As children, many of us grew up with the impression we should avoid eating seeds from fruit and vegetables (e.g., oranges, watermelon, papaya, bell peppers, etc.) on the vague assumption that they were inedible — possibly even toxic. As adults, we carry on this convention by tossing away apple cores or spitting out grape seeds. Well it turns out we’re operating on the adoption of another food myth: Far from being bad for you, fruit and veggie seeds are actually the most nutritious component of the entire plant!

While it’s true that elements which are toxic at high levels (e.g., arsenic) naturally exist in soils and do make it into seeds, the trace levels are so minute as to have no negative health impact.Indeed, a thorough survey of the scientific literature by the Dole Nutrition Institute found zero evidence of the toxicity of seeds from commonly eaten fruits and vegetables. Moreover, like peels and skins, such seeds contain a concentrated amount of the nutrients and phytochemicals found in the flesh of the fruit or vegetable. For example, lab tests found antibacterial activity in oil derived from apple seeds. Also, when grape seeds were collected from wineries and analyzed against skins for anti-coagulant activity, they were found to be 2 to 3 times more potent than the grape skins. And while date seeds aren’t exactly easily eaten, they have higher protein, good fat, fiber and phytochemical contents — suggesting such pits might yield a healthful nutraceutical additive.

Why are seeds so healthy? They need to pack the entire nutrition suitcase that the plants they bear will need to thrive — plus they protect themselves against environmental stresses and predators with natural phytochemicals, which also potently defend the emerging plant sprout.

When you take a step back, seeds’ sensational healthfulness should come as no surprise. After all, we acknowledge the nutrition prowess of seeds such as flax and chia.

Moreover, an ounce of sesame seeds provides 30% of your daily calcium needs, while sunflower seeds provide half your daily vitamin E needs — making them an even better source than almonds! Speaking of almonds and other healthy nut superstars like walnuts, they are simply seeds themselves.Of course, eating, say pear or grapefruit seeds may seem less appetizing than popping a handful of pistachios, so get innovative. Cut or ground watermelon seeds can be steeped as tea. Add papaya seeds to salad dressing (then puree). Juice or blend the entire apple — including seeds.

Published November 1, 2010