Times have changed from when we used to joke about people who ate “nuts and berries”. Today’s athletes routinely enjoy nuts and berries and are now looking for ways to notch up their diets with more seeds (such as flax and chia). This trend can enhance the health of both our bodies—and the planet. That is, by choosing more plant foods, we’ll end up eating less meat and animal protein. If each of us were to eat just one less pound of beef per week, greenhouse gas emissions would drop significantly.
While seeds are health-enhancing choices to include in your diet, their nutritional value can sometimes get exaggerated. The following information offers a perspective on some “trendy” foods that are getting mainstreamed.
Nuts and Seeds
Want to add a nice crunch, along with vitamins and minerals, to your diet? Sprinkle some slivered almonds, chopped walnuts, pistachios, sunflower and sesame seeds into your yogurt, cereal, salad, and smoothie. Nuts and seeds offer protein, healthy fats, fiber, vitamin E, magnesium, and many other nutrients. The fact that a plant grows from a nut or seed indicates it is life sustaining.
Many nuts and seeds offer alpha linoleic acid, also known as ALA, a type of health-protective omega-3 polyunsaturated fat. While ALA from plants is not as potent as the type of omega-3s found in fish, any omega-3 fat is better than none. But dieters beware! When you nonchalantly toss a few spoonfuls of nuts and seeds into your smoothies and salads to pump up their nutritional value, you can also easily toss in 100 to 400 calories. While vegans may need this protein and calorie boost, if you’re weight-conscious, you might want to think twice.
Comparing Seeds and Nuts This chart shows how 1/4 cup of nuts and seeds (two spoonfuls or a large handful) adds a lot of calories but minimal protein towards the daily target of about 60 to 90 grams of protein. Vegans still need additional plant proteins, like beans and tofu, to get enough protein.
|Seed¼ cup/30 g||Calories||Protein g||Fiber g||Calcium mg||Ironmg|
|Daily target:60-90 g||Daily target:25-35 g||Daily target:1,000 mg||Daily target:8 mg men18 mg women|
Flax seeds, commonly consumed for their ALA omega-3 fat benefits, need to be ground before being eaten. Otherwise, they pass through your intestines whole and undigested.
Chia seeds also offer ALA omega-3 fats—but you don’t need to grind them. Just sprinkle chia on yogurt and enjoy the crunch. When soaked in water for 10 minutes, chia seeds create a gel that can be used as a thickener for smoothies and as an alternative to eggs and oils in some recipes. The slimy consistency of soaked chia seeds can be tough to enjoy for some. If you fall into the “no thank you” camp, worry not. You have many other options for enjoyably consuming similar nutrients in other seeds and nuts.
Sunflower seeds have a mild, pleasing taste when added to salads, trail mix, or cold cereals. For people with peanut allergies, sunflower butter is a popular alternative to peanut butter.
Pumpkin seeds, also known as pepitas, are slower to eat when you buy them in the shell. This can save unwanted calories.
Hemp seeds are touted as containing all the essential amino acids. Hemp adds a protein-boost to vegan diets, but at a high price. Hemp seeds costs about $15 per pound, as compared to soy nuts, that also have all the amino acids, about $3.50/lb.
Sesame seeds have a gentle flavor and make a nice addition to stir-fried tofu or chicken. Although sesame seeds are touted as being calcium-rich, their calcium is poorly absorbed.
Chopped nuts, such as walnuts or slivered almonds, add a protein boost—but not as much of a protein bonus as many people think. If you ate half a cup of walnuts (two big handfuls), you’d get only 8 grams of protein. For the same calories, you could add 1.5 cups of cottage cheese to your salad and get five times more protein (40 grams).
Copyright Nancy Clark, MS, RD, CSSD
This Super Spice Trail Mix includes a yummy combination of health-enhancing nuts, seeds, grain, and spices. Pack it into into little individual baggies for snacks, sprinkle it into yogurt, or add it to cold or hot cereal. It offers a really nice crunch and flavor boost to shredded wheat and other bland cereals. (I found this recipe at www.McCormick.com. The McCormick Spice website offers lots of really nice and flavorful recipes filled with herbs and spices.)
1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons ginger
2 teaspoons paprika
3 cups nuts, such as a mix of almonds, shelled pistachios, and pecan halves
1 cup rolled oats
1 cup roasted pepitas (shelled pumpkin seeds)
1/4 cup apple juice concentrate, thawed
1-1/2 cups dried fruit, suh as a mix of dried cherries, cranberries, and golden raisins
1. Preheat oven to 250°F. Mix brown sugar, cinnamon, ginger, and paprika in small bowl. Set aside.
2. Place nuts, oats, and pepitas in a large bowl. Add thawed apple juice concentrate; toss until nuts are evenly coated.
3. Sprinkle with spice mixture, tossing to coat well.
4. Spread evenly on two 15x10x1-inch baking pans. Bake 30 minutes, stirring halfway through cook time. Cool completely on wire rack.
5. Stir in cherries and raisins. Store in airtight container.
Yield 24 ¼-cup servings Approximate calories per serving 200