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Diet & Nutrition

Seeds of Change

Nuts may get all the glory, but seeds have plenty of healthy and culinary benefits too. Here are the ones to sprinkle into your diet more often as proof that great things come in small packages.

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Seeds are proof that Mother Nature works in marvelous ways. A diminutive seed contains all the makings of an entire plant. Despite their small size, they’re fruitful nutritional giants.

So what makes seeds so darn healthy? Don’t let their scaled-down size fool you: sunflower, chia, and their ilk provide a powerful blend of healthy fats, plant-based protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that can help stave off heart disease, cancer, and more. In fact, because seeds are so nutrient-dense, you don’t need to eat a huge amount to reap the benefits—just 2–3 tablespoons a day should give you a big nutritional boost without breaking the calorie bank.

And if you’re hunting for something that also tastes great and is ultra-versatile in the kitchen, look no further than seeds. Here are the top picks, where there is certainly not a bad seed in the bunch.

Photo: Adobe Stock

Fend off diabetes with chia seeds

As a fiber heavyweight, chia delivers 5 grams in a mere tablespoon serving, much of which is soluble fiber. When soluble fiber interacts with gastric liquids it forms a gel. In this gel form, soluble fiber works to slow down digestion to help keep you feeling full as well as tempering rises in blood sugar. This is a key factor in helping fend off type 2 diabetes, a condition that impacts about 34 million Americans. A number of research papers show that soluble fiber also helps reduce levels of LDL, the so-called bad cholesterol, making a daily chia habit ticker-friendly. Soluble fiber pulls off this trick by increasing the excretion of cholesterol-containing bile from the body.

Try: Chia & Sesame Seed Crisps

Photo: Adobe Stock

Build muscle with HEMP seeds

Also called “hemp hearts,” which are the seeds that have had their hard outer shell removed, these habit-forming, sweet-nutty delights are a fantastic source of plant-based protein—roughly 10 grams in a 3-tablespoon serving. Since the protein contained within hemp seeds has been determined to be “complete,” as it contains a full arsenal of essential amino acids, hemp seeds are a useful food source for helping improve lean body mass. This, in turn, can enhance exercise performance and also keep your fat-burning metabolism-revving along.

Hemp seeds’ other nutritional virtues include a bounty of heart-benefiting omega-3 fatty acids and many must-have minerals including iron, phosphorus, and immune-boosting zinc. And, no, they don’t contain any THC, so you’ll get only a nutrition high from chomping on them.

Try: Super Greens, Beets & Quinoa Salad with Hemp Seeds

Photo: Adobe Stock

Look on the bright side with pumpkin seeds

If you’re suffering from the Covid blues, be sure to crunch your way through more pumpkin seeds. Sometimes referred to as pepitas in recipes, these squash-sourced seeds are a leading source of magnesium. Higher intakes of this mineral might be beneficial to mental health by helping ease systems of depression, according to an investigation in the journal PLOS ONE.

A meta-analysis published in Hypertension found evidence that bumping up magnesium intake can also have a positive impact on reducing blood pressure numbers. Magnesium relaxes blood vessels, which increases blood flow, thereby decreasing pressure. Sadly, nutrition surveys suggest that magnesium is chronically under-consumed, as it’s typically lacking in processed foods.

Try: Zucchini Bites with Quinoa, Pomegranates and Pumpkin Seeds

Photo: Adobe Stock

Tame inflammation with flax

Fatty in a good way, flax is chock-full of the essential omega-3 fat alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)—essential because we must get it from dietary sources since the body is unable to produce its own. Owing to the glut of cheap vegetable oils used in packaged foods and fast-food fryers, many people tend to eat far too many omega-6 fats and far too few omega-3s. It’s thought that this skewed balance of fatty acids encourages inflammation in the body, which can expedite the process of cardiovascular disease and other maladies. So adding a daily dose of flax to your diet, which has an omega-3-to-omega-6 ratio of 4-to-1, can help you get back into balance.

These nutritional overachievers are also one of the richest food sources of lignans—anti-disease polyphenols found in some plant walls—and, like chia, hunger-smashing soluble fiber. Flaxseeds are best consumed ground because the hard shell of the whole seed resists digestion, making it difficult to tap into the nutrition payload contained within the seed. 

Try: Sumac-Flax Cauliflower Steaks with Sesame-Flax Butter

Photo: Adobe Stock

Take on cancer with sunflower seeds

When you look at the nutrient profile of the seeds from this sun-worshiping plant, what stands out is their lofty vitamin E levels—about 35 percent of the daily need in a 1-ounce serving. That’s good news if you want a better chance of keeping the big C at bay—research data suggests that consuming more food-sourced vitamin E may help lessen the risk for certain cancers, including colon, breast, and prostate.

Naturally occurring forms of vitamin E, such as gamma- and delta-tocopherols, are found in sunflower seeds and other foods. They can act as potent antioxidants that help put the brakes on the cell damage that contributes to cancer progression. Sunflower seeds also contain a mineral stew that includes praiseworthy levels of phosphorus, copper, manganese, and selenium.

Try: Sunflower Seed Butter

Photo: Adobe Stock

Build bones of steel with sesame seeds

Open sesame and you’ll get a surprising dose of calcium. Bone is a mineralized connective tissue in which calcium represents the major component, conferring strength and structure. So, proper dietary calcium intake is important for adequate bone development. Sesame seeds prove that you can get plenty of this key mineral from non-dairy sources. What’s more, boosting intake of calcium via dietary measures may lessen the risk of premenopausal women developing breast cancer, according to a meta-analysis in the British Journal of Nutrition.

These salubrious seeds also deliver copper, an essential mineral for proper energy production and neurotransmitter synthesis. Seek out fetching black sesame seeds and you’ll get an extra dose of age-avenging antioxidants that are concentrated in their dark hulls. 

Photo: Adobe Stock

Sowing Your Seeds

Undeniably nutritious and delicious, ultra-versatile seeds are easy to incorporate into your diet:

  • Whirl hemp seeds into smoothies.
  • Top a bowl of chili with pumpkin seeds.
  • Blend sesame seeds into dips.
  • Stir chia seeds into yogurt.
  • Whisk tahini into creamy dressings.
  • Use ground flax as a binder in veggie burgers and meatballs.
  • Add sunflower seeds to baked goods for a little crunch.
  • Incorporate hemp seeds into homemade energy balls and bars.

Looking for a plant-based baking alternative to eggs? Try flaxseeds or chia seeds. Simply mix one tablespoon of chia seeds or ground flaxseeds with 3 tablespoons cold water. In 10 minutes, you’ll have a gelatinous mixture that can be used in muffin and pancake recipes as an egg replacement.

Photo: Pornchai Mittongtare

Click here for the Cultured Beet Chia Pudding recipe.

Photo: Pornchai Mittongtare

Click here for the Sesame Crusted Salmon recipe.

Photo: Pornchai Mittongtare

Click here for the Roasted Broccoli with Hemp Parm recipe.

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