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Seeds can add nutrition to a variety of foods.

“I tell people to think about seeds how you think about eggs,” said Dr. Yikyung Park, a Washington University nutritional epidemiologist at Siteman Cancer Center. “An egg is a healthy food that contains all the good nutrients, nutrients the egg needs to grow. It’s pretty much the same for seeds.”

Considering the size of most seeds, they need to pack an astonishing amount of nutrition into a tiny package — and they do it very well. Seeds are a good source of protein, fiber and healthy fats.

“Many people take fish-oil supplements to get their dose of omega-3 fatty acids, but seeds naturally have them in abundance,” Park said. “It’s been well established that omega-3’s are good for your heart. Our bodies don’t produce omega-6, an essential nutrient that lowers bad cholesterol and keeps blood sugar in check, so it must come from our diet. Eating more seeds is one of the best ways to do that.”

Many seeds, such as flax, hemp and chia, can be added to shakes or smoothies, delivering a surge of antioxidants and fiber without altering the taste. Other seeds, including pumpkin and sunflower, make terrific snacks on their own. But Park cautions that it’s easy to overeat seeds, and how they’re prepared makes a big difference, too.

“Generally speaking, the common way of eating seeds is to toast them, and when you add heat, some of the nutrients — like vitamin C and antioxidants — can be damaged,” she said. “But this happens in a lot of foods. All kinds of seeds have lots of good nutrients, no matter the cooking method you use.

“One thing people have to be aware of is that we often tend to add salt or sugar when roasting. That’s not good for your health, so if you’re going to roast them, eat them without added salt or sugar.”

ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH

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