Nuts are often considered to be snack food in America, yet they are a valuable source of vitamins, minerals, and protein, and can be used in cooking just like any other vegetable. Seeds are very high in minerals and the essential amino acids, since they contain the nourishment for the embryo of the the parent plants.

I have recently discovered a line of shelled raw nuts shelved with the health foods in my favority grocery store; it includes almonds, Spanish peanuts, cashews, coconut and sunflower seeds, and they are all very reasonably priced. This happens to be a local brand, but look carefully and you might discover such a line in your area, too. Natural food stores and some ethnic food stores usually carry raw nuts -- an economical and inexpensive form in which to buy them. For cooking, leave them raw; if you want them roasted for snacks, do it yourself.

Sunflower, pumpkin and sesame seeds are usually available in large grocery stores, or at least in health food outlets. Smaller seeds, such as poppy, alfalfa (used mostly for sprouting), flax and mustard, seem to be harder to find. I buy mine from an herb and tea shop. A year's supply of sunflower and sesame seeds doesn't take up much room in your freezer, so even if you have to search hard to find them, if you stock up it won't be a constant problem. Again, it is best to buy seeds raw so that you have the choice of using them that way or roasting them as snacks.

Sunflower and pumpkin (or nearly any squash) seeds can be easily raised at home and both have nice side benefits. My family enjoys growing the beautiful sunflowers and birds will definitely frequent your porch if it is flanked by these growing bird feeders. In order to get pumpkin seeds you have to grow pumpkins, and that means a few cheerful jack-o-lanterns and lots of pumpkin pie.

Sunflower seeds are the national recession snack. In Middle Eastern counteries they are often served as a regular course, just as we would serve salad or nuts and fruit. Sesame seeds can be sprinkled into soups and casseroles or over salads, or they can be crushed in a mortar and pestle to form a tahim, or sesame butter, which can be combined with other ingredients to spread on bread or flesh out a meat loaf.

Brown sesame seeds are the unprocessed form; white ones have had the hulls removed, often using chemical means to do so. If you prefer white sesame seeds seek out mechanically hulled ones.

Try to find ways to put more nuts and seeds into your diet, and reduce the meat protein a little when you do. Here is another way to vary your meals and increase the nutritional content of it at the same time. CREAMY ALMOND SOUP (8 servings) 1 cup almonds 1 cup milk 1/4 cup whole wheat bread crumbs 2 tablespoons butter 2 tablespoons whole wheat pastry flour 4 cups chicken or vegetable stock 1/4 teaspoon ground mace 1 teaspoon salt 1/4 teaspoon pepper 1 cup cream

Put almonds through a nut grinder or grate in a nut and seed mill (it is possible also to do this step in your blender, a small amount at a time). Stir into milk and simmer gently until nut meal is soft. Stir in the bread crumbs and mix well. Press through a sieve, puree cone, or food mill. Melt butter, blend in flour. Add stock gradually, stirring to prevent lumps. Stir in the almond mixture; add seasings. Simmer for 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Blend in cream and remove from heat.