We All Know Seeds Are Good for You, but These 6 Are the Healthiest

Don't let their size fool you. Learn the amazing, healthy benefits of eating nutrient-packed seeds.

These Are the Healthiest Types of Seeds
Photo: Getty Images

"Convince me you have a seed there," Henry David Thoreau wrote, "and I am prepared to expect wonders." The famous naturalist of Walden Pond referred to the power of a seed to build a forest. Little did he know that his thoughts apply to the power seeds have to nourish us, too. They are, without question, among touted superfoods that really live up to their hype.

Inside a seed's hard coating is an entire embryonic plant, surrounded by all the food it needs to thrive once dispersed in soil. Consistently incorporate seeds into your diet, and you'll reap benefits from those nutrients, making seeds well worth the addition.

The seeds listed here are among the healthiest, and most stay fresh up to a year when stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Consider them worthy alternatives to nuts (which are actually shelled fruits that contain seeds). All these seeds contain omega-3 fatty acids, which are associated with everything from a healthy brain and heart to supple skin. Each also boasts distinctive dietary offerings, along with unique flavors that transform everyday ingredients into new favorites packed with nutrients. Read on for nutrition facts and benefits of our top six super seeds.

01 of 06

Chia Seeds

a spoonful of chia seeds
John Lawton

Calories per serving: 70 per tablespoon (dry)

Notable nutrients: Fiber and calcium

Digestive maintenance: One tablespoon of chia seeds has more fiber than a slice of whole-grain bread. This roughage enhances digestion and makes you feel fuller, according to New York City nutritionist Lauren Slayton.

Heart health: Fiber, protein, and omega-3 fatty acids in chia seeds may help reduce the risk of heart disease. Also, a 2014 study showed a link between chia flour and reduced blood pressure in people with hypertension.

Better bones: Don't like dairy? One ounce of chia seeds offers the same amount of calcium as ½ cup of milk.

Try them as pudding: Check out our vanilla-cinnamon chia pudding recipe and top it off with granola or fruit for a crunchier or sweeter touch.

02 of 06

Sunflower Seeds

Sunflower seeds
Calories per serving:204 in ¼ cup. Notable nutrients: Vitamin E and selenium.How they benefit you: • Antioxidant boost: One serving provides almost a full daily dose of vitamin E, which helps to keep brain cells healthy and cholesterol at bay. In a 2014 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Alzheimer’s patients who consumed vitamin E daily experienced functional decline more slowly than those who abstained.• Cancer protection: One serving offers 34 percent of the daily recommended value of selenium, a mineral linked to the repair of DNA.Try them with spices: Mix ½ cup of these sweet, buttery seeds with a pinch each of salt, cumin, chili powder, and cinnamon. Dry-roast in a pan over medium heat for 4 to 5 minutes. Toss over guacamole, tacos, or salads.Snack on them with: Cascadian Farm Organic Fruit & Nut Granola ($20; amazon.com). John Lawton

Calories per serving: 204 in ¼ cup

Notable nutrients: Vitamin E and selenium

Antioxidant boost: One serving of sunflower seeds provides almost a full daily dose of vitamin E, which helps keep brain cells healthy and cholesterol at bay. In a 2014 study, Alzheimer's patients who consumed vitamin E daily experienced functional decline more slowly than those who abstained.

Try them with spices: Mix ½ cup of these sweet, buttery seeds with a pinch each of salt, cumin, chili powder, and cinnamon; and then dry-roast in a pan over medium heat for 4 to 5 minutes. Toss over guacamole, tacos, or salads.

03 of 06


Flaxseeds in spoon
Arletta Cwalina / EyeEm/Getty Images

Calories per serving: 75 in 2 tablespoons (ground)

Notable nutrients: Fiber and alpha linoleic acid (ALA)

Diabetes prevention: A 2011 study reported that prediabetic subjects who daily ate flaxseed (which is rich in sugar-regulating fiber) raised their insulin sensitivity slightly after 12 weeks. Another study published in 2012 suggested flaxseed may be better at lowering LDL cholesterol (yep, the bad kind) when it's stirred into viscous foods (like yogurt) rather than sprinkled onto solids.

Omega-3 boost: One ounce of flaxseed has more than twice the omega-3s (in the form of ALA) as 4 ounces of salmon.

Try them on oatmeal: Sprinkle ground flaxseed (it comes packaged this way) on oatmeal with honey.

