like the seed’s ability to mimic eggs in baked goods. Even if you’re not a vegan, it’s nice to know you can still make pancakes when you run out of eggs.
5. Sunflower seeds
Probably the most popular choice on this list, sunflower seeds make a perfect between-meal nibble when hunger strikes. With 6 grams of protein and 4 grams of fiber for a ¼-cup serving, they’re also a super smart snack. Choosing un-shelled is especially wise, because it slows the rate at which you eat. This keeps you from going overboard with your portion size.
While you can easily find roasted sunflower seeds at the store, doing it at home is an easy way to add even more flavor. Try this trio of recipes from The Young Austinian. They also work great as a nutritious way to add some texture to veggies and salads. Try adding the seeds to roasted Brussels sprouts to give the standard side a good crunch.
6. Sesame seeds
Though you probably see sesame seeds most often adorning a burger bun, they’re a staple ingredient in plenty of other cultures. You’d be wise to start thinking about the seed as more of an ingredient than a garnish. A 1-tablespoon portion of sesame seeds contains 52 calories, 1.6 grams of protein, 1.1 grams of fiber, 2 grams of polyunsaturated fat, and 1.7 grams of monounsaturated fat. The seeds also contain high levels of lignan. A recent study showed diets rich in this nutrient may ward off weight gain.