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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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July 14, 2009

A Quick Guide to Edible Seeds

By Mark Sisson
116 Comments

Seeds get a whole lot of superficial love around here, but not much specificity. A quick review of our archives reveals that we have yet to really delve into what we include as one of the five basic Primal staples. Meat, vegetables, fruit, and nuts have all been discussed ad nauseum (with more to come, no doubt), but seeds? Barely a peep. Oh, sure, while I constantly rail against the non-edible seeds (well, technically they can be eaten, but never in the raw state) – cereal grains and legumes – and question whether we should be eating certain seeds at all, I think I’m overdue for a celebration of (or a critical look at) all the other edible seeds to which I allude so often.

Nuts are technically seeds, but most of us don’t think of them as one and the same. For our purposes, nuts are the larger, denser edible seeds; seeds are the smaller ones that require considerably more work to actually eat in their natural state (sunflower seeds, anyone?). With that in mind, I imagine that Grok probably ate more nuts than seeds, simply because he (we) was a creature of convenience and nuts represented a more obvious source of calories. I don’t make seeds a huge part of my diet, but I do eat them.

Let’s take a closer look at edible seeds…

Pumpkin/Squash

Also known as pepitas (from the Spanish pepita de calabaza, or “little seed of squash”), the diminutive seeds from pumpkin and squash are big players in Mexican cuisine (moles, especially) and make excellent snacks. Their slightly sweet flavor profile goes well with a light dusting of sea salt, and – though they are completely edible in the raw state – roasting enhances the nuttiness. Depending on the amount of heat applied during roasting, however, the process can oxidize the fairly sensitive polyunsaturated fats that make up the bulk of the pepita’s fat profile. There’s no good way to know if the commercial brand of roasted pumpkin seeds have been heated properly, so you may want to buy raw (or harvest your seeds directly from the squash and pumpkins you buy) and roast yourself. Just keep the heat low and slow, and you should be fine (more on general roasting/seed processing later). Those high amounts of PUFA mean eating pumpkin or squash seeds in massive quantities on a daily basis is probably a poor choice. The PUFA in question is nearly all Omega 6, and a consistently hefty dose of pumpkin seeds could throw your Omega 6-Omega 3 ratio way off.

1/4 cup raw pumpkin/squash seeds:
186 calories
Protein:   8.5g
Carbs:   6g (1.35g fiber)
SFA:   3g
MUFA:   5g
PUFA:   7.2g
Omega 6:   7.14g
Omega 3:   0.06g (not even worth mentioning!)

Sesame

The wild sesame plant hails from Africa and India, with the first domesticated versions popping up in the Indus Valley around 2000 B.C. Sesame seeds are tiny things often sprinkled on finished dishes: Asian stir fries, salads, even bagels (gasp!). Hummus is usually made with sesame paste, also called tahini. Chattel slaves brought native sesame seeds over the Middle Passage and introduced them to the US. Sesame oil is a regular condiment in many Asian countries, oftentimes sitting right next to Sriracha and fish sauce on the table. As you can tell, sesame is pretty much everywhere now, and its distinctive flavor (especially in the oil) can really make or break a dish. Too much, and you run the risk of overpowering the rest of the food, while none at all makes achieving certain flavors impossible. Sesame seeds also contain sesamin, a lignan with (potentially) a number of incredible health benefits (if you listen to its enthusiasts – perhaps a more comprehensive post is in order for this one).

1/4 cup sesame seeds
206 calories
Protein:   6.4g
Carbs:   8.5g (4g fiber)
SFA:   2.5g
MUFA:   6.7g
PUFA:   7.8g
Omega 6:   7.68g
Omega 3:   0.12g (why do I even bother?)

Sunflower

Sunflower seeds are incredibly popular. Baseball players chew them, truck stops stock them, and bird watchers use them to lure their subjects. Who doesn’t like sunflower seeds? They’re delicious, fun to eat (removing the shell with your tongue is an art), and full of vitamin E (one of our favorite antioxidants and a strong ally in the fight against free radicals). They’re loaded with minerals like magnesium and manganese (actually, most seeds have good amounts of minerals), but a word of caution: sunflower seeds have a fair amount of PUFAs. I support the consumption of seeds in general, but I also have to stress moderation because of the PUFA content. It’s usually not a big deal, especially because shelling the seeds usually slows down the eating, but when people start getting into sunflower seed butter the amount of PUFA being ingested can get very high very quickly. Consider yourself warned.

