1. QuinoaQuinoa, pronounced keen-wah, originated in the Andes Mountains, where it has been cultivated for approximately 5,000 years. This unique seed is closely related to beetroots, tumbleweed, and spinach. Including all the essential amino acids, it tops the charts in plant-based protein. One cup of cooked quinoa provides approximately eight grams of protein. (For vegetarians, this is a simple way to get protein without worrying about food combinations.)
According to George Mateljan in the book The World’s Healthiest Foods, quinoa is particularly well endowed with the amino acid lysine, which is essential for tissue growth and repair. The vitamin and mineral profile isn’t too shabby, either—according to Paul Pitchford in the book Healing with Whole Foods, quinoa houses more calcium than milk and is a great source of iron, phosphorous, B vitamins, and vitamin E. It’s easy to see why quinoa has been deemed the mother grain (although it’s technically not a true grain).
The versatility of this mild-flavored seed is just as impressive. It can be used as a substitute for grains in soups, salads, chili, stew, casseroles, and even desserts. Quinoa flour can also be combined with other types of flour for baking anything—from bread and biscuits to cakes and muffins. Its quick-and easy-to-prepare nature contributes to its popularity as a grain-like seed. Most commercial quinoa is pre-washed to remove the bitter saponin coating—a naturally occurring, bitter-tasting substance that is the plant's defense against insects and birds. So, if quinoa is not pre-washed, rinse it under cold water before cooking.
Who would have thought that all these attributes would be rolled up in one little seed that can promote cardiovascular health? Now, that’s quite the composition!
A final note: One study, through in vitro testing, showed quinoa could activate an immune response in people with celiac disease. Currently, consuming 50 grams of quinoa per day is considered safe for those with celiac disease, but further studies are needed to determine long-term effects.
How to enjoy quinoa: Top cooked quinoa with fresh seasonal berries and a splash of your favorite milk for a nourishing breakfast bowl, eat with you favorite stir-fried veggies, toss in salads, or stir into soups.
2. Chia SeedsJust because something is little doesn’t mean it isn’t packed with power. Oh, contraire! The word “chia” is a Mayan word that means “strength.” With an off-the-charts health value, the miniscule chia seed is dense, crunchy, and a relative of the mint family. Native to Mexico and northern Guatemala, it was a main staple in Mayan and Aztec diets as early as 3,500 B.C.
With a pleasing, nutty flavor, chia seeds provide five grams of fiber per tablespoon—which can help keep hunger at bay. They are full of protein, magnesium, and phosphorus, and, according to Pitchford, are considered the second richest vegan source of omega-3 fatty acids, after flax seeds. Don’t let the little size fool you: One ounce of chia seeds provides 18 percent of your daily calcium requirement—six times more than an equal quantity of milk! They can absorb 9 to 12 times their own weight in liquid; when mixed with water, they swell into a thick gel—somewhere between caviar and tapioca in texture—and make a delicious pudding.
Growing research has shown this petite powerhouse can help reduce after-meal sugar spikes and help prevent diseases, such as cardiovascular disorders, cancer, osteoporosis, and diabetes.
How to enjoy chia seeds: Add to cereals, breads, cookies, yogurt, salads, salad dressings, and smoothies.
3. Hemp SeedsLike marijuana, hemp seeds come from the cannabis plant—but do not have psychoactive effects. Unfortunately, growing hemp has been prohibited in the United States due to its relationship to marijuana.
These wonder seeds are used to create many things, from ropes and sails to linens and food. They provide 10 grams of protein and 10 grams of heart-healthy omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids per ounce. They’re also a rich source of iron, thiamin, magnesium, zinc, and manganese. Research has shown hemp seeds can positively affect blood clotting, ischemic heart disease, and other aspects of cardiovascular health.
How to enjoy hemp seeds: Sprinkle over cereal, stir into homemade granola, toss into salads, and mix into baked goods.
*Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only; does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Chopra Center's Mind-Body Medical Group; and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program.