RELATED: 5 Healthy Benefits of Flaxseeds—the Small-but-Mighty Superfood

04 of 06

Hemp Seeds

Healthiest seeds: hemp seeds
John Lawton

Calories per serving: 90 in 2 tablespoons

Notable nutrients: Gamma linolenic acid (GLA) and protein

Inflammation relief: Hemp (which isn't hallucinogenic) is an unusual food source of GLA, an anti-inflammatory. This may explain why it's linked to skin and joint health, says Cathy Deimeke, a registered dietitian at the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix.

Protein power: Hemp is also a rare vegan source of all nine essential amino acids (the protein building blocks that the body can't make). A 2013 study of rats suggested hemp protein helps to reduce hypertension.

Try them in pesto: Hemp seeds taste like potent pine nuts, so they're great in Superfood pesto. Puree a handful of these seeds with garlic, grated Parmesan, extra-virgin olive oil, fresh basil, and arugula in a food processor.

05 of 06

Pumpkin Seeds

Healthiest seeds: pumpkin seeds
John Lawton

Calories per serving: 180 in ¼ cup

Notable nutrients: Protein and zinc

Immunity boost: Pumpkin seeds are a valuable source of zinc, which helps keep immune cells functioning properly. One ounce of pumpkin seeds provides about 20 percent of zinc's daily recommended value. Only a handful of other foods (such as beef and pork) offer the same.

Muscle tone: One serving offers almost 10 grams of protein—remarkable for a vegan source. That's slightly more than in ½ cup of black beans.

Try them on toast: Schmear a slice of toast with mashed avocado, and then sprinkle with sea salt and pumpkin seeds; but don't toast the seeds, which reduces their nutritional content. If you'd rather munch on them plain, try our Sweet and salty pumpkin seeds recipe.

06 of 06

Sesame Seeds

Healthiest seeds: sesame seeds
John Lawton

Calories per serving: 103 in 2 tablespoons

Notable nutrients: Phytosterol and iron

Cholesterol control: Sesame seeds are rich in phytosterol, which "sticks to cholesterol like a fly to flypaper," says Rebecca Scritchfield, a registered dietitian in Washington, D.C. Some studies looking into the connection between sesame seeds and cholesterol found that daily consumption of sesame seeds had positive effects on lipid levels, LDL cholesterol, and total cholesterol levels.

Healthy tissues: Just ¼ cup has more than five times more iron (which delivers oxygen to cells) than 1 cup of raw spinach.

Try them on salmon: Marinate fish in a soy-honey sauce, coat with sesame seeds, and then bake or fry in a nonstick pan until seeds form a crispy crust (which intensifies their nutty flavor).

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  1. Sawada Y, Saito-Sasaki N, Nakamura M. Omega 3 Fatty Acid and Skin Diseases. Front Immunol. 2021 Feb 5;11:623052. doi: 10.3389/fimmu.2020.623052.

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  3. Dysken MW, Sano M, Asthana S, et al. Effect of vitamin E and memantine on functional decline in Alzheimer disease: The TEAM-AD VA Cooperative Randomized Trial. JAMA. 2014;311(1):33–44. doi:10.1001/jama.2013.282834

  4. Rhee Y, Brunt A. Flaxseed supplementation improved insulin resistance in obese glucose intolerant people: a randomized crossover design. Nutr J. 2011;10:44. doi:10.1186/1475-2891-10-44.

  5. Kristensen, M., Jensen, M.G., Aarestrup, J. et al. Flaxseed dietary fibers lower cholesterol and increase fecal fat excretion, but magnitude of effect depend on food typeNutr Metab (Lond) 9, 8 (2012). doi: 10.1186/1743-7075-9-8.

  6. Mount Sinai, Gamma-linolenic acid. Accessed May 24, 2022.

  7. Girgih AT, Alashi A, He R, et al. Preventive and treatment effects of a hemp seed (Cannabis sativa L.) meal protein hydrolysate against high blood pressure in spontaneously hypertensive rats. Eur J Nutr. 2014;53(5):1237-1246. doi:10.1007/s00394-013-0625-4.

  8. NIH Office of Dietary Supplements, Zinc. Accessed May 24, 2022.

  9. Alipoor B, Haghighian MK, Sadat BE, Asghari M. Effect of sesame seed on lipid profile and redox status in hyperlipidemic patients. Int J Food Sci Nutr. 2012 Sep;63(6):674-8. doi: 10.3109/09637486.2011.652077. 

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