1/4 cup sunflower seeds
205 calories
Protein:   8.2g
Carbs:   6.75g (3.8g fiber)
SFA:   1.9g
MUFA:   3.4g
PUFA:   12g (essentially all Omega 6)

Chia

I’ve heard chia seeds mentioned in the forums, and I thought it would be worth it to take a quick gander. Before Chia Pets got popular, chia seeds were eaten throughout Mesoamerica for thousands of years. The Aztec and Mayan civilizations were big fans of the seed, even using chia seeds as tributes to the ruling classes. Chia is actually a bit like flax in a few ways. For one, chia is high in Omega 3 fatty acids – ALA in particular. But just like I do with flax, I think the potential benefits of ALA in the diet are vastly overblown. The “purpose” of ALA consumption is to convert it into DHA/EPA, but humans simply don’t have the hardware to make the conversion worthwhile. Most of it just gets wasted. That’s not to say chia isn’t a viable food option; if it tastes good and falls within the PB, I say go for it. Just don’t make the mistake of thinking you’re taking care of all your Omega 3 fatty acid requirements with a few tablespoons of chia seeds each day.

1 oz. Chia seeds
137 calories
Protein:   4g
Carbs:   12g (11g fiber)
SFA:   1g
MUFA:   0.6g
PUFA:   6.5g
Omega 6:   1.6g
Omega 3:   4.9g (ALA)

Flax

I’m not a huge fan of flax. For me, it’s a murky subject. It’s been linked to an increased risk of prostate cancer, but it’s also been linked to protection from prostate cancer. Confusing, right? I don’t consider it an essential part of anyone’s diet, but I’m leaning toward it being generally safe in moderation. If you’re a vegetarian or unable to get your hands on animal sources of Omega 3 fatty acids, a seed like flax might be a decent option, but for this grass-fed-meat-eating, fish-oil-swilling, antioxidant-rich-vegetable chomping audience, I don’t see why flax needs to be part of the dietary equation.

2 tablespoons flax seeds
95 calories
Protein:   3.8g
Carbs:   6.6g (5.4g fiber)
SFA:   0.6g
MUFA:   1.3g
PUFA:   4.3g
Omega 6:   0.8g
Omega 3:   3.5g

Hemp

I expect to get a healthy contingent of hippie commenters, all extolling the considerable benefits and virtues of hemp, dude! Joking aside, hemp does seem like a pretty cool plant. Hemp clothing is said to be incredibly light, durable, and airy, and the plant can be used to make paper, building materials, fiber, and even ropes – but are the seeds good eats? They seem pretty similar nutritionally to chia and flax seed, except that the Omega 6/Omega 3 profile is switched around. I say have at them, but only with moderation (gee, I’m starting to sound redundant!).

100g hulled hemp seeds
567 calories
Protein:   30.6g
Carbs:   10.9g (6g fiber)
SFA:   5.2g
MUFA:   5.8g
PUFA:   36.2g
Omega 6:   28g
Omega 3:   8.2g

Raw or Roasted?

Vegetation has an evolutionary stake in the survival of its seeds. If the purpose of all life is to reproduce (which is the foundation of evolutionary biology), the seeds of reproduction must be protected, at least until they can do their thing. This is why grains and legumes have lectins, toxins, and other built-in defense mechanisms – to dissuade animals from consuming them. It’s also why fruit tastes so damn good; the plants “know” that the seeds will be passed, unharmed and still completely viable, in the stool when an animal munches on the fruit. Edible seeds also have toxins, but in lower quantities, and they can hit sensitive people especially hard. To avoid this, you can either roast or soak your seeds.

