Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
14 Jul

A Quick Guide to Edible Seeds

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…


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!)


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 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)


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)


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


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.

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)

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. 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 to put yourself out there to help others, you are making a huge difference!

    Vik wrote on July 14th, 2009
  2. 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.

    John Sifferman wrote on July 14th, 2009
  3. 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!

    Donna wrote on July 14th, 2009
  4. 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…

    Peggy wrote on July 14th, 2009
  5. 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!

    Meeses wrote on July 14th, 2009
  6. 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 wrote on July 14th, 2009
  7. 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 😉


    Dream wrote on July 14th, 2009
    • Thanks for purchasing my new book. I hope you enjoy it and would love to hear your thought in the forum. Stay in touch. Cheers!

      Mark Sisson wrote on July 14th, 2009
  8. 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.

    Greg at Live Fit wrote on July 14th, 2009
  9. 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!”

    FlyNavyWife wrote on July 14th, 2009
  10. 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! :-)

    DaveC - DaveGetsFit wrote on July 14th, 2009
  11. What about poppy seeds?

    Payam wrote on July 14th, 2009
  12. Mark,

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

    David wrote on July 14th, 2009
  13. And I thought Chia was just a fun “pet” to grow…I am curious to see how they taste!

    Nicola wrote on July 14th, 2009
  14. 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.

    SpinDiva wrote on July 14th, 2009
  15. 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.

    Catalina wrote on July 14th, 2009
    • 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.

      Clean Eater wrote on July 15th, 2009
      • 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.

        Catalina wrote on July 17th, 2009
  16. 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 bad of the nuts for and a handful of either would need a good 4 or more spoonfuls of fish oil (or a couple of salmon steaks) to even match the omega 6.

    Almonds are 12000mg O-6 to 6mg O-3, for example and 12% O-6 overall. So a single ounce of almond calls for a good 6 ounces of fresh salmon or 2+ teaspoons of high strength fish oil (or 5 of Mark’s vital omega capsules for comparison).

    David Moss wrote on July 15th, 2009
  17. 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 eating both years ago. I can’t see any hominid wanting to eat either unless really about to starve to death. Flax is just downright inedible. Thank goodness, I dropped it years ago. Did nothing for the flavor of anything I added it to. Good to know it was not really providing any health boons. All the soluble fiber (and ALA) is boasted about in Chia. Back when I drank smoothies regularly, I used to try to add this ingredient. If one doesn’t drink almost immediately, the blended seeds form that gel and the smoothie is straight-up nasty afterward with an awful texture. Mind you, they added nothing good to the taste.

    I’ve realized more and more as I’ve become more primal is that the most enjoyable meals to me are those that are least complicated. The more crazy ingredients, the less primally intuitive things tend to be.

    Rahsaan wrote on July 15th, 2009
  18. We have used melon seeds in curries… apparently also used as snacks in asia. This link explains a little.

    Methuselah - Pay Now Live Later wrote on July 15th, 2009
  19. 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”.

    Tom wrote on July 15th, 2009
  20. 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.

    Clean Eater wrote on July 15th, 2009
  21. 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 be able to get as much usable Omega 3 fatty acids from plant based ALA sources as you can out of animal based-DHA and EPA Omega 3s.

    But feed your ALA flax seeds to chickens, who’s own body converts all that ALA into the much more usable DHA and EPA fats, which are than found in their eggs.

    Dave from Hawaii wrote on July 15th, 2009

    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 wrote on July 16th, 2009
  23. 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 that taking phytoestrogen is healthily restoring you to a natural balance: it’s just arbitrarily making you less testosterony. For women too, vis a vis breast cancer the results are pretty mixed. At the end of the day having less/more of any sex hormone is going to have benefits and downsides; leaving your body to regulate its hormones itself just seems a far better plan.

    Conversely getting more omega 3 and less omega 6 certainly is a very reliable way to reduce risk of prostate cancer (and a tonne else), so taking flax oil (if not fish for whatever reason) would seem to be a safe way to get omega 3 and avoid phytoestrogens.

    P.S. Back when I did eat flax though, I certainly did enjoy it ground into a goo and then either having it on its own or with some yoghurt. The (freshly) ground flax seeds I actually found pretty tasty the same way too.

    David Moss wrote on July 16th, 2009
    • 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 without going into the defence mechanisms that nuts and seeds inevitably contain – nature’s “pesticides” – and we want to be pests!

      Don’t get me wrong – I LOVE nuts – but I am really curbing them these days, and ensuring I eat fish or supplement with fish oil on my nutty days. As for seeds – who can resist some sesame (in particular), with the same caveats.

      My recommendation – OK occasionally – in moderation – nuts or seeds, as long as omega 3 intake is adequate (as Grok’s certainly was)

      Bill Rowles wrote on March 4th, 2011
  24. Any advice to give on nasturtium seeds? We have a garden-full.

    dearieme wrote on July 19th, 2009
    • You can lacto-ferment them and use them like capers 😉

      IthacaNancy wrote on March 31st, 2015
  25. 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?

    Meeses wrote on July 23rd, 2009
  26. 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.

    Hortense wrote on August 17th, 2009
  27. Are watermelon seeds any good? They are a commonly enjoyed Asian snack that my family buys and I find them quite addicting..

    Janet Chang wrote on November 18th, 2009
  28. 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.

    Julia wrote on November 18th, 2009
  29. 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

    Deborah Haake wrote on January 23rd, 2010
    • 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

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

      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 Sisson wrote on March 7th, 2011
  30. 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)

    Nan wrote on September 8th, 2010
    • Good question. I have pomegranate trees also and I love the juice as well. I always ate the seeds too lol.

      lilaalejandra wrote on May 11th, 2013

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