Flax, Chia and Hemp Seeds
They may be small, but all types of seeds are gaining huge popularity in the food marketplace. Relative to their size, they contain a high proportion of nutrients. That’s no doubt why they are attracting so much interest!
Five good reasons to add them to your menu
There is no such thing as a miracle food! But seeds can round out, or boost, a balanced diet.
Flax, chia and hemp seeds are:
- A source of protein. They belong to the “meat and alternatives” food group;
- A source of Omega-3 fatty acids and other fats that are beneficial for your health and heart;
- High in fibre, which helps control blood glucose (sugar) and blood cholesterol, and promotes weight management through the satiety (fullness) effect, which reduces the feeling of hunger. Fibre also contributes to proper digestive health;
- Low in carbohydrates, which affect blood glucose (sugar);
- Versatile! Seeds can add crunch to a wide assortment of dishes and drinks!
Flax seeds are oval and flat, and usually dark brown. There is also a yellow variety, called golden flax. You can buy flax seeds whole or ground. In addition to the nutritional benefits mentioned above, flax seeds contain lignans, nutrients with the potential to prevent certain cancers. Whole flax seeds provide 3 g of fibre per tablespoon (15 ml), more than a regular slice of whole-wheat bread.
The tough shell of flax seeds make them difficult to digest. When whole, they pass intact through the digestive tract and their valuable nutrients do not get absorbed. Consequently, it is best to grind flax seeds before consuming them.
If you want to keep flax seeds for an extended period, grind the whole seeds only when you need them. Use a coffee grinder, food processor, or mortar and pestle. Ground flax seeds keep for about a month when refrigerated in a tightly sealed container. Whole flax seeds keep for up to a year at room temperature.
How to incorporate flax seeds into your diet?
You can sprinkle ground flax seeds on yoghurt, fruit compote, oatmeal or cold breakfast cereal. You can also add it to recipes for muffins, soft energy bars, breads and dessert loaves (e.g., banana bread) by replacing 1/4 cup (60 ml) of flour with the same amount of ground flax seed.
These tiny seeds are white or black, depending on their provenance. Chia is sold ground or whole. Unlike flax seeds, the absorption of nutrients is not hampered in its whole form. Therefore, the choice is yours!
Its nutritional profile resembles that of flax seeds. Chia is slightly higher in fibre, with 4 g of fibre per tablespoon (15 ml). It is also high in antioxidants. It is also marketed as Salba™ Chia, the tradename for a variety of chia seed.
Chia is unlikely to go rancid. When stored in a cool, dark place, at room temperature, it will keep for two years, whether ground or whole.
How to incorporate chia into your diet?
You can use chia as you would flax seeds. Chia also has an impressive ability to absorb liquid and rapidly turn into a gel—perfect for cooking a quick pudding!
These nutty tasting seeds have a texture similar to sunflower seeds. Bought hulled or peeled, hemp seeds are less granular than flax or chia. If you are concerned about eating hemp, you should know that hemp seeds come from a different variety of plant than marijuana. Don’t worry: hemp seeds contains no THC (the active ingredient in marijuana)!
Hemp seeds are higher in protein, but lower in dietary fibre than flax or chia, with 3.5 g of protein and 1 g of fibre per tablespoon (15 ml).
Hemp seeds will keep for about a year in a cool, dark place. Keeping them refrigerated will prolong their shelf life, and prevent them from going rancid.
How to incorporate hemp into your diet?
Like flax and chia, you can add hemp seeds to virtually everything. They are especially tasty sprinkled on a salad or soup, or sprinkled on a stir-fry just before serving.
The price varies by type of seed
For your information, here are some typical prices for each type of seed. The price may vary by brand, size and store.
Price and nutrient value per 15 ml of flax, chia and hemp seeds*
Information available in French only.
Hemp Hearts Nutrition Facts and Health Benefits
Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman
Hemp hearts are the soft inner part of hemp seeds after the outer shell has been removed. The tiny cream and green-colored seeds are sometimes referred to as shelled or hulled hemp seeds.
Hemp hearts come from the from Cannabis sativa L. plant. But unlike some other species of the cannabis plant, hemp hearts have nonmedicinal levels (less than 0.3%) of the psychoactive compound THC.
The plant originates from Central Asia and the hemp fibers and seeds have been used and enjoyed by humans for thousands of years. Today, hemp hearts can be found worldwide. They’re loved for their versatility, nutty flavor, and nutritious benefits.
Hemp Heart Nutrition Facts
The following nutrition information is provided by the USDA for 3 tablespoons (30g) of hulled, hemp seed.
- Calories: 166
- Fat: 14.6g
- Sodium: 1.5mg
- Carbohydrates: 2.6g
- Fiber: 1.2g
- Sugars: 0.5g
- Protein: 9.5g
A single serving of hemp hearts is relatively high in calories but low in carbohydrates. A serving of hemp heart (3 tablespoons) has 166 calories but just 2.6 grams of carbohydrates. Nearly half of the carbs (about 1.2 grams) come from fiber. Only a half gram of carbs come from sugar and the rest comes from starch.
Hemp hearts are a low glycemic food with the glycemic load of a single 3-tablespoon serving estimated to be 0.