Roasting
Commercial roasting operations use high temperatures, possibly too high. In fact, the Weston Price Foundation recommends dehydrating seeds at ultra-low temperatures (no more than 160 degrees F). I’ve always recommended eating raw commercial nuts and seeds (to avoid possible oxidation from commercial roasting practices), but I’d even go a step further and soak your seeds before roasting/dehydrating them. That way, you’ll get rid of the phytates and other toxins while avoiding the possibility of heat oxidation. Besides, I think soaked, dried seeds and nuts actually taste a whole lot better than raw.

To sum up, seeds are last – and possibly least – on the list of Primal-approved foods. You don’t want to make them the bulk of your diet (there’s no way Grok ever did), but they can’t be beat for portability and convenience. Pumpkin taste the best, in my opinion, while sunflower and hemp seem to be a little too Omega 6-intense for me. I’ll still eat the odd sunflower seed, but not every day. Any of them are fine in moderation, though, so don’t worry too much. Just mix ‘em with some other approved Primal nuts, maybe a bit of bittersweet high-cacao dark chocolate, and some dried fruit for your next excursion.

Any edible seeds I’ve missed? Let me know in the comments section!

Ellyll, sweetbeetandgreenbean, annstheclaf, digiyesica, flickrich Flickr Photos (CC)

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116 Comments on "A Quick Guide to Edible Seeds"

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Vik
Vik
7 years 2 months ago
I’m so glad you addressed the need to soak and dehydrate nuts and seeds, it is so easy to do and offers so many benefits. I bought your book a few weeks ago and that was one thing I was suprised you didn’t address, I have personal experience with the pain that can be caused from not preparing nuts and seeds properly -ouch!! Having said that, I am really enjoying the book, have recommended it and your wonderful website to friends and family (at least 2 have bought the book). Thank you so much for your work and being willing… Read more »
John Sifferman
7 years 2 months ago

My wife and I eat pumpkin and sunflower seeds raw, and use flax and sesame seeds often in cooking. Always a nice addition, especially since they’re a little more convenient than they would have been for Grok. One of our favorite recipes is sesame chicken, and we always roast the seeds first.

Donna
Donna
7 years 2 months ago

I really like to sprinkle sesame seeds on my salad sometimes, depends on what kind of salad i’m eating.
As far as flax seeds go, i just don’t like the taste of flax at all, not even the seeds.
I really like sunflower seeds, i never knew they were that good for you, thanks for this info!

Peggy
Peggy
7 years 2 months ago

I have some buffalo meat marinating right this moment in a mix I made up that includes a little sesame oil. I’ll let y’all know how it comes out…

so, how does this soaking/roasting business work with sesame & flax? I use them in cooking & protein bars, so I was wondering if anyone has done that…

Meeses
Meeses
7 years 2 months ago

I wanted to like chia seeds, but I have come to the conclusion that they are the ENEMY OF FLAVOR. But that’s just me!

Dream
7 years 2 months ago

Cool post. No mention of Coconut though? (Not a seed in the typical sense, but a seed none the less last I checked).

Speaking of which I’m gonna do a search on cc oil right now on your blog…

Dream
7 years 2 months ago

By the way, ordered your book this morning. I’ve been into paleo diets for a long while now, but never got around to actually reading a printed book on the subject. Skimmed through Cordain’s material recently and was disappointed with some of his conclusions (the ones you mentioned in the Jimmy Moore podcast for example).

Saturated fat for the win 😉

-Anthony

Greg at Live Fit
7 years 2 months ago

Can’t say I’ve ever eaten hemp seeds! We regularly use ground flax as the benefits are well known. My problem with most seeds from stores is the overuse of salt. You do, of course, need to watch the quantity as well, since most seeds are high in fat. Consumed in moderation its a good thing, but I know guys who eat seeds by the bucket and struggle with their weight, too.

FlyNavyWife
7 years 2 months ago

I also ordered your book last night (via Amazon). Woo hoo! I can’t wait for it to come. Do you sign them or anything? That would be sweet.

And not like, “awwww so sweet.”
More like, “suh-WEET!”

