Tiny but powerful seeds are some of the healthiest foods around. And, fortunately, adding them into your family's everyday meals is a cinch.
You'll find widely popular seeds like quinoa, sunflower, flax, pumpkin, and sesame in virtually any grocery store. Up-and-coming seeds such as hemp and chia are easily located in health food stores, online, and in more and more local markets. Brands like Bob's Red Mill are carried nationwide. Wherever you find seeds, use them often to give your family's diet a boost.
Though it's treated like a grain, quinoa is actually a seed, revered by the ancient Incans as a sacred crop. High in protein and naturally gluten-free, this South American staple is also packed with iron, magnesium, and fiber. Quinoa is widely considered a superfood by modern-day nutrition experts. It contains all nine essential amino acids, and research has shown that it is rich in polyphenols, which can reduce the risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease.
2. How to Eat Quinoa
"Quinoa is great for breakfast," says kids' cooking expert Cricket Azima, the founder of the Creative Kitchen and the Kids Food Festival, and the author of Everybody Eats Lunch. To make a creamy and delicious porridge, combine quinoa with oatmeal and top with fruit and syrup. For lunch or dinner, toss cooked, cooled quinoa with chopped vegetables, crumbled feta, Kalamata olives, and a red-wine vinaigrette. Or serve a quinoa pilaf studded with dried cranberries and chopped pistachios.
3. Sesame Seeds
Delicate, nutty-tasting sesame seeds aren't just for bagels: The vitamin E-packed seed is used in many Asian cuisines, and sesame paste, or tahini, is the base of traditional Mediterranean dishes like hummus and baba ghanoush. Rich in nutrients like calcium, iron, phosphorus, and magnesium, sesame seeds are also full of disease-fighting antioxidants. They have a high oil content, so it's best to keep sesame seeds and sesame oil in the refrigerator.
4. How to Eat Sesame Seeds
For an easy side dish, toss crisp steamed vegetables with a drizzle of sesame oil and sprinkle with lightly toasted sesame seeds, as in this recipe for Sesame Snow Peas. Sesame seeds add a welcome crunch and nutty flavor to homemade crackers or a family-friendly soba noodle salad.
5. Pumpkin Seeds
If the only time your family eats pumpkin seeds is after the annual jack-o'-lantern carving, you're missing out. "Pumpkin seeds are rich in zinc, and zinc is great for the immune system," explains Andrea Beaman, a health coach and natural-foods chef. The slightly sweet, chewy seeds also contain cholesterol-lowering phytosterols, which are believed to promote heart health.
6. How to Eat Pumpkin Seeds
Pumpkin seeds, sometimes called pepitas, make a great snack when lightly toasted. Add them to your favorite pesto recipe in place of pine nuts, or sprinkle spiced, toasted pumpkin seeds over black bean or butternut squash soup. When baking for kids, Beaman likes to make what she calls a "trail mix cookie" that she packs with pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, oats, and dried cranberries.
7. Hemp Seeds
Soft, chewy hemp seeds are becoming increasingly popular and easy to find--for good reason. This once-controversial seed is a complete protein, making it an ideal addition to a vegetarian diet. It's an excellent source of essential fatty acids, along with potassium and iron.
8. How to Eat Hemp Seeds
When introducing hemp seeds--or any other new ingredient--to your family, Azima suggests adding it to a food your children already know and love. "For example," she says, "we put hemp seeds into mac 'n' cheese." Hemp seeds can be toasted and sprinkled on salads, added to chocolate chip cookies for a bit of crunch, or tossed into smoothies.
"The coating on flax is hard to digest," Beaman says, so the whole seeds need to be ground before they can be eaten. Fortunately, most health food stores and even many supermarkets sell ground flaxseed, which should be kept in the fridge to preserve its impressive nutrient content. Studies have found that eating flaxseeds, which are packed with fiber and disease-fighting phytochemicals called lignans, may help to lower cholesterol levels and stabilize blood sugar.
10. How to Eat Flaxseed
"I put finely ground flaxseed into a teddy bear-shaped shaker," says Azima, who explains that her son loves to sprinkle it on all his food. "It's such an easy way to get something healthy into your child." Ground flaxseed can be added to smoothies, used as breading on chicken, swirled into a hot cereal, or added to hearty triple-banana pancakes.
11. Chia Seeds
Though chia has recently been touted as a health-food superstar, the use of the Central American seed dates back to ancient times, when it was believed to have been a key part of the Aztec diet. An excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids and fiber, the small black and white seeds have a mild flavor and a bit of crunch, but develop a gelatinous texture when soaked in water.
12. How to Eat Chia
Try adding chia seeds to fruit juice to make a gelatin-free Jell-O alternative. Sprinkle chia over oatmeal to add texture and extra nutrition to your morning meal, or stir a tablespoon or two of chia seeds into a bean soup or tomato sauce.
13. Sunflower Seeds
"With peanut butter and tree nuts banned from many schools, seeds are now playing a much larger role," Azima notes. Sunflower seeds are a perfect example: Nutty-tasting and good for munching on as they are, these anti-inflammatory powerhouses (an incredible source of immune-boosting vitamin E and zinc) are delicious when ground into a creamy spread. "Sunflower-seed butter is a staple in the house," Azima says. "We use it as a peanut butter replacement, and the flavor is fabulous."
14. How to Eat Sunflower Seeds
Try substituting sunflower seed butter for peanut butter in cookie recipes or spreading it on toast and drizzling it with honey for a filling breakfast. Sunflower seeds are delicious when baked into flatbreads or muffins or added to homemade granola bars.
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