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…

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)

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. OOOOOOYEEEEEEEEE

    sisme bebek wrote on January 29th, 2011
  2. I once loved eating sunflower seed raw, and it was really great.

    TOLULOPE wrote on February 23rd, 2011
  3. 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.

    Josh wrote on March 3rd, 2011
    • 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.

      Brianne wrote on June 25th, 2013
  4. I throw a handful of ground flax meal and another of chia seeds in when I make chili.

    I’ve never noticed a bad flavor, if anything the chia is tasteless and the flax actually seems to accent the taste of the chicken.

    Sunflower and pumpkin are the only one that I chomp on by themselves, and that’s usually a craving buster rather than for actual nutritional value.

    Morghan wrote on April 7th, 2011
  5. Hi there, I use flaxseeds to make really lovely pancakes in the morning. I eat them with berries, and my kids with organic yogurt…Looks like I might have to slow down a bit though….

    Marion wrote on January 17th, 2012
  6. looling for edible safflower seeds and can you tell me the different between refine and coldpress oils

    Gerry martin wrote on January 31st, 2012
  7. Corn kernels are the seeds of maize and they are edible

    Stephen wrote on February 3rd, 2012
  8. Does anyone know anything about Chan seeds? They have them here in Costa Rica. I found them while looking for Chia. Still haven’t found any Chia.

    Sandra wrote on March 31st, 2012
  9. I have read how flax has been banned in European countries because of genetically modified seeds. I won’t touch those ever again! Sandra, the best quality chia seeds I have found are at Successtherapy.lifemax.net
    I have 2 T in water every day. I love my chia!

    Casey Lait wrote on July 17th, 2012
    • I’m surprised reading flax should have been banned in Europe. I bye them and make snacks etc from them. They are good for the bowls

      Petra wrote on July 7th, 2013
    • Interestingly, Walmart sold flax seeds that were non-GMO. Of all places, right? Unfortunately, they took them off the shelf, so now I’m left searching. Point is, though, that not all flax seeds are GMOs; you can find organic ones, too. So don’t write them off just yet…

      David wrote on July 24th, 2013
  10. Great website! One other thing to remember for many people who have insulin resistance or other sugar problems. In order to convert ALA to EPA and DHA you need delta 6 desaturase and elongase enzymes. These enzymes are critical for the conversion but due to polymorphisms genetic defects) are missing in those who have insulin resistance. This is why flax isn’t as great as some people make it out to be. Instead of having its anti inflammatory benefits it promotes inflammation within the body(PGE2 and leukotrienes)

    Rich wrote on August 14th, 2012
  11. I eat a lot of flax seeds as I have read they can help prevent cancers, its also the staple on the Budwig diet whch i also loosley follow ( but eat my grass fed meats and eggs)

    Nat wrote on September 4th, 2012
  12. wonderful blog.

    mary wrote on October 22nd, 2012
  13. Basil seed i Love them

    Gabriela wrote on December 21st, 2012
  14. I found this amazing little recipe to make bread out of ground flaxseeds, an egg and some baking powder. Is this safe to do on a daily basis, as there is only 4 carbs per slice and 3 of those are dietary fiber.

    Desiree wrote on January 23rd, 2013
  15. Hi everybody. I need some help here. I have been reading so much about seeds it they are safe to eat or not. I´m so happy to come by this specific article. A couple of years ago I discovered flax seed and chia (I had no clue about antinutrients back then) On a regular basis I would prepare my own cereal made of 2 tbs spoons of flax, chia, oats, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, shredded unsweetend coconut, wheat germ and added some raisins and fruit to sweeten it up. Now that I have become primal and learned about the dangers of these antinutrients I stopped consuming them. I only tried making my cereal (again after several months) only with flax, chia, almond, sesame, hemp seeds, because I have discovered this is the only method that keeps me regular (going #2 every day) I have been constipated most of my life and finding this “cereal” working for me. I do not want to stop consuming it on a regular bases, but of cousre I am concered with all I have read about the antinutrients, PUAF and the omega ratios. My questions is, do I have to soak these seeds before consuming them? I ground my own flaxseed and keep it in the freezer. I also discovered that flaxseed eliminated my constant almost every day headaches I had for years and years (probably hormonal headaches) Now I rarle ever get a headache. So I have found many benefits through these seeds. How can I consume them safely??

    lilaalejandra wrote on May 11th, 2013
    • If you’re eating this everyday and in a considerable amount – Hemp seeds should be hulled or preferably ground up, flax ground, sesame ground or very gently roasted, almonds soaked in acidulated (eg tbsp lemon) water overnight. You might as well grind chia too, along with the flax.
      http://longevity.about.com/od/antiagingfoods/a/Chia-Seeds-Ground-Or-Whole.htm
      As for omegas.. maybe make sure you get enough 3s elsewhere, and you could try to eat the cereal only half of the week, upping your raw vegetal intake (or try prunes! hahaha I’m only partly kidding) on the days you don’t eat it.

      A disclaimer- I’m not paleo, just been figuring out how seeds and nuts should fit into my own diet :3

      lucy wrote on August 3rd, 2013
  16. Thanks for the info on flax.
    I am planning to make some raw GORP but now I plan on deleting the flax.

    Louis wrote on August 13th, 2013
  17. What about buckwheat? I learned they are a seed too!

    Philo-Anne wrote on September 14th, 2013

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