DaveC - DaveGetsFit
7 years 2 months ago

I was going through sunflower seed butter like crazy until the store I shop at quit carrying it. After reading this, sounds like that was a good thing because it was tough to eat that particular “crack in a jar” in moderation! 🙂

Payam
Payam
7 years 2 months ago

What about poppy seeds?

David
7 years 2 months ago

Mark,

Do you count nuts as part of your daily protein along with fish and meat?

Nicola
Nicola
7 years 2 months ago

And I thought Chia was just a fun “pet” to grow…I am curious to see how they taste!

SpinDiva
7 years 2 months ago

So many seeds…I never even considered Chia or Flax. I mean I have ground flax which can be added to a variety of cooked meals. I like sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds are a favorite of my kids. Like other here, I like them roasted on my salad and sesame seeds on bread is yummy as well. Thanks for the very informative message.

Catalina
Catalina
7 years 2 months ago

Some things I’ve heard about flax:

It’s benefits don’t last through cooking.
It should only be used ground.
You should use it within a couple days after grinding, and keep in fridge.

Anyone know if these are true? If so, it seems like the majority of flax products out there are fairly useless.

Clean Eater
Clean Eater
7 years 2 months ago

Those are all true as far as my experience. It is very easy to buy them in bulk and grind them with a coffee bean grinder. You can keep it in an airtight container for quite a few days. It is definitely not a useless seed, it offers many benefits.

Catalina
Catalina
7 years 2 months ago

What I was thinking was that the products made with flax seeds (the muffins, chips, etc.) aren’t giving the benefits of flax because they have been cooked and/or the seeds are whole.

David Moss
David Moss
7 years 2 months ago
Totally agree about the need to limit seeds because of the omega 6 (I used to live off them until I discovered that you can’t actually healthily JUST balance out 0-6 by eating even more O-3!). Still I’m surprised by speaking as though there’s much difference between seeds and nuts in this respect. For me nuts are also off the agenda for the same reason, with the exception of macadamia and (not really a nut) coconut. No nuts contain appreciable amounts of O-3 for example and they’re comparably bad for O-6. Almond and hazelnuts, for example, are among the least… Read more »
Rahsaan
Rahsaan
7 years 2 months ago
David, You’re so right about the PUFA contents of nuts and seeds. Like you and Mark, I use nuts mostly as a cheat snack (as opposed to candy bars). Sometimes I’ll make a nut brittle (raw nuts drizzeled with raw honey and refrigerated). I know. I know. High fat and high sugar! That’s why it’s a cheat snack for rare occasions. For the most part I avoid though, because I’m prone to overindulging. The mac nuts though, as you said, are mostly MUFA with barely and PUFA if memory serves. As for chia and flax, both are horrid. I tried… Read more »
Methuselah - Pay Now Live Later

We have used melon seeds in curries… apparently also used as snacks in asia. This link explains a little.

Tom
Tom
7 years 2 months ago

Am I the only one a little confused by this post? “Eat seeds” is not the message conveyed to me by this article. It seems to say something more along the lines of, “you may eat seeds but proceed with caution and use liberal amounts of moderation”.

Grok_Mendoza
3 years 2 months ago

lol

Clean Eater
Clean Eater
7 years 2 months ago

Flax seed has multiple benefits that you do not mention here, mainly that regular consumption increases digestive health and is a great source of Omega 3s. Rather than soaking or roasting though, they should be eaten raw and freshly ground (flaxmeal). The taste is not bad at all and when mixed with something else it is barely noticeable.

Dave from Hawaii
7 years 2 months ago
The best way to get the Omega 3 fatty acids from Omega and Hemp seeds? Feed ’em to free range chickens, than eat their eggs! The real debate about flax seeds is the bio-availability of the Omega 3 fatty acids found within. Not all Omega 3 fatty acids are the same! There are basically 3 types – ALA, DHA and EPA. Flax contains almost exclusively ALA, which is not as bio-available as DHA and EPA are to the human body. In other words, eating flax seeds (raw or not) will give you some Omega 3 fatty acids, but you won’t… Read more »
Bill
Bill
7 years 2 months ago

http://foodconsumer.org/7777/8888/C_ancer_31/060302402007_Flaxseed_fights_prostate_cancer.shtml

Mark, can I presume you have seen this?
Elsewhere, I’ve seen comments that the Phytoestrogens in Flax suppress oestrogen – also possibly a benefit, depending on your gender.

