Seeds: Why You Should Add Them to Your Diet…Today

Written by: on Thursday, July 18th, 2013
Healthy, Edible Seeds

Seeds are an oft-forgotten source of protein and key nutrients.

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
Chia 140 5 10 180 8
Flax, ground 150 5 8 70 1.5
Hemp seeds 180 10 4  — 1
Sunflower 190 6 3 20 1
Pumpkin 170 9 2 50 2
Sesame 200 6 4 350 5
Walnuts 190 4 2 30 1
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 Seed Butter

My kids love this! (And it's perfect for lunches in schools that don't allow peanuts.)

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.

Healthy Sesame Seeds

Try some sesame seeds today!

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

RECIPE: Super Spice Trail Mix

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 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


4 Yummy—and Healthy!—Recipes

Written by: on Wednesday, November 30th, 2011

By Nancy Clark, MS RD CSSD


stack of pancakes with fruit on the top

Skip the sugary syrup and top your pancakes with fruit, fruit jam—or even just a touch of powdered sugar (my fave!).


The pancakes are light and fluffy prizewinners. Yum!!!


½ cup uncooked oats (quick or old fashioned)

½ cup yogurt (or milk + 1/2 tsp vinegar)

½ to ¾ cup milk

1 egg (or 2 egg whites), beaten

1 tablespoon oil, preferably canola

2 tablespoons packed brown sugar

½ teaspoon salt, as desired

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 cup flour, preferably half whole-wheat


1. In a medium bowl, combine the oats, yogurt, and milk. Set aside for 15 to 20 minutes to let the oatmeal soften.

2. When the oatmeal is through soaking, beat in the egg and oil; mix well. Add the sugar, salt, and cinnamon, then the baking powder and flour. Stir until just moistened.

3. Heat a nonstick griddle over medium-high heat.

4. Pour about ¼ cup batter onto the griddle per pancake. Turn when the tops are covered with bubbles.

5. Serve with syrup, applesauce, berries and/or yogurt.


Yield: 6 6-inch pancakes

330 calories per 2 pancakes      57 g Carb, 10 g Protein, 7 g Fat

From Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook (


carrot muffins on a wooden cutting board

These moist carrot muffins make the perfect on-the-go breakfast food—or snack!


These muffins are hearty and moist. Enjoy them plain or with protein-packed peanut butter.


 1½ cups flour, preferably half whole wheat

1½ cups dry oats, blenderized into “flour”

½ cup brown sugar, packed

2 teaspoons baking powder

2 teaspoons baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons cinnamon

2 eggs, beaten

1 teaspoon vanilla

¾ cup milk

 cups shredded carrots

 apples, peeled and shredded

½ cup raisins


1 cup chopped nuts


1. In a medium bowl, mix flour, oat bran, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon.

2. Add the beaten eggs, vanilla, and milk; then the carrots, apples, raisins, and nuts. Stir gently until blended.

3. Prepare muffin tins with paper cups (treated with cooking spray for best results). Fill the muffin cups full.

4. Bake in preheated oven at 350ºF for 15 to 20 minutes. Test for doneness with a toothpick.


Yield: 18 medium muffins (or 12 large)

125 calories per medium muffin      25 g Carb, 4 g Protein, 1 g Fat

From: Food Guide for Soccer: Tips and Recipes from the Pros (



Pecans in a bowl

Pecans are yummy, but don't get carried away: they contain 196 calories per about 20 halves!


This snack has everything your taste buds could possibly want: sweet, spicy, salty, and crunchy. Toast up a batch, and to give as gifts, put them in holiday jars or tins and tie on ribbons.


1 egg white

1 teaspoon water

1 pound pecan halves (about 4 1/2 cups)

½ cup sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon salt, preferably kosher

¼ teaspoon allspice

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper


1. Preheat oven to 325 degreesºF.

2. Lightly coat a rimmed baking sheet with cooking spray.

2. Whisk together the egg white and water in a large bowl until well blended. Add the pecans and toss to coat evenly.

3. In a separate bowl, whisk together the sugar and spices, then sprinkle it over the nuts. Toss until well coated.

4. Spread the pecans in a single layer on the baking sheet, and bake until the glaze is crisp and golden brown, 15 to 18 minutes. Cool completely and store in an airtight container.


Yield: 16 servings (1/4 cup)

220 calories per serving                   10 g Carb, 3 g Protein, 20 g (healthy) Fat

From: No Whine With Dinner (


homemade trail mix

There's no need to buy trail mix; you can whip up a homemade batch in no time!


This is a perfect snack for calming the afternoon munchies. Sweet, but not too sweet.


3 cups oat squares cereal

3 cups mini-pretzels, salted or salt-free, as desired

2 tablespoons tub margarine, melted

1 tablespoon packed brown sugar

½ teaspoon cinnamon

1 cup dried fruit bits, raisins and/or slivered almonds


1. Preheat oven to 325 degreesºF.

2. In a large re-sealable plastic bag or plastic container with a cover, combine the oat squares and pretzels.

3. In a small microwavable bowl, melt the margarine, then add the brown sugar and cinnamon. Mix well, then pour over the cereal mixture.

4. Seal the bag or container and shake gently until the mixture is well coated. Transfer to a baking sheet.

5. Bake uncovered for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring twice.

6. Let cool; add the dried fruit; store in airtight container.


Yield: About 10, ½ cup servings

200 calories per serving    40 g Carb, 5 g Protein, 2 g Fat

Recipe courtesy of the American Heart Association ( and Food Guide for Marathoners: Tips for Everyday Champions (

Copyright: Nancy Clark MS RD CSSD Nancy Clark, MS, RD, CSSD (Board Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics) helps both casual and competitive athletes enhance their health and performance. Her practice is at Healthworks, the premier fitness center in Chestnut Hill MA (617-795-1875). Her Sports Nutrition Guidebook and food guides for runners, soccer players, and cyclists offer additional information. They are available at See also For Nancy’s app with Recipes for Athletes ($2.99) see