“Convince me you have a seed there,” Henry David Thoreau wrote, “and I am prepared to expect wonders.” The famed naturalist of Walden Pond was referring to the power of a seed to build a forest. Little did he know that his thoughts apply to the outsize talent of seeds for nourishing humans, too. Inside a seed’s hard coating is an entire embryonic plant, surrounded by all the food that it needs to thrive once it gets dispersed into the soil. Incorporate seeds into your diet, not occasionally but consistently, and you’ll reap the benefits of all those nutrients, making seeds well worth the calories. The seeds here are among the healthiest. Most will stay fresh for up to a year when stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Consider them worthy alternatives to the nuts that are commonly enjoyed. (Nuts, in fact, are shelled fruits that contain seeds.) All contain omega-3 fatty acids, which are associated with everything from a healthy brain and heart to supple skin. Each also boasts its own distinctive dietary offerings, along with unique flavors that transform everyday eats into food that feels special.
2 of 7John Lawton
Calories per serving: 70 in a tablespoon (dry).
Notable nutrients: Fiber and calcium.
How they benefit you: • Weight maintenance: One tablespoon has more fiber than a slice of whole-grain bread. This roughage enhances digestion and also makes you feel fuller, says New York City nutritionist Lauren Slayton.
• Heart health: The fiber and other nutrients help explain why subjects in a 2007 Diabetes Care study experienced lower blood pressure and clotting risks after eating the seeds for 12 weeks.
• Better bones: Don’t like dairy? Two servings offer the same amount of calcium as ½ cup of milk.
Try them as pudding: These mild seeds expand when wet. Fill a jar with 1 cup milk, 3 tablespoons agave syrup, ¼ cup seeds, ½ teaspoon vanilla extract (for flavor), and a pinch of salt. Cover and shake; chill for 20 minutes. Serve cold with fruit or nuts.
3 of 7John Lawton
Calories per serving: 75 in 2 tablespoons (ground).
Notable nutrients: Fiber and alpha linoleic acid (ALA).
How they benefit you: • Diabetes prevention: A 2011 study in Nutrition Journal reported that prediabetic subjects who daily ate flaxseed (which is rich in sugar-regulating fiber) raised their insulin sensitivity slightly after 12 weeks. And a 2012 paper in Nutrition & Metabolism suggested that 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 has more than twice the omega-3s (in the form of ALA) in 4 ounces of salmon.
Try them on oatmeal: Sprinkle ground flaxseed (which comes packaged this way) onto oatmeal with honey. And make sure to have flaxseed with orange juice; vitamin C helps ALA omega-3s to more directly benefit the heart and the brain.
4 of 7John Lawton
Calories per serving: 90 in 2 tablespoons.
Notable nutrients: Gamma linoleic acid (GLA) and protein.
How they benefit you: • 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 eight essential amino acids (the protein building blocks that the body can’t make). A 2013 study of rodents published in the European Journal of Nutrition suggested that hemp protein helps to reduce hypertension.
Try them in pesto: Hemp seeds taste like potent pine nuts, so they’re great in a pesto. Puree a handful of the seeds with garlic, grated Parmesan, extra-virgin olive oil, fresh basil, and arugula in a food processor.
5 of 7John Lawton
Calories per serving: 180 in ¼ cup.
Notable nutrients: Protein and zinc.
How they benefit you: • Immunity boost: These seeds are a valuable source of zinc, a nutrient that helps to keep immune cells functioning properly. One ounce of pumpkin seeds provides about 20 percent of the daily recommended value of zinc; only a handful of other foods (such as beef and pork) offer the same.
• Muscle tone: One serving offers almost 10 grams of protein, nearly 20 percent of the daily recommended dose for women—which is remarkable for a vegan source. That’s slightly more than ½ cup of black beans.
Try them on toast: Cover a slice of toast with mashed avocado, then add a sprinkling of sea salt and the seeds. Don’t toast the seeds; this reduces their nutritional content.
6 of 7John Lawton
Calories per serving: 103 in 2 tablespoons.
Notable nutrients: Phytosterol and iron.
How they benefit you: • 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. In a 2005 study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, subjects who added these seeds to their diets for four weeks lowered their LDL cholesterol by 9.5 percent.
• Healthy tissues: Just ¼ cup has 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, then coat with the seeds. Bake or fry in a nonstick pan until the seeds form a crispy crust (which intensifies their nutty flavor).
7 of 7John Lawton
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.