Would the best way of consuming flax be to soak and then blend the goo into a smoothie?

Great blog!
Bill

David Moss
David Moss
7 years 2 months ago
Bill, I’d be very sceptical about the phytoestrogens in flax. They might provide contingent benefit in tackling prostrate cancer, but this is a rather specific benefit weighed against a host of minuses. As I recall being deficient in various vitamins also opposes prostrate cancer growth and supplementing patients has the reverse effect (unsurprisingly, you need nutrients for any cell growth). Phytoestrogens in providing benefit against this very testosterone-related condition by quite explicitly messing with your hormones (about as unprimal as you can get!). Elevated blood levels of testosterone is correlated with the cancer, but I don’t think we can assume… Read more »
Bill Rowles
Bill Rowles
5 years 6 months ago
Some rain on this whole parade.. We can conjecture to what extent Grok ate uncultivated seeds – and mine would be hardly any. Nuts were useful because they could be stored, and would have helped in the lean times, but would not have been consumed in regular, or high amounts. This might go some way to dissuading too much enthusiasm for these foods. Anyway, you will simply add to your omega 6 “burden”. Mark’s already said it, the ALA from nuts and seeds is virtually useless, since the conversion rate to longer chain omega 3 is negligible. This is all… Read more »
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[…] “A Quick Guide To Edible Seeds“, Mark […]

dearieme
dearieme
7 years 2 months ago

Any advice to give on nasturtium seeds? We have a garden-full.

IthacaNancy
1 year 5 months ago

You can lacto-ferment them and use them like capers 😉

Meeses
Meeses
7 years 2 months ago

Question: does anyone know what happens to the seed based Omega 3 fatty acids that do NOT get converted? Do they actively wreak havoc on cell membranes and the like? Are they metabolized by gut bacteria?

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[…] with black sesame seeds. Serve […]

Hortense
Hortense
7 years 1 month ago

If you’re not scared to eat seeds, they can be used to make a great cracker alternative. Soak them in equal parts water for ~2 hrs, then spread them into a thin layer, add salt/pepper/spices, and dehydrate at < 160 for a few hours until crispy.

Credit to Sandor Katz for the recipe idea.

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7 years 1 month ago

[…] […]

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7 years 1 month ago

[…]  “What counts is not necessarily the size of the dog in the fight – it’s the size of the fight in the dog.” -Dwight D. Eisenhower Share and Enjoy: […]

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7 years 26 days ago

[…] “Rest is the sweet sauce of labor.” -Plutarch Share and Enjoy: […]

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7 years 23 days ago

[…] “Finish each day before you begin the next, and interpose a solid wall of sleep between the tw…-Ralph Waldo Emerson Share and Enjoy: […]

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7 years 16 days ago

[…]  “He that takes medicine and neglects diet, wastes the skill of the physician.” -Chinese Proverb Share and Enjoy: […]

Janet Chang
6 years 10 months ago

Are watermelon seeds any good? They are a commonly enjoyed Asian snack that my family buys and I find them quite addicting..

Julia
Julia
6 years 10 months ago

Janet, they might be great by themselves, but check the label. I’m also Asian and I love watermelon seeds for keeping your mouth busy, but they REALLY salty and sweet. The salt might not be a problem, but if they add sugar to the coating then it wouldn’t be primally sound.

