Seeds and nuts: add crunch to your daily food choices

Dietitian, Berna Harmse, says including more seeds and nuts to your daily meals is a trend that you should get used to, for both flavour and health benefits.


Nuts are the seeds of plants and trees. They contain healthy unsaturated fats, protein, fibre and micronutrients. Different nuts and seeds have differing vitamin and mineral profiles, so eating a variety gives you the best benefit.

Peanuts and pecans contain loads of B vitamins, known to provide energy; almonds are rich in calcium and vitamin E. Walnuts contain folate, vitamin E, alpha-linoleic acid (ALA) and omega 3 fatty acid. All nuts contain magnesium.


Unlike the seeds we call nuts, culinary seeds come from vegetables (pumpkins), flowers (sunflowers) or crops grown for various uses (hemp or flax).

Seeds contain healthy fats, fibre and protein. Flaxseeds and chia seeds are also good sources of omega 3 fatty acids. Two tablespoons of seeds will be one portion.

Flaxseeds (also called linseeds) are a good source of fibre and polyphenols, an important antioxidant in the body, as well as omega 3, which are all known to be beneficial to reduce cholesterol, and some studies even suggest that it may help lower blood pressure and cancer risk. Because of the fibre, flaxseeds are also great to include when you’re struggling with blood glucose problems.

Chia seeds have similar benefits as it also contains polyphenols, fibre and omega 3 fats and micronutrients. They are also beneficial at reducing risk of heart disease and lowering blood glucose.

Hemp seeds have become increasingly popular in recent years and is an excellent source of vegetarian protein and other essential nutrients. The good fats in hemp seeds are also anti-inflammatory. 

Sesame seeds contain an important antioxidant, sesamin, which gets converted to another type of lignan (antioxidant), called enterolactone. Enterolactone can act like oestrogen and may protect against heart disease and breast cancer. 

Pumpkin seeds are a good source of monounsaturated (healthy) fats and contain phytosterols which are plant substances that may lower cholesterol.

Sunflower seeds contain protein, monounsaturated fats and vitamin E amongst other nutrients. Studies have shown that sunflower seeds may be associated with decreased inflammation and heart disease, especially seen in lowered cholesterol when eaten on a regular basis.

How to include nuts and seeds in your diet:

  • Sprinkle some nuts into salads, dressings, vegetables (they give a fantastic Asian flair to stir fries).
  • Add some seeds or nuts to whole grains like brown rice or quinoa.
  • Make a pesto with pine nuts.
  • Add it to yoghurt.
  • Include some seeds and nuts whilst baking.


Remember that you’re aiming for balance and variety in your daily nutrient intake. If you eat more than two tablespoons of nuts and seeds per day, you add extra calories to your diet, and it can take the place of other healthy foods. Bear in mind that sugar and chocolate coated nuts should be eaten as a treat and not seen as part of your daily intake.


Lightly Roasted Nuts


  • 200g raw unsalted nuts, like almonds or peanuts
  • 1 tbsp (15ml) canola or olive oil
  • 1 tsp (5ml) paprika
  • ½ tsp (2,5ml) ground cumin
  • ½ tsp (2,5ml) ground cinnamon
  • Black pepper to taste


  1. Preheat the oven to 180 °C and line a baking tray with baking paper or foil.
  2. Place all the ingredients in a mixing bowl and stir well to coat the nuts in the oil and spices. Season with pepper.
  3. Place on the baking tray and bake for 10-15 minutes or until lightly golden. Toss the tray once or twice during the cooking time. Take care not to burn them.
  4. Allow to cool and serve about ⅓ cup (80 ml) per person as a snack or sprinkle over a salad for extra crunch.


  • Choose a combination of nuts and seeds, like sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, pecan nuts, peanuts and almonds. Store these nuts in an airtight container for about 1 week.
  • Make a sweeter flavour combination. Substitute spices for 1 tsp (5ml) ground cinnamon, ½ tsp (2,5ml) ground mixed spice and a pinch of nutmeg. Omit the pepper. Enjoy as a snack or sprinkle over oats or fruit salad for breakfast.
  • Combine the nuts with dried fruit, like raisins or cranberries, or eat with fresh fruit for a healthy snack.
  • Make these nuts on the stove. Heat oil in the pan and add nuts. Fry until lightly golden brown. Add spices and fry for a few more minutes.

Recipe sourced from Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa

Berna Harmse is a private practicing dietitian. She holds a MSc in Dietetics, and has a special interest in oncology nutrition. She is also an external lecturer at Stellenbosch University Division of Human Nutrition.

MEET THE EXPERT – Berna Harmse

Berna Harmse is a private practicing dietitian. She holds a MSc in Dietetics, and has a special interest in oncology nutrition. She is also an external lecturer at Stellenbosch University Division of Human Nutrition.

Header image by Adocbe Stock