In addition to being crunchy and tasty, seeds boast a bevy of health benefits; they’re also quite versatile and can be incorporated into sweet and savory dishes alike. We tapped Alyssa Wilson, registered dietician and metabolic success coach at Signos, for a rundown of the 12 most common types of seeds. Read on for everything you need to know about how to use them—and why you should.
12 Types of Seeds That Are as Healthy as They Are Delicious
These fiber-packed seeds are rich in healthy omega-3 fats and provide a substantial amount of protein to boot (five grams per one ounce serving). As such, the Wilson tells us that flaxseeds support regularity and can keep you feeling fuller for longer. Incorporating flaxseed into your diet can also reduce your blood sugar, as well as your risk of cancer and heart disease. That said, the whole seed is difficult to digest. For this reason, Wilson recommends using ground flaxseed instead, which can be added to oatmeal, smoothies and baked goods for a nutritional boost—just be sure to keep the ground seeds in the fridge or freezer to ensure freshness.
2. Sesame Seeds
You probably know these guys as the main ingredient in tahini, or maybe your morning bagel comes to mind when you think of this nutty and slightly sweet-tasting seed. Interestingly enough, Wilson tells us, “Sesame seeds are one of the best dietary sources of lignans—molecules that have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects—and may reduce inflammation and oxidative stress.” Of course you can use this information to justify that bagel and cream cheese you’re craving, but it’s worth noting that there are many other healthy ways to make use of sesame seeds—like by sprinkling them into a veggie stir-fry or atop a slice of avocado toast, for example.
3. Sunflower Seeds
You might remember snacking on these seeds as a kid—and it turns out you were onto something back then. Wilson says that sunflower seeds are “abundant in monounsaturated fats, Vitamin E, and protein…and eating [them] a few times a week has been shown to reduce inflammation.” You can enjoy these seeds by the handful for a healthy on-the-go snack, or in the form of sunflower butter as an alternative to peanut butter. However, Wilson says it’s important to read the nutritional label carefully and stick to sunflower seeds and butters that are low in salt and sugar, respectively.
4. Chia Seeds
Just two tablespoons of these itty-bitty seeds provide a whopping 10 grams of dietary fiber. What’s more, chia seeds are loaded with healthy Omega-3 fats, and can “increase ALA in the blood, which is an omega-3 fatty acid that can help reduce inflammation,” says Wilson. Another fun fact about chia seeds is that they absorb up to ten times the amount of water that they’re put in, which means that just a small one ounce serving added to yogurt can go a long way towards making you feel full for longer.
5. Hemp Seeds
You can skip the Baja hoodie, but whatever you do, don’t dismiss the hemp seed. According to Wilson, these relatively large and pleasantly crunchy seeds from the hemp plant are “a complete protein source, which means they contain all the essential amino acids that your body is unable to make.” These seeds are a lovely addition to rice, salads and all manner of vegetable dishes. You can also enjoy numerous research-backed health benefits—like improved heart health and skin—by using hemp seed oil, if you so choose.
6. Pumpkin Seeds
Pumpkin seeds, also known as pepitas, are a popular seed with a pretty obvious origin. They’re also loaded with monounsaturated and omega-6 fats and boast serious health benefits for the bladder and urinary tract, in particular. Indeed, Wilson tells us that research—like this 1987 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition—shows pumpkin seeds can reduce the risk of bladder and kidney stones, and might alleviate the symptoms of an overactive bladder in postmenopausal women as well. Even better news: They’re downright delicious as a topping or stand-alone snack when seasoned with olive oil, salt and turmeric, and roasted.
7. Pomegranate Seeds
Much like pumpkin seeds, “pomegranate helps regulate oxalates, calcium, and phosphates in the blood, which all play a role in preventing kidney stones,” says Wilson. A single (½-cup) serving of pomegranate seeds also contains 40 percent of your daily Vitamin C requirement, plus a boatload of antioxidants called polyphenols, which protect against cell damage and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Best of all, these sexy seeds are tart, juicy and just right for snacking and adding to salads.
You might think of quinoa as a grain—it’s commonly used in place of rice, after all—but it is actually a seed, and a very healthy one at that. Quinoa is rich in amino acids, Vitamin E and antioxidants that prevent heart and organ damage. It’s also full of dietary fiber, which plays an important role in regulating cholesterol and blood sugar levels. Wilson suggests enjoying a bowl of this popular seed in lieu of your morning oatmeal for a warm and comforting breakfast.
9. Pine Nuts
Don’t be fooled by the name—pine nuts are, in fact, the edible seeds produced by certain species of pine trees. They also boast a seriously impressive nutritional profile that includes a healthy dose of vitamin A, amino acids, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin E, copper, iron, manganese, and phosphorus. (Now say that ten times, fast.) Bonus: These crunchy, buttery seeds are loaded with heart-healthy monounsaturated fats and can be added to everything from salads and veggie sides to pasta dishes. (Pro tip: Toast pine nuts before putting them to use in any given recipe to bring out their full flavor potential.)
10. Poppy Seeds
Here, another staple of the local bagel shop—and one that serves up a decent amount of B-vitamins. What does this mean, you ask? Wilson tells us that the B vitamins present in poppy seeds “play an important role in brain function…aid digestion, hydrate the skin and support bone health.” (Not too shabby, right?) They’re also so tiny that whatever taste they have is likely to go undetected in pretty much anything, which is why you can use them in everything from sweet baked goods like lemon poppy bread to salad dressings (and pretty much any other savory dish if you scoop up some Everything But the Bagel seasoning blend at Trader Joe’s).
11. Wild Rice
Another sneaky seed—wild rice is not rice at all, but rather a grass seed that happens to be “higher in protein than other whole grains and rich in folate, zinc, vitamin B6, and magnesium,” says Wilson. Wild rice also contains more antioxidants than white rice—so basically it beats both long and short-grain rice in every category but can be used in the exact same way.
12. Caraway Seeds
When ground into a fine powder, it’s called cumin—but whole caraway seeds also make an appearance in a wide variety of dishes, including sausages, cheeses and sauerkraut. Per Wilson, caraway has been prized for its health benefits for ages—namely because it’s rich in iron, vitamin A, magnesium, potassium, calcium, and folate, and can alleviate digestive issues like heartburn and gas.