Always crunchy and delicious, I’m nuts about seeds. These days seeds are playing a prominent role in what I tell my clients to eat. I encourage adding flax meal (ground up flax seeds), chia seeds and hemp seeds to oatmeal, quinoa, yogurt and baked goods. I’m pushing poppy and hemp seeds in muffins and breads. I’ll tell moms and dads to use sunflower seeds for their little leaguer’s snack bag and there is no way I can make it through this season without reminding everyone to save their jack-o-lantern seeds to toast up as a delicious fall snack. I’m not telling you to retire your nuts – but I hope to broaden your horizons with a little variety. I’m shedding some light on 3 seeds in hopes that you learn something new.
Let’s start with one of the most popular seeds, the sunflower. I am a huge fan of sunflower seeds. Like most seeds, they are super low in the allergen world, so parents can easily give them to kids with nut allergies (a great substitute). They are high in protein and fatty acids, vitamin E, manganese, magnesium, copper, selenium, phosphorus, vitamin B1, vitamin B6 and folate. For 200 calories in a ¼ cup, they make a great snack!
These seeds are not bird-food, they’re sport-food! Sunflower seeds have been made famous by baseball players, who gave up chewing tobacco and bubble gum, for the new fashion on the field — sunflower seeds in their shells. While it is not at all attractive to watch grown men spit little pieces of shell, spitting vs. swallowing the hulls is up for some debate. I can only tell you that if you choose to swallow them, chew the sharp, fiber rich coverings very well so you do not risk damage to your digestive tract. The shells of the seeds are tasty and mostly made up of insoluble fiber, which is important for keeping bowels regular and a great tool for slowing down speed-eaters.
I remember when chia was launched into mainstream culture as Chia Pets during my childhood. Whoever knew that those silly potted plants that looked like heads and sprouted hair came from seeds that are a veritable nutrition power house? Ha! When I looked at the nutrition profile of the chia seed, I stopped laughing. High in protein, fiber and omega 3 fatty acids, it is super easy to incorporate chia seeds into any meal – sprinkled on a salad, stirred into yogurt, added to bread crumbs . . . the possibilities are endless. Usually, we do not eat chia seeds alone, but a tablespoon has only 70 calories and will contribute greatly to feeling satisfied. The flavor is really mild and the little bit of crunch is all YUM.
The kids look forward to the carving part, but when I’m diggin’ in to a pumpkin, all I see are seeds. Honestly I cannot wait to toast them up and get creative with the cookie sheet and my spice cabinet. When I can, I make toasted pumpkin seeds even without the jack-o-lantern part. You can use butternut squash seeds, acorn squash seeds or even hubbard squash seeds the same way as a pumpkin and they’re slightly less demanding on the biceps to hack into. I put them on my salads, on top of my soups or into my trail mix, and recommend you do the same: a quarter cup has 71 calories, and 3 grams of fat and protein. They are rich in phytonutrients, phytosterols, manganese, tryptophan, magnesium, copper, zinc and iron. Keep in mind that the Spanish name for pumpkin seeds are ‘pepita’ – you’ll sometimes see them sold in the market under that name.
I’m sure there are a million fancy recipes out there, but I simply remove the slime and innards from the pumpkin seeds and lay them on a cookie sheet that has prepped with olive or canola oil in a misto sprayer. I toast at 300 degrees for about 45 minutes, checking and shaking the pan often to toast both sides. Make sure you do the same, they can burn! When they are out and cooled, I’ll add a tiny sprinkle of salt if I feel savory, or a pinch of brown sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg if I am in a sweet mood.
Eat seeds, friends! They are healthful and delicious. I will remind you to keep portion control in mind, because even though they are low carbohydrate and full of health benefits, they are not a food to eat in voluminous amounts. I am off to make myself some sunflower, chia, pepita trail mix!