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Super Seeds

Plant some new seeds-including chia and hemp- into your diet and reap the health benefits.

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Pumpkin seeds can keep you healthy and happy. Besides being a rich source of vitamins and minerals, they contain a significant amount of L-tryptophan, which has been shown to help alleviate depression.

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If you’re looking for an alternative to nuts or a simple way to get more nutrients in your gluten-free diet, look no further than seeds. Unlike nuts, seeds aren’t common allergens, so they are better tolerated by people with food sensitivities. Plus, several seeds are rich in hard-to-get nutrients, such as omega-3 essential fatty acids, making them desirable even for people who don’t have food sensitivities and allergies.

Sunflower, pumpkin, sesame, and flax seeds. The seeds people are most familiar with are sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds-both are good to snack on-and sesame seeds, which make nice additions to stir-fries and gluten-free breadings. Flaxseeds are well-known sources of omega-3s, which have anti-inflammatory properties, but are notoriously low in the American diet. However, whole flaxseeds tend to pass through the system undigested, so to get the most out of flaxseed without digestive distress, it’s best to grind whole flaxseeds before sprinkling on food. Keep a coffee grinder on hand for freshly ground flaxseeds anytime.

Hemp and chia seeds. Newer seeds on the market are hemp and chia seeds, including Salba, a trademarked version of chia seeds. Hulled or shelled hemp seeds, available from Bob’s Red Mill, Manitoba Harvest, Nutiva, and Ruth’s, are soft and easier on those with digestive problems. They have a good balance of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids and are one of the few food sources of gamma-linolenic acid, an anti-inflammatory fat that many people take in supplement form. Hemp seeds also are rich in fiber and have complete protein with all the essential amino acids.

Chia seeds, a member of the mint family, were a highly valued food in the Aztec diet. They are easily digested, have high fiber levels, and can absorb so much water that they help release carbohydrates slowly into the bloodstream; they may also help reduce food cravings. Chia seeds are packed with nutrients. Two tablespoons of Salba, for example, provide 8 g of fiber, 5 g of protein, 184 mg of calcium, and a whopping 5 g of omega-3 fatty acids.

More Seeds, Please
Try these ways to include more nutrient-rich seeds in your diet:

Sprinkle seeds on salads, fruit, or yogurt. Try hemp seeds in quinoa tabbouleh; sunflower seeds on salads; or black chia seeds (such as Ruth’s Raw Goodness) mixed into yogurt or coconut milk with fruit.

Eat some seedy cereal. Top your favorite gluten-free hot or cold cereal with a tablespoon of one type or a combination of different seeds. Or try a seed-based cereal, such as Perky’s Crunchy Flax, Ruth’s Chia Goodness, or Lydia’s Organics Berry Good Cereal (made with sprouted sunflower seeds and sprouted flax). For lunch or dinner, try Hodgson Mill brown rice pasta with golden milled flaxseed.

Snack on seeds. Eat one type alone or make your own seed-based trail mixes. For a treat, splurge on Enjoy Life Foods Beach Bash or Mountain Mambo seed-and-dried-fruit trail mix.

Try sprouted seed products. These are easier for many people to digest. Sprouted flaxseed crackers in a variety of flavors are available from companies such as Matter of Flax, Foods Alive, and Go Raw. If you like to make food yourself, buy a dehydrator and make your own sprouted seed crackers.

Use seed butter as a spread. Allergic to peanut butter or other nut butters? Roasted organic SunButter sunflower butter, which is made in a nut-free facility, is a good substitute. Spread it on gluten-free bread, crackers, or celery sticks. Sesame tahini works well in hummus, and hemp seed butter, which has a light, nutty taste, is a nutritious new seed butter to try.