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 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
  2. wonderful blog.

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

    Gabriela wrote on December 21st, 2012
  4. 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
  5. 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.
      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
  6. 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
  7. What about buckwheat? I learned they are a seed too!

    Philo-Anne wrote on September 14th, 2013
  8. can you eat the whole pomegranate seed as well…I want to try one, but they say you have to chew and spit out.

    Cheryl wrote on September 19th, 2013
  9. Hi,

    im glad i came across your blog. I’d be very interested in sesame seeds breakdown? And I know its not a nut, but how does coconut fair?

    We’re on GAPS diet, and my son is allergic to nuts, so if I bake I need to use seed flour for crackers etc and seed flour or coconut flour for cakes. We have the trouble that he’s iGe to dairy and egg whites too :-( makes baking harder. I rarely make them baked goods. He is breastfed a lot which hopefully helps level his nutrient intake out. Since starting the diet (11 months ago) we haven’t made it off intro yet and my treat snack In the evenings was honey, coconut oil and seed flour and I’ve suffered with bloating, weight gain and belly bulge (when I’ve never had a belly in my life) this could be my saviour of why. So hard to think of any other welcome evening treat though. As we can’t have fruit often and I avoid all my sons allergens :-(

    Thanks for this post, its being really enlightening.

    Harriet wrote on October 27th, 2013
  10. I own Primal Blueprint and think this is a great site in general, but I’ve seen some things in this article that reflect recent annoying trends in the paleo community as a whole:
    1) Arithmetic issues with seeds and an anti-seed mentality. Many paleo authors say hemp has bad O3/6 ratios. Actually it has a 3.5-4:1 ratio, and chia has 3:1, not 1:3 as stated here. Article also claims hemp has same nutritional profile as flax, when it has more than double the protein and is the only complete protein seed. It seems like either a carelessness with or bending of the facts so they reconcile with omega 3 ratio dogma.
    2) Obsession with O6-O3 ratios. Paleo humans didn’t care about this, and they certainly wouldn’t avoid nuts (clearly one of the most plentiful food sources in the wild) because of bad ratios. For true believers of the paleo diet, fat profiles and ratios should always be way secondary to having a diet of what one might actually eat every day if living in the wild.
    3) Endorsement of cacao: Cacao is not food. No mammals eat the bean. Monkeys won’t touch it. It’s toxic and is basically like eating coffee beans. Yes, it’s ultra-high in antioxidants (but disturbingly high, like 10x higher than the next best food on the ORAC scale, another indication that it’s not food) and everyone loves a theobromine buzz, but it’s a vice food and is not nutritious. Cacao needs to stop being some kind of marketing ploy to attract people into paleo diet.

    Pat C. wrote on November 21st, 2013
  11. Can someone tell me what a “moderate serving” is? I’m so lost on how much flax seeds to eat, if it’s supposed to be bad for male testosterone. Is 3 servings(6 teaspoons) a day, okay? I bought 3 containers of grounded flaxseed during a sale and I’m just putting them in my rice and sauteed meat, which mixes really well together.

    Thi Nguyen wrote on February 15th, 2014
  12. I use a flat teaspoon of Chia seeds in my smoothies. You don’t taste them and you get the benefit of the Omega 3’s.

    Tamie wrote on March 8th, 2014
  13. I have been reading your comments as I use seeds and nuts on a regular basis and I do agree that if your tendency is to eat too much (binge) that they should be used in moderation.

    I think however, the problem remains that most people do not consume a healthy diet of anything in particular.

    Moderation with seeds and nuts remain particularly good fiber options for those who have difficulty which their bowels, which by the way is a large percent of the North American public.

    So, having said this, if the ease of appling a small portion or nuts or seeds of any kind to a diet which is very low in fiber, (as sadly most are) then I think the fiber content alone is beneficial.

    Eating large quantities of any food, no matter how healthy will disturb the body.

    That’s my 2 cents worth!

    From someone who’s had bowel issues since she was born, and now at 58 still have difficulty managing, even with copious quantities or reading, seeing Gastroentinologists, MD’s etc.

    I try to eat a healthy diet in every respect including the consumption of about 2-3 litres of water per day.

    Before jumping the gun and deciding what nuts and seeds are best, perhaps most should take a peek at their diet in general and work on making healthier choices of everything, from protein, carb, fruits, vegetables, legumes, etc.

    Sandy wrote on August 27th, 2014
  14. How many servings of pumpkin seeds would be considered overdoing it? If I eat a 1/4 a day is that too much ?
    Love the website

    RAJ wrote on September 5th, 2014
  15. At some point, all the science being spewed by the non-scientists makes my head hurt. Bio-availability, do most of you even know what that truly means? Look at he benefits of chia seeds or chia gel as a REPLACEMENT for ingredients like bread crumbs, cornstarch, thickening agents, gelatin, etc… rather than as a seed you eat by the handfuls. Calorie content and nutritional content of a tablespoon of chia seeds as opposed to bread crumbs is pretty astonishing and no one can argue that there isn’t a benefit in finding a way to make mama’s meatballs without an ounce of grain!

    Brittany wrote on January 16th, 2015
  16. We always add caraway seeds to our cabbage and sprouts whilst they’re cooking… gorgeous taste!

    Gilly wrote on April 6th, 2015
  17. Hi, Mark. Your edible seed guide was a great read. While reading I snacked on seeded grapes and became curious of any benefits resulting from ingesting the seed. How about eating seed from similar fruit such as pomegranate?

    Maxwell wrote on July 30th, 2015

Leave a Reply

If you'd like to add an avatar to all of your comments click here!

© 2015 Mark's Daily Apple

Subscribe to the Newsletter and Get a Free Copy
of Mark Sisson's Fitness eBook and more!