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Small but mighty! 6 ways to tap into the health benefits of seeds

Add seeds to salads, smoothies, oats and even ground meats for a dose of fiber, protein and vitamins.
Seeds are full of nutrients, but before you reach for a couple of handfuls, remember they also pack a high calorie punch.TODAY illustration / Getty Images
/ Source: TODAY

If you’re looking for ways to break up quarantine cooking and snacking boredom, seeds are an often overlooked pantry item. Packed with fiber, protein and some serious crunch, they can be a great addition to your meals and snacks. While your experience with seeds may be limited to roasting the ones you pull out of your pumpkin post-Halloween, there are a lot of easy ways to incorporate these small but mighty foods into a healthy diet.

Seeds are a fun and tasty topping containing all of the starting materials that develop into the whole plant. That’s why they are so nutrient dense — from fiber to protein to healthy fat, seeds have it all!

As many of us are looking for more plant sources of protein, seeds are a winner. They're loaded with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants including B vitamins and vitamin E. And they’re a great boost for heart health.

Seeds are full of nutrients, but before you reach for a couple of handfuls, remember they also pack a high-calorie punch. So if you’re watching your calories, pay attention to your portion size. A good rule of thumb is a 1 ounce daily serving (about a handful) weighing in about 150 calories.

6 seeds to stock up on right now

1. Pumpkin seeds (pepitas)

Not just a Halloween treat, these nutty, crunchy seeds contain heart-healthy antioxidants called phytosterols. A 1-ounce serving of pumpkin seeds contains 150 calories, 2 grams of fiber, 7 grams of protein, as well as manganese, magnesium and phosphorus.

2. Sunflower seeds

These popular black-and-white speckled snacking seeds can be purchased shelled or unshelled. A 1-ounce serving of sunflower seeds contains 165 calories, 2 grams of fiber, 6 grams of protein, along with vitamin E, manganese and magnesium.

3. Sesame seeds

Most of us are familiar with sesame seeds (hello, sesame bagels!). But sesame seed paste — tahini — is a main ingredient of hummus (with chickpeas). Any try sprinkling sesame seeds to any other dish you make using chickpeas — it’s a perfect fit. A 1-ounce serving of sesame seeds contains 165 calories, 2 grams of fiber, 6 grams of protein, along with vitamin E, manganese and magnesium.

4. Flax seeds

Flax seeds are a great source of healthy fats, but you can’t just pop them in your mouth for a quick snack. The fats are found in the hard outer shell so you need to grind them up to get all the benefits. A 1-ounce serving of flaxseeds contains 150 calories, 8 grams of fiber, 5 grams of protein (almost as much as an egg!), vitamin B1, manganese and magnesium.

5. Chia seeds

These tiny black seeds — used in everything from trendy puddings to salads — are a great source of omega-3 healthy fats. A 1-ounce serving of chia seeds contains 137 calories, 11 grams of fiber, 4 grams of protein, as well as vitamin B1, magnesium and manganese.

6. Hemp seeds

With more protein than an egg, these non-psychoactive seeds are a great source of protein for vegetarians, but lower in fiber than other seeds. A 1-ounce: serving contains 155 calories, 1 gram of fiber, 9 of grams protein, as well as magnesium, vitamin B1 and zinc.

How to eat and cook with seeds

Seeds with their shells, like pumpkin and sunflower seeds, can be a big help for stress eaters — cracking them open takes time, and keeps your hands busy. Just make sure to measure out your portion, to avoid mindless eating!

And if you don’t like them as a stand-alone snack, add them to salads, smoothies, oatmeal and yogurt for crunch and added flavor. You can also add a handful to your standard recipes, anything from meatloaf to muffins. Or try swapping out some seeds for other low nutrient crunchy toppings like crotons, bacon bits or wonton noodles.

And don’t be fooled by chocolate-covered seeds advertised as a nutrient-rich snack. Eat them when you choose, but think of them as a special treat.

Just remember: These little nutrient powerhouses aren't for everyone. Those with certain digestive issues or allergies should check with their doctor first.

And here’s even more good news: While seeds used to be a specialty store item, you can now find a wide variety of seeds in all supermarkets and convenience stores.

Ready to get started with seeds? Try these recipes from Fit Men Cook's Kevin Curry!

The creamy tahini sauce gives this noodle salad a rich texture and makes it feel indulgent even though it's a light and healthy dish. The crunchy veggies are also a great contrast to the tender noodles, making this salad even more satisfying.

Curry loves crunching on these spicy seeds on their own for a healthy snack, but they're also great as a flavorful topper for a creamy soup.

This gluten-free version has all the flavor of traditional banana bread but with added healthy ingredients. The toasty oats and sunflower seeds add a pleasant crunch and extra nutrients.