sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds

You know how when someone lets themselves go people say, "Oh, they've gone to seed." Going to seed might not be such a bad thing, though. Edible, tasty seeds, including sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, and sunflower seeds, provide good helpings of healthy fats, as well as decent doses of several important vitamins and minerals.

Fats first! Fat gets a bad rap, but without fat you would have low energy, your body couldn't properly absorb vitamins from the foods you eat, and you would be in generally poor health. You need to eat foods containing fat every day - but limit your total fat intake to between 25% and 35% of calories. And you should not eat just any old fat. Of the fat you need, most of it should be of the unsaturated variety, either monounsaturated fat or polyunsaturated fat. Limit the amount of saturated fat to less than 7% of total fat intake. Think of it this way - include no more than 3 tablespoons of unsaturated fat in your meal every day.

When you munch on an ounce of sunflower seeds or pumpkin seeds, you gobble up around 14 grams of fat. But of that fat, only a few grams fall into the category of bad-for-you saturated fats. The rest of it comes from those healthier fats. Same goes for when you sprinkle your meals with an ounce or so of sesame seeds.

The really good thing about mono- and polyunsaturated fats found in seeds is that they are not accompanied by cholesterol (most seeds boast zero grams of cholesterol). In fact, unsaturated fats may actually help lower bad cholesterol (LDL or low-density lipoprotein), the kind that can build up as plaques on arteries, narrowing and damaging them and raising the risk of clots, heart attack, and stroke.

This trio of seeds also provides protein by the handful. An ounce of each type will supply around 12 grams of protein for healthy skin, hair, and muscles and help your body repair and create new cells. And seeds make a stellar snack for children, teens, and women who are pregnant, since protein is essential for growth and development.

Tryptophan, an amino acid most often associated with Thanksgiving turkey, can also be easily obtained from munching on seeds. Just like the big turkey dinner with a reputation for making you drowsy, tryptophan from seeds triggers our bodies to create serotonin, a hormone that promotes healthy sleep.

Pumpkin, sunflower, and sesame seeds also boast a strong vitamin and mineral profile. Each type contains hefty doses of the helpful minerals copper and magnesium. Copper is involved in red blood cell formation and supports the healthy functioning of blood vessels, nerves, and the immune system. Magnesium keeps muscles functioning properly and helps sustain a steady flow of energy.

Each of the super-seeds should be singled out for its unique nutritional benefits:

  • Sunny benefits
    Sunflower seeds provide folate and selenium. Women wishing to become pregnant would especially benefit from sunflower seeds' folate content. Folate helps the body break down and use proteins, form red blood cells, and prevent birth defects. Selenium may benefit a man's reproductive health, too, by boosting sperm production and movement. And the sunny benefits continue for sunflower seeds! An ounce of the tiny treats serves up 47% of your daily recommended intake of vitamin E, an antioxidant that protects cells from free radical damage.
  • Smashing pumpkin seeds
    Pumpkin seeds deserve the nutritional spotlight for their offerings of iron and zinc. Iron plays a crucial part in the production of blood cells, and a long-term lack of the mineral can lead to iron deficiency anemia, with symptoms of sluggishness, irritability, and dizziness. Zinc is needed for the body's immune response and without enough of this mineral a person may experience impairment of the senses of smell and taste.
  • Open up to sesame
    One ounce of sesame seeds offers up 27% of your daily recommended intake of the bone-building mineral calcium. So pity the poor sesame seeds relegated to the tops of hamburger buns! This teensy morsel deserves more attention, and you should find a way to feature it in more of your food choices. Toast a handful and toss them into a stir-fry of vegetables and tofu or crush a cupful to make a tahini spread. Or stir a tablespoon into a dressing mix for texture and taste.

Amy Toffelmire