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Seeds—Health Benefits, Barriers to Incorporation, and Strategies for Practitioners in Supporting Consumption Among Consumers

Karlsen, Micaela C. MSPH; Ellmore, George S. PhD; McKeown, Nicola PhD

doi: 10.1097/NT.0000000000000135
Food and Nutrition Science

This review provides an overview of the botany and classification of seeds, summarizes recent research examining the health benefits of seeds, and discusses barriers to incorporating seeds into Western diets. Strategies to help practitioners support their patients in incorporating more seed foods into the diet are suggested. Seed foods, including cereals and pseudocereals (whole grains), legumes, and nuts and oilseeds, are used as staple crops in traditional diets and still comprise nearly 50% of the world’s food supply. The health benefits of seeds are supported by both epidemiological evidence and intervention trials. The variety of specific health benefits attributable to at least 1 of the 3 categories of seeds includes lower rates of obesity; improved body composition; improved intermediate cardiometabolic risk factors such as blood triglycerides, postprandial insulin, and HbA1c; reduced inflammation; lower risk of metabolic syndrome; and lower risk of cardiovascular disease. Measurable health benefits can be achieved by incorporating seeds into the diet in modest amounts, either by adding them to an existing diet or using them to replace other foods. Barriers to incorporating seeds into diets include personal taste preferences, lack of knowledge or preparation skills, convenience, environmental defaults, allergies (ie, nuts), and issues of economic access. Practitioners can best support greater consumption of seeds by implementing SMART Goals (specific, measurable, actionable, relevant, time limited) and by providing education or referring patients for skills training.

Micaela C. Karlsen, MSPH, is a PhD candidate in the Nutritional Epidemiology Program at Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, Boston, Massachusetts. She received her master of science in human nutrition from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, Maryland.

George S. Ellmore, PhD, serves as an associate professor of biology at Tufts University School of Arts and Sciences, Boston, Massachusetts. He received his doctor of philosophy degree in experimental plant anatomy and morphology from the University of California Berkeley.

Nicola McKeown, PhD, serves as both Scientist I at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging and as an associate professor and program director of Nutritional Epidemiology at Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, Boston, Massachusetts. She received her PhD in Nutritional Epidemiology from Cambridge University in the United Kingdom.

This material is based upon work supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture - Agricultural Research Service (ARS), under Agreement No. #58-1950-4-003, and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture under Agreement No. 2012-38420-30200.

Dr McKeown received grants from ILSI North America and the General Mills Bell Institute of Health and Nutrition and an unrestricted gift from Proctor and Gamble. She is an unpaid science advisor for the Whole Grains Council. In the past she has received speaker Honoria from the American Association Cereal Chemist International and Cereal Partners Worldwide, and consulting funds for Belvoir Media Group.

Ms Karlsen is an unpaid member of the Board of Directors for the Plant-Based Prevention of Disease Conference. In the past she has received speaker Honoria from the International Plant-Based Nutrition Healthcare Conference.

Dr Ellmore has no conflicts of interest to disclose.

Correspondence: Nicola McKeown, PhD, Nutritional Epidemiology Laboratory, Jean Mayer USDA HNRCA at Tufts University, 711 Washington St, Boston, MA 02111 (

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