Vegan Protein Source: Seeds

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“Where do you get your protein?” is one of the most common questions asked of vegans. One of the first things that comes to mind for me: seeds! These little powerhouses are absolutely packed with protein.

Before we say anything else though, there’s an important safety warning you need to have: flax seeds contain cyanide. Cooking the flax seeds will degrade much if not all of the cyanide, however, flax should only be eaten raw in moderation. In fact, in an abundance of caution, children probably shouldn’t eat raw flax at all (Source). Because flax seeds are so common as an edible seed, we’ve included it in our nutrition chart below, however keep in mind that the products found in stores such as flax milk and flax muffins usually have been heated or cooked, which makes them safe to consume.

Nutrition of Common Edible Seeds

Keep in mind when looking at these numbers that 1 oz is a very small amount. For some of these seeds, it will be just a tablespoon, whereas for others it may be 3 tablespoons. Also, remember that commercial products will vary in their nutrition profile. for example, the pumpkin seeds sitting next to me on my desk right now (SuperSeeds Somewhat Spicy) have 8 g of protein, 2.4 mg iron, and 2.1 mg zinc in 1 oz (1/4 cup), which obviously is much different than the numbers below from the USDA nutrient surveys. There are many reasons for these variations, such as the location of where the food was grown, what fertilizer was used, and so on.

There are other seeds that should be on this list, particularly cantaloupe seeds which a recent study showed are so nutritious that they might make an even better infant formula milk than soy. However, this information is so new that unfortunately we were not able to find a complete nutritional profile for cantaloupe seeds so for the time being, they aren’t on the above chart.

There are many other seeds as well that we commonly encounter, such as carraway or poppy seeds, however those seeds are considered spices and should not be consumed in high doses. In fact, it can be dangerous to do so. There are many seeds that are incredibly dangerous to eat, just as we mentioned above about flax seeds. Did you know: the bell pepper got its name when people started consuming the seeds in large quantities and the mental side effects were so great that it was said that ‘eating pepper seeds would ring your bell’. Even if you see someone else eat a food, for example putting raw flax seeds on their yogurt bowl, that doesn’t necessarily make it safe. There are many foods that are incredibly dangerous and yet commonly consumed, such as ackee fruit from Jamaica which is said to be one of the most dangerous foods in the world. We will discuss flax seeds more thoroughly in the dedicated Flax Seed Guide.

Now let’s talk about the positive parts of seeds – look at that chart: so much protein! The nutrient value of sesame seeds is particularly good as well with almost 1/3 of the recommended daily value for calcium and a significant serving of iron and zinc. Because only a small amount of seeds are needed to achieve this phenomenal level of nutrition, it’s incredibly easy to incorporate seeds into your diet.

Tips for Eating Seeds

There are many ways that I typically eat seeds:

  • Tossed onto a yogurt bowl in place of granola
  • Mixed into a salad
  • Ground into butter (ex. pumpkin seed butter is incredible)
  • Mixed into a grain medley (ex. acorn squash stuffed with quinoa that has sunflower seeds mixed in
  • Added to protein bars (homemade or store bought)
  • As themselves: the bigger ones are so snackable! Seasoned varieties help with this as well (my personal favorite are spicy pumpkin seeds)

If I had to pick only one seed as my favorite, there would be no contest: sesame, because tahini (ground sesame seeds) is fantastic and versatile and incredibly nutritious. Traditionally tahini is used to make hummus, however, it can be added to just about anything. Pour it over a potato, mix it into your smoothie, drizzle it over your yogurt; it’s so good! This is one of those foods that you want to ‘try, try again’ if you don’t like it at first; the difference in flavor from one brand to another is shocking (and there are many that I really don’t like – surprising for something that I call my all time favorite, right?).

Tips for Buying Seeds

It’s important to remember that not all seeds are edible. for example, watermelon seeds that are sold for planting, like most gardening seeds, may have been treated to help with germination or improve crop yield. For this reason, it’s important to only buy seeds that are specifically sold for consumption.

Additional Warnings for Seeds

Just because many seeds are incredibly nutritious and an excellent staple for a vegan diet doesn’t mean that all are. In fact, many seeds are dangerous. Here’s a few to watch out for:

  • Papaya seeds have a strong affect on the reproductive organs, so much so that they are touted as a natural birth control and prohibited for women who are pregnant.
  • Many seeds contain cyanide besides flax! Some others include apple seeds, cherry pits and apricot pits.

In-Depth Seed Guides

Click on a type of seed below to learn more about it, including tips for eating, buying and generally enjoying seeds in your diet. (Keep in mind this site is brand new; more seeds will be added soon so check back often!)