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They are the earliest incarnations of plants, not to mention those nutritional all-stars, fruits and vegetables. No wonder seeds are good for us.

"I advocate nutrient-dense foods," says Angela Kurtz, a nutritionist at the New York University Langone Medical Center. She calls seeds, which have naturally high concentrations of vitamins, minerals, and other healthful compounds, a perfect example of such beneficial foods.

Their small size belies their ample offerings, including protein, iron, zinc, and antioxidants. Seeds are a respectable source of the same good fat found in nuts that has been shown to help lower bad cholesterol, ward off diabetes, and combat the effects of aging associated with Alzheimer's disease.

Although those findings might be news to many, the idea that seeds have salutary rewards is centuries old. One of the earliest written references to sesame seeds tells of the tiny ovules being used for health purposes by the ancient Egyptians. Aztec warriors ate chia seeds to boost energy levels while on the march.

In today's fast-food culture, seeds can serve as easy-to-grab replacements for less healthful options. A fine snack on their own, they also make nutritious additions to soups and salads, particularly if they're used in place of croutons or crackers.

To control overall calorie consumption while introducing more seeds into your diet, Kurtz recommends cutting one nutritiously void item from meals, three times a week, and replacing it with one to two ounces of seeds -- a small loss for a wholesome gain.

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Text by Jessica Cumberbatch

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