Last updated May 6, 2015
Maybe it’s a stretch to call seeds “great food.” Also, a reader new to low-carbing might get the impression that low-carb is a diet for the birds. That impression would be wrong unless we’re talking about birds of prey!
Seeds are at least a useful food, packing plenty of nutrition into a tiny space, and I have added a couple of seed products to my diet since going low-carb: sunflower kernels and flax seed meal. As you can see from the above, neither photographs well. Roasted sunflower kernels taste better than they look; flax seed meal, not so much.
(Update — also see “Chia: yet another low-carb seed.“)
Sunflower kernels are the de-hulled core of a sunflower seed. You find the kernels on many restaurant or cafeteria salad bars, and in the past, I’d sometimes sprinkle a few onto the salad I was building, just before ladling on the dressing and topping with croutons. Now, I I buy snack-sized bags of sunflower kernels, but my main use of them is still as a salad additive.
The National Sunflower Association calls the sunflower kernel a “powerhouse of benefits.” Well, they would, wouldn’t they? But the Association’s claims are supported by sources without a commercial interest. According to the Association, “when considered in aggregate, the amazing kernel adds a nutritional wallop to a wide array of products. . . .” However, the products listed as examples are decidedly carby: breads, muffins, crackers. I’ll stick to sprinkling kernels on a salad or eating them straight from the bag.
The kernel contains high levels of vitamin E, betaine, and phenolic acids (an antioxidant and anticarcinogen). The Association provides a brochure in pdf format that favorably compares the nutrition of sunflower kernels to that of other foods such as almonds, walnuts, eggs, tuna and turkey, and provides sources.
A quarter-cup serving of the David brand of roasted kernels (3.75 oz. bag) contains 190 calories, 15g fat, 9g protein, 4g total carbs, and 3g fiber. The serving provides 40% of the RDA of vitamin E, 25% of phosphorous and magnesium, and 20% of folic acid. The nutrition is great for under 200 calories and one net gram of carbohydrate. That’s the lowest net carb count I’ve seen for kernels. However, David roasts the kernels in partially hydrogenated soybean oil. Health experts advise that such trans fats should be avoided. A rival brand, Kar’s, roasts its kernels in peanut and/or cottonseed oil, but has four net grams of carbs in a quarter-cup.
Always check the ingredient labels, and then decide what trade-offs you are willing to make. I’m only occasionally adding sunflower kernels to salads, preferably ones free of trans fat.
Flax Seed Meal
My first encounter with flax seeds came in the form of the oil that my wife takes as a health supplement. Flax seed oil is an alternative to fish-oil as an omega-3 fat source. Anita hates fish. I love fish, so I’ve never bothered with using flax seed oil as an omega-3 supplement.
After starting to eat low-carb, I read a few articles about flax seed — another wonder food that has stayed under the radar of most Americans — and came across a recipe for Flax Meal Peanut Butter Hot Cereal by Laura Dolson at About.com.
Breakfast cereal is the food I’ve missed the most on my low-carb eating plan. I used to eat cereal four or five mornings a week, and hot oatmeal was one of my favorites. I was excited to find a healthy, low-carb alternative. Right away, I bought a bag of flax seed meal and a jar of natural, no-sugar-added peanut butter in order to try Dolson’s recipe. The flax meal I bought was Bob’s Red Mill, which is available in many large grocery stores. Another option is to buy the seeds themselves, also widely available, and grind them as needed in a coffee mill. The seeds have a much longer shelf-life than the meal, which needs to be refrigerated after opening and may go rancid in two or three months. My advice is to buy the smallest bag of meal available, or else buy the seeds.
A two-tablespoon serving of the Bob’s Red Mill flax meal contains 60 calories, 4.5g fat (including a whopping 2,400mg of omega-3), 3g protein, 4g total carbohydrate, and 4g fiber (including 1g soluble fiber) — as much fiber as in a half-cup dry oatmeal.
I tried Dolson’s hot cereal recipe, which consists of boiling water, flax meal, peanut butter and cinnamon. She describes it as “yummy,” but to me it was “gummy.” The consistency is strange. “Gloopy” would be another word to describe the stuff. Possibly I wasn’t using enough water. With all that fiber, you want to put in, and drink, plenty of water.
The taste is OK, kind of nutty, but is helped by adding butter and cream, and a few berries or walnuts.
My ultimate solution was to invent a recipe: Flax-Oat Peanut Butter Meal. I mix a quarter-cup of rolled oats with a tablespoon of flax meal, a tablespoon of peanut butter, cinnamon, and three quarters-cup water. I microwave this mixture on 50% power for five minutes. Then I may add a tablespoon of cream and/or berries. The rolled oats (old-fashioned oatmeal), being a grain, are something many low-carbers would not consider eating, and certainly no one on a strict “Induction” diet should eat grains.
The rolled oats contribute 11 net grams of carbs to the concoction. To me, the rolled oats greatly improve the consistency. They also represent a new food for me on my low-carb diet; previously, I only ate instant oatmeal.
The base recipe (not including cream or any other add-on) contains 355 calories, 19g fat, 10g protein, 21g total carbs, 6g fiber, and 15g net carbs. If you are shooting for around 45 net carbs per day, and don’t mind eating some grain, this can work for breakfast.
I eat the Flax-Oat Peanut Butter Meal once or at most twice a week for breakfast. While my grandmothers characterized such hot cereals as “sticking to your ribs,” I don’t find that this lasts me as long as a plate of bacon and eggs.
It’s comfort food. If I start gaining weight, it will be the first food I cut! But that’s because of the oats, not the flax.
Certainly, if you want to add fiber and omega-3 oil to your low-carb diet, flax seed meal is a great way to do it.