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Get your plate in shape with seeds

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By Michelle Gorman

Move over nuts – incorporating seeds into your daily diet is the next big trend!

Who knew that seeds had so much power when it comes to eating healthy and adding an extra bounce to your step? Of course, seeds are the “eggs” that contain the nutrients needed to nourish the development of a new plant, so their high nutrient content shouldn’t be too much of a surprise.

But what is surprising is that we generally demote these nutritional wonders to the occasional snack rather than making them a regular part of our diet. Seeds are wonderful sources of protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals and healthy fats, and we often only need to sprinkle a few into existing salads, hummus plates and yogurt cups to make a big difference in our nutrition. 

With their gold mine of healthy minerals, seeds are a tiny package of key nutrients. They are among the better plant sources of iron and zinc. In fact, did you know that one ounce of pumpkin seeds contains almost twice as much iron as three ounces of skinless chicken breast? They are also good sources of protein. Also, keep in mind that seeds provide more fiber per ounce than nuts.

Sesame seeds are a surprising source of the bone-building mineral, calcium, which is great for those who have trouble tolerating dairy products. And, when it comes to getting your proper dose of  iron, seeds are a great choice. 

The only drawback to seeds is that some are quite high in fat, which is why it is important that you track your seed intake closely and stick to consuming less than four ounces per week. (Eating four ounces of nuts, seeds or soy products a week is recommended.)

In moderation, there are many ways you can incorporate seeds into the food you are already eating. For instance, they can be added to cereals or trail mix, as well as eaten by themselves. A sprinkling of seed kernels over fruits, vegetables, pastas or salads adds a touch of crunchy texture and flavor. Sesame seeds are especially attractive as toppers for breads, rolls, salads and stir fries.

Michelle Gorman, nutrition expert and registered dietitian at Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Arizona, has more than 16 years in the healthy living business. As a health care leader for one of Arizona’s largest networks of contracted health care providers, she proudly believes in the company’s mission of improving the quality of life of Arizonans by delivering a variety of health insurance products and services to meet the diverse needs of individuals, families, and small and large businesses, as well as providing information and tools to help individuals make better health decisions.

Six readily available seeds and how to use them

If you try incorporating these six seeds into your diet, you will be surprised just how much fiber and how many vitamins you will take into your body, ultimately helping you to meet your goal of living a healthier lifestyle.

Hemp is a complete protein and contains all nine essential amino acids. This can be a great source of protein for vegetarians. Hemp is most often used by sprinkling it in shakes or smoothies, or by tossing a few of the seeds over fruit or a yogurt parfait. Hemp is also a tasty accompaniment to hummus.

Wheat germ is high in folate, which is key for women of child-bearing age to fight the risks of birth defects, such as spina bifida. Wheat germ can also be found in lots of yummy cereals, such as granola, and is also known to be tasty in cottage cheese. And, don’t forget popcorn – who doesn’t love a good batch of all-natural popcorn with a few dashes of wheat germ (without the butter or salt, of course)? 

Sunflower seeds are high in vitamin E and act as an antioxidant, preventing wrinkles. Who knew sunflower seeds could perform as an anti-aging trick? Sunflower seeds also help lower cholesterol levels and fight heart disease. These are delicious when sprinkled on chicken salad! 

Pumpkin seeds contain phytosterils that help to reduce bad cholesterol. These are loaded with the good healthy fats.  Don’t forget to incorporate pumpkin seeds into just about any salad out there.

Flax seeds are extremely high in fiber, which can reduce constipation and bloating. They are also high in omega-3 fatty acids. Grinding them prior to consumption is how you release their nutritional value.

Chia seeds are loaded with omega-3 fatty acids, and they have among the highest antioxidant activity of any whole food – even more than fresh blueberries. And, they also help keep blood pressure and blood sugar under control. Surprisingly, chia is a great addition to stews and soups.

Don’t be afraid to get creative and try new ways to incorporate these nutritional powerhouses into your diet. It is important to note, however, that this is general information only, and is not intended to take the place of your health care provider’s independent medical judgment. You should consult with your health care provider regarding your specific needs.

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