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Three Must-Have Seeds for Your Menu

Small seeds that pack big nutrition have turned out to be the latest nourishing must-haves. For years, I've advised people to "go nuts" for their health; now as an early taste from my new book, here is a look at three of my favourite seeds and ways to add these delicious, gluten-free dark horses to your menu.
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The next big nutrition trend is actually tiny! Small seeds that pack big nutrition have turned out to be the latest nourishing must-haves. For years, I've advised people to "go nuts" for their health; now as an early taste from my new book, here is a look at three of my favourite seeds and ways to add these delicious, gluten-free dark horses to your menu.

Quinoa

Although similar to a cereal grain, quinoa is a crop more closely related to beet or spinach, and is technically a seed. A decade ago, this little-known seed with outstanding nutritional properties was grown almost exclusively in the Andes. Fast forward to 2014 and quinoa is a must-have in Canada, USA and Europe, with the supply barely keeping up with the demand.

Quinoa's nutritional profile is outstanding. It contains 14-18 per cent protein, all the essential amino acids, plus important vitamins and minerals. Although quinoa is high in fat, oleic acid (the good fat found in the Mediterranean diet) makes up about 25 per cent of that content. Its high quality carbohydrates and fibre (soluble and insoluble) provide great energy for the body, assisting in brain, heart and digestive health.

Quinoa is perfect as the main ingredient in a salad, as a delicious side dish (similar to rice) and as a Meatless Monday entrée. I recommend purchasing a quality brand, as the seeds can vary in size, which affects cooking time (this is advice from my own experience -- mushy quinoa is not fun to work with, especially if you have a cold salad on the menu!). Always rinse the seeds prior to cooking, and have fun experimenting.

Chia

An ancient food, chia seeds were consumed by the Aztecs. Now they're experiencing a popularity surge in both Canada and the USA. How interesting that the seeds once grown on terra cotta chia pets are now must-haves in breads, cereals and snack bars!

There are numerous varieties of chia seeds. All chia seeds have varying amounts of fibre (both soluble and insoluble), antioxidants and an essential omega-3 fatty acid called alpha-linoleic acid (ALA). A specific variety of chia, named salba is known for its consistent nutrition profile. This means that each salba seed crop should have the same nutrient amounts. Research shows that both salba and other chia varieties may be beneficial in maintaining blood sugar control and promoting heart health.

Chia has a mild, nutty flavour, and can be eaten as whole seeds. Sprinkle, crush, mix and bake them! Add a teaspoon to yogurt and fruit smoothies. Include sprouted chia in salads and sandwiches, similar to alfalfa. If you like to bake, try chia flour in muffins, bars and cookies.

Hemp

Hempseed as a food is still a mystery rather than a must-have to many. Both industrial hemp and marijuana have the same taxonomical classification of Cannabis sativa. However, hemp lacks the primary stimulating psychoactive ingredient in marijuana known as delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Hemp is bred to maximize the amount of fibre and positive oil characteristics, whereas marijuana is bred to increase the THC component.

Similar to quinoa, hemp has all the essential amino acids. It is rich in minerals and fibre. Hempseed's exciting feature is its fatty acid composition. It contains a unique omega-6 fatty acid called gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), which is known for its anti-inflammatory properties. Research has shown promise for its optimal ratio of omega-6 fatty acids to omega-3 fatty acids in maintaining well-being and decreasing the risk of heart disease, diabetes and depression.

Hempseeds have a slightly nutty flavour and a creamy texture. They, too, can be sprinkled, crushed, mixed and baked. Toss them into oatmeal, salads and stir-fries. In the morning, I love adding hemp protein powder to my Greek yogurt and mango smoothie. Baking with hemp protein powder is an excellent way to punch up the fibre and protein content in breads, muffins and bars.

Must-Have Seeds Wrap Up

Along with nuts, I recommend including seeds as everyday ingredients. From decreasing inflammation to promoting heart health; quinoa, chia and hemp with their outstanding nutritional properties are the three must-have seeds. It's time to add these tiny powerhouses for big nutrition, new flavour and texture to your menu!

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