“In the seed lies the life and the future,” observed Marion Zimmer Bradley, the great novelist. Science has proved her more right than she knew, given the many human health benefits being discovered in seeds of all sorts. Regular readers know we occasionally bring you nutrition round ups — of melons, berries, juices, nuts, beans,oils, herbs and even peels. Since seeds pack such a powerful nutrition punch in their tiny packages, we thought it was high time to give you the low down on popular varieties. All values are for the small seed serving size of one ounce — a bit less than a quarter cup.

Open Sesame! Best seed for your bones — one ounce provides 30% of your daily calcium needs (the amount in a cup of milk), plus 35% of manganese, which helps support the formation of collagen. The same serving provides a quarter of iron needs, plus impressive amounts of eight other vitamins and minerals. Japanese scientists have shown that sesame seed consumption helped preserve protective levels of vitamins C and E in animal studies. Sesame seed paste (tahini) is a main ingredient of hummus, so you’ll get its health benefits if you snack on this Mediterranean treat. Try adding sesame seeds to a stir-fry or broiled asparagus.

Sunny Sunflower: This tasty seed provides nearly half of your daily vitamin E needs — making them an even better source than almonds! This powerful antioxidant helps decelerate aging, maintain immune function and even reduce the risk of bladder cancer. 

The same serving provides 20-30% of daily thiamin, vitamin B6, phosphorus, selenium, manganese and magnesium. Sunflower seeds also contain a healthy dose of phytosterols — compounds shown to inhibit growth of breast cancer cells. Sunflower seeds are great as a snack, or tossed in salads or trail mix.

Max Flax: Flaxseeds are one of the top sources of omega-3 in the form of alpha-linoleic acid, the precursor in EPA and DHA synthesis, fatty acids that fight heart disease and may slow the progression of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. A recent review of flaxseed studies published in the last two decades found that adding whole flaxseed to your diet could dramatically reduce overall and LDL “bad” cholesterol. Flaxseeds’ high fiber content (an ounce has as much fiber as a whole cup of blackberries) may contribute to this effect. Moreover, flaxseeds provide 20-35% of thiamin, phosphorus, magnesium and manganese. Try adding ground flax or flaxseed oil to muffins, smoothies or soups.

Pumpkin Power: Also known as pepitas in Latin cuisine, pumpkin seeds are a mineral marvel, providing an excellent source of 5 essential minerals, including nearly half of your daily manganese, which can help spur wound healing, and 20% of iron. For those suffering from anemia, an Iranian study found that women who ate pumpkin seeds daily for four weeks significantly increased their iron levels. Pumpkin seeds are best enjoyed roasted as a snack.

Published September 1, 2009