PACKED with protein and heart-healthy fats, seeds help you stay satisfied longer. And sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds are all widely available and relatively inexpensive.
While seeds have many of the same vitamins and minerals as nuts, they are less often implicated in allergic reactions. That’s because they’re not botanically related to peanuts or tree nuts.
FOLLOW THE SUN
American Indians tended fields of sunflowers as far back as 3000 B.C. in the lands now called New Mexico and Arizona.
Sunflower seeds are the richest source of vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant that protects lungs and blood cells. One ounce of sunflower-seed kernels contains 84 percent of the daily requirement for vitamin E.
Sunflower seeds also have one-third of the goal for selenium, plus significant amounts of folate, vitamin B6, zinc and protein. And sunflower seeds have lots of magnesium, which is good for blood pressure and bone strength.
A Norwegian study named sunflower seeds as one of the richest sources of antioxidants, along with sour cherries, blackberries, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, walnuts, pome-granates and ginger.
Finally, sunflower seeds are rich in fiber, which is good for digestion and reduces cholesterol. There is fiber in both the hard, black-and-white-striped shell and the tan-colored kernel inside. Unless you chew slowly and thoroughly, though, I think it is better to buy the kernels, not the seeds in the tough shells.
A handful of sunflower-seed kernels makes a great instant snack. They also make a great topping for a savory salad or for a fruit and yogurt parfait. You can add sunflower seeds to any baking mix, such as pancake, bread and muffin mixes. Also, the National Sunflower Association suggests crushing sunflower seeds and using them to coat oven-fried fish or chicken.
ALL YEAR LONG
Pumpkin seeds are another super seed. You don’t have to wait until you buy a Halloween jack-o’-lantern to get some seeds to toast. Many supermarkets now carry toasted, unsalted pepitas. These are a variety of tender, green pumpkin seeds popular in Mexico.
Historically, along with sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds sustained American Indians. Like meat, pumpkin seeds are a good source of protein, zinc and iron. In fact, an Iranian study found that pumpkin seeds and iron-fortified cereal together made a good, low-cost treatment for anemic women.
A few Asian studies have suggested that pumpkin seeds somehow reduce the risk of bladder stones. More research is needed on this.
An ounce of pumpkin seeds has almost half the daily requirement for magnesium, which helps control blood pressure and aids bone strength. People who eat rich sources of magnesium had lower rates of diabetes, in studies of 127,000 men and women.
As with sunflower seeds, be sure to chew pumpkin seeds well.
More good news: Like sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds rarely cause allergies.
Sesame seeds are more likely to trigger allergies than pumpkin or sunflower seeds, but these allergies are still relatively uncommon.
Dutch scientists reviewed 36 studies of allergies in more than 250,000 children and adults. Up to 4 percent of people have allergies to nuts, and less than 1 percent had allergies to sesame.
A study at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh reported that 68 percent of kids with peanut allergies also reacted to other foods, most commonly eggs, cow’s milk, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soy, wheat and sesame seeds.
So, if you don’t have food allergies, it’s unlikely you’ll develop a problem with sesame. If you do have peanut allergies, however, be cautious, as you would with any new foods.
Nutritionally, sesame seeds have a lot to recommend them. A symbol of immortality in India, sesame seeds are a rich source of calcium, selenium and vitamin E.
Don’t wait for your next sesame-seed bun to eat some. You can add sesame seeds to stir-fried vegetables. They make a lovely garnish and add a classic Asian flavor. Many Asian and Middle Eastern markets sell sesame seeds inexpensively in 1-pound bags, like rice.
You also can try sesame butter, or tahini, made from ground sesame seeds. This spread can be used to make salad dressings and is also the secret ingredient in hummus.
Sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds all can add rich flavor to meals, plus boost nutrition.
Jennifer Motl welcomes reader questions via her Web site, www.brighteating.com, or mailed to Nutrition, The Free Lance-Star, 616 Amelia St., Fredericksburg, Va. 22401.