Deborah Haake
Deborah Haake
6 years 8 months ago

I have been looking for hours for a seed nutrition chart. The closest I came was to yours. Dr. Oz talked about 7 seeds that are great for nutrition or super foods and you have 6 of the 7 listed. I was looking for an easy chart telling of the seed and it’s nutritional and health benefits. Dr. Oz talked about these seeds on his show:
Sunflower, Sesame, Hemp, Flax, Poppy, Pumpkin, Chia. Love Debbie Haake

Ed Sisson
Ed Sisson
5 years 6 months ago

Debbie, if you want a good reference for nutrient valuexs for just about any common food, take a look at the US Dept of Agriculture’s Nutrition Database at

http://www.nal.usda.gov/fnic/foodcomp/search/

where you can search on line. Better yet, download their handy nutrition database application for use on your own PC, at

http://www.ars.usda.gov/Services/docs.htm?docid=5720

Once there, you’ll see the links for both the users guide and the database. If you’re a computer nerd, there’s also a huge and comprehensive version of the database designed for download and use with Microsoft Access database software.
Ed

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[…] Pumpkin seeds […]

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6 years 3 months ago

[…] combination of nuts and seeds brings plenty of healthy protein and fat to this snack mix. You can toss the nuts and seeds […]

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[…] A quick guide to edible seeds – Mark’s Daily Apple […]

Nan
Nan
6 years 21 days ago

Here’s a question for you – what about pomegranate seeds? I have a tree full. I love the juice and am undecided about the seed. Spit or swallow? (after chewing of course)

lilaalejandra
lilaalejandra
3 years 4 months ago

Good question. I have pomegranate trees also and I love the juice as well. I always ate the seeds too lol.

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[…] A Quick Guide to Edible Seeds […]

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5 years 9 months ago

[…] A Quick Guide to Edible Seeds | Mark's Daily Apple 2b09c50671 Also known as pepitas (from the Spanish pepita de calabaza, or “little seed of squash”), the diminutive seeds from pumpkin and squash are big players in Mexican cuisine (moles, especially) and make excellent snacks. Their slightly sweet flavor profile goes well with a light dusting of sea salt, and – though they are completely edible in the raw state – roasting enhances the nuttiness. Depending on the amount of heat applied during roasting, however, […]

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[…] Welcome Stumblers and all newcomers! If you want to lose weight, gain muscle, increase energy levels, reduce stress or just generally look and feel healthier you've come to the right place. Get the 92-page Primal Blueprint Fitness eBook for FREE and also receive my weekly newsletter with tips, advice and special insider-only information. Learn more about the Primal Lifestyle by visiting the Primal Blueprint 101 page. Thanks for visiting!This particular recipe is a cross between red and black mole (pronounced MOLE-lay); the flavor and color influenced by a blend of dried chiles, nuts, seeds, dried fruit and chocolate. This… Read more »
sisme bebek
5 years 8 months ago

OOOOOOYEEEEEEEEE

TOLULOPE
TOLULOPE
5 years 7 months ago

I once loved eating sunflower seed raw, and it was really great.

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[…] A Quick Guide to Edible Seeds – Pumpkin, squash, sesame, sunflower, chia, flax, and hemp. I cover them all. […]

Josh
5 years 6 months ago

Chia Seeds are becoming more popular here in Australia, and when my roommate moved out and left a bag of Chia seeds I decided to give them a try. They really don’t taste like much though.

One recipe I use them in a lot is my typical lunch meal:

Grate one Beetroot and a whole carrot in a bowl, squeeze half a lemon on top, a dash of strong fruity olive oil, a sprinkle of sea salt and black pepper, and a tea-spoon of Chia. I usually follow that up with a couple hard-boiled eggs.

Brianne
Brianne
3 years 3 months ago

This is a years old post so I doubt you’ll see this reply. But I make a ” rice” pudding out of chia that is super tasty . Almond milk, chia seeds, real vanilla , raisins, and agave. Its high in sugar and not supposed to be eaten as a health recipe but rather a treat. But its really yummy. You mix it all and refrigerate over night. Just be careful about how much chia ya dole out. It expands so be careful.

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5 years 6 months ago

[…] In fact, Central Market pushed this on me, so I was believing it. Until, I read <a href=”this” _mce_href=”http://www.marksdailyapple.com/quick-guide-edible-seeds/”>this… article </a>explaining they are high, however, our bodies can’t convert ALA (the […]

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[…] seeds […]

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[…] and even flax. In fact, Central Market pushed this on me, so I was believing it. Until, I read this article explaining they are high, however, our bodies can’t convert ALA (the important part of Omega 3 […]

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