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Chia, quinoa, flax, hemp, and amaranth - discover just how powerful these versatile little culinary wonders are.

These five seeds are wonderful sources of plant protein, which is crucial to cell health throughout the body and helps build strong muscles. Because they come from plants, they are cholesterol-free and low in saturated fat, unlike animal-based protein sources, which have been linked to heart disease. And, because they are all naturally gluten-free, super seeds are not likely to cause allergic reactions.

Chia

Chia, or Salvia hispanica, is a member of the mint family. Historically, it was grown and consumed in Mexico, where it fuelled the Aztec Empire for centuries. The powerful nutrition provided by the tiny seed (protein, minerals, and fibre) supplied long-distance runners and warriors with a superb, long-lasting source of fuel, and today it remains a reliable source of energy. The nine essential amino acids in chia make it a high-quality source of protein. A little less than 2 tablespoons of chia delivers a whopping 11 grams of fibre and 4 grams of protein. It’s the dietary fibre in chia that helps make it so filling. The fibre in chia keeps you feeling full and allows for a slower breakdown and absorption of food. Chia also contributes to strong bones, with healthy doses of calcium, phosphorus, and manganese.

Quinoa

There’s a reason this South American seed is at the top of so many superfood lists. One cup of cooked quinoa has 8 grams of complete protein and 5 grams of dietary fibre. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. Essential amino acids are the amino acids that must come from our food, since our bodies are unable to produce them. Quinoa is rich in several essential amino acids, making it an excellent source of plant-based protein. Since quinoa is cholesterol-free and also full of fibre, it is a healthy alternative to animal-based sources of protein, including meat and cow’s milk. In addition, quinoa contains more than 10 percent of the dietary recommended daily allowances for thiamine, riboflavin, vitamin B6, and folate, and it is packed with minerals such as iron, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, copper, and manganese. Quinoa porridge is a wonderful first solid for babies, because it is not likely to cause an allergic reaction, and cooks up smooth.

Flax

Ground flaxseed is an excellent source of fibre (each tablespoon contains about 8 grams) as well as a good source of magnesium, phosphorus, copper, thiamine, and manganese. Since flax can be used in place of eggs, it is helpful to people who need to watch their intake of dietary cholesterol. Whole flaxseed is encased in a very tough exterior, however, making it indigestible unless it is ground. Because it can pass through the digestive system intact, some people use whole flaxseed as a laxative. In addition, flax – and hemp seed – is a very good source of plant-based omega-3 fatty acids, which play a role in protecting against inflammation and high blood pressure. Flax really is good for the whole family, including your favourite canine. Add a little flaxseed meal or flaxseed oil to dog food to help give your pup a shiny coat and a healthy digestive system.

Hemp

Hemp seed is loaded with protein. Just 3 tablespoons of shelled hemp seeds contains more than 10 grams of protein. You can eat either whole hemp seed or shelled hemp seed. I prefer shelled, or hulled, hemp seeds, also called hemp hearts, because they are easier to eat. (Although the hull also contains nutrients, it is fibrous, crunchy, and a bit hard to chew.) Hemp seeds taste nutty and have a pleasing texture, so they are a great alternative to nuts for anyone who is nut-allergic. Hemp seeds are also a good source of iron, magnesium, and zinc, all of which are crucial minerals for good health.

Amaranth

Unlike a lot of other plant-based proteins, amaranth contains all the amino acids (the building blocks of protein) that we need, making it a complete protein. Amaranth is also a good source of fibre (5.2 grams per cup), unlike animal proteins. One cup of cooked amaranth contains more than 10 percent of the RDA (recommended daily allowance) of vitamin B6, folate, calcium, iron, zinc, copper, and selenium; plus, it is a fantastic source of magnesium, phosphorus, and manganese.

Mighty minerals

Vitamin B6: B6 is necessary for more than 100 enzyme reactions and is involved in metabolism, brain development, and immune function.
Folate: A form of vitamin B, folate is necessary for cell division and DNA synthesis.
Calcium: Calcium contributes to strong bones, helps muscles move, sends messages through the nerves, and helps blood circulation.
Zinc: Zinc helps the immune system fight off invading bacteria and viruses; it also helps heal wounds.
Copper: Copper helps form strong and flexible connective tissue. It also plays a critical role in cellular energy production.
Selenium: Selenium is important for reproduction (a deficit may contribute to male infertility), thyroid function, and protecting the body from infection.
Magnesium: Magnesium contributes to bone formation.
Phosphorus: Phosphorus is important for bone health, DNA and RNA formation, and for oxygen delivery to body tissues.
Manganese: Manganese is a component of many essential enzymes that work with bone development, metabolism, and wound healing.
Thiamine: Also known as vitamin B1, thiamine helps our bodies convert carbohydrates into fuel. It also contributes to a strong immune system.
Iron: Iron is essential for a healthy body. It helps metabolise protein and contributes to healthy blood.

Kim Lutz is the founder of Kim’s Welcoming Kitchen (www.welcomingkitchen.com), a Top 25 Food Allergy Mum Blog, and the author of Super Seeds (©2015 Sterling Publishing, distributed by Capricorn Link), from which this extract is reproduced with permission.