Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Seed of Truth

We hear a lot about the health benefits of nuts and seeds, but few people actually include seeds as a regular part of their diet. Sure, flax and hemp seeds are enjoying their moment in the spotlight for their high omega-3 fat content, but what about other seeds, like sesame, pumpkin, sunflower, caraway, and others? They're health-supporting too. And many spices, like cumin, mustard, and nutmeg, are ground up seeds; researchers are uncovering the many health advantages among those who "spice it up."

The nutritional content of seeds is fairly impressive. And why not? Seeds are the start of plant life: they are packed with essential nutrients that nourish a plant with everything it needs to grow. All seeds are good sources of protein, fiber, antioxidants, minerals, and essential fatty acids. Here are just a few nutritional highlights:

Pumpkin seeds are a superb source of minerals like iron, manganese, magnesium, zinc, and copper. In fact, just a quarter cup of pumpkin seeds provides about a third of the iron you need in a day, with fewer than 200 calories. Grab a handful for a snack or mix into a whole grain pilaf.

Sesame seeds (and tahini, or sesame paste, a common ingredient in hummus) are quite high in calcium, giving you about a third of your daily needs in a quarter cup. Sprinkle sesame seeds on grains, cereals, salads, and soups, and bake into quickbreads and muffins.

Sunflower seeds are an amazing source of vitamin E -- a quarter cup supplies almost 100% of your daily needs! Try them in a trail mix or ground into a "butter" for a yummy sandwich filling or spread.

Mustard seeds can be eaten whole or in the more familiar form (look for all-natural mustard in a jar). Just a tablespoon gives you about 20% of your daily needs for selenium, an essential mineral that may help with inflammation. Mustard seeds are also a surprisingly good source of omega-3 fats. "Pop" whole mustard seeds in a bit of hot canola oil, add chopped onion and garlic, and saute for a few minutes. Then add your favorite veggies, cubed tofu, and curry powder for a quick and tasty curry meal.

Caraway seeds are the familiar seed found in rye bread. Some use them to help relieve gas and indigestion. They're packed with antioxidants and phytonutrients. They do have a strong, domineering flavor, so keep that in mind when using them in cooking.

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