Hemp hearts are filled with healthy fats. A serving of 3 tablespoons has almost 15 grams of fat, of which 1.4 grams are saturated, 1.6 grams are monounsaturated, and 11.4 grams are polyunsaturated (omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids). That’s more of the good fats than you’ll find in a similar serving of chia or flax seeds. Since hemp hearts are plant-based, they are also cholesterol-free.
These little seeds pack a huge plant-based protein punch. A serving of 3 tablespoons has nearly 10 grams of protein, about double what you’ll find in a similar serving of flax seeds or chia seeds (about 5 grams each).
Hemp seeds also contain all nine essential amino acids, and they are well digested, especially for a plant-based protein.
In general, animal sources such as eggs, milk, and whey have a protein digestibility-corrected amino acid score (PDCAA) of 1.00, which means they’re well digested. Plant protein sources typically fall below this. Soy leads the plant category with a score close to 1.00, followed by beans, pulses, and legumes (score of 0.6 to 0.7), and grains and nuts (0.4 to 0.5). Hemp hearts have a PDCAA score of 0.63 to 0.66.
Vitamins and Minerals
Not only are hemp hearts loaded with healthy fats and proteins, but they’re also packed with nutrients.
Hemp is an excellent source of magnesium, providing about 210mg or about 50% of your daily needs. A serving of seeds also has 13% of the daily iron requirements for adults (2.4mg). Hemp hearts are also a good source of zinc, providing about 3mg per serving or about 20% of your daily needs.
By including hemp seeds in your diet, you may take advantage of certain health benefits. Many research studies investigating hemp benefits have been performed on animals. More research in humans is needed.
Improved Heart Health
Like other seeds (and nuts), hemp seeds are heart-healthy. Studies have shown that they are high in both omega-3 fatty and omega-6 fatty acids. A healthy omega-3 to omega-6 intake is crucial for the prevention or reduction of many diseases, including cardiovascular disease.
Authors of one research review concluded that there is enough evidence to support the hypothesis that hemp seeds have the potential to beneficially influence heart disease, but they added that more research is needed.
Reduced Risk of Type 2 Diabetes
You’ll get a healthy dose of magnesium when consuming hemp seeds. Magnesium is needed by the body for maintaining healthy blood sugar levels. According to the National Institutes of Health, magnesium helps the body break down sugars and might help reduce the risk of insulin resistance—a condition that can lead to diabetes.
Magnesium also helps your body to build stronger bones. The NIH reports that people with higher intakes of magnesium have a higher bone mineral density, which is important in reducing the risk of bone fractures and osteoporosis. And studies have shown that a proper level of magnesium in the body is important for maintaining healthy bones.
Hemp seeds may provide some relief to those with constipation due to the fiber they provide. Researchers have found that increasing your fiber intake helps to increase stool frequency in patients with constipation.
Preliminary research has also found that hemp seeds may help with constipation. One animal study found that consuming hemp seed soft capsules helped relieve constipation compared to the control group. However, more research needs to be conducted to understand the full benefit in humans.
Improved Cognitive Function
Another recent, preliminary animal study was conducted on the potential benefit hemp seeds might have on issues with memory and neuroinflammation. Researchers found that the hemp seed extract prevented the learning and spatial memory damage from inflammation and improved damage from the induced inflammation in the hippocampus.
More studies need to be conducted to see if this benefit extends to humans.
Allergic reactions to Cannabis sativa have been reported, although many studies investigate the part of the plant used for marijuana use (not hemp seeds). There have been reports of sore throat, nasal congestion, rhinitis, pharyngitis, wheezing, and other problems including anaphylactic responses. There have also been reports of hemp workers involved in processing hemp fibers at a textile mill showing a significantly higher prevalence of chronic respiratory symptoms.
Recent reports of allergy to hemp seed are lacking. But at least one older study was published indicating that the condition is possible.
When consumed as a food, hemp seed is generally recognized as safe (GRAS) by the FDA. Many people wonder if they will get high from consuming hemp seeds. But that is not likely to happen. While marijuana and hemp seeds are related (they come from the same cannabis plant family), they are very different.
Hemp seeds don’t naturally contain significant levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive component. In fact, food-grade strains of hemp must contain less than 0.3% THC by weight. But studies have noted that they may not be free of this compound entirely.
A study conducted in Canada found variations in THC levels in hemp seed products, with some evaluated brands containing higher amounts than the legal threshold. Researchers suggested that the higher levels may be due to contamination during processing.
If you are taking certain medications, including estrogen, ACE inhibitors, or antihypertensive drugs, speak to your healthcare providers before consuming hemp seeds.
Hemp seeds are naturally gluten-free but can be subject to cross-contamination if they are processed in a facility that also processes gluten-containing grains. So if you adhere to a gluten-free diet, look for brands that are certified gluten free.
The common varieties of hemp hearts are organic and non-organic, but you’ll often find other derivatives of the hemp seed including, protein powder, soft gel capsules, oil, and hemp meal.
Many people wonder how hemp seeds compare to other common seeds like flax and chia. All of these seeds—chia, flax, and hemp—are great sources of plant protein and fiber. They do vary when it comes to their nutritional offerings. Hemp hearts have 10 grams of protein per serving, while chia and flax have only 5 grams per serving.
Additionally, hemp hearts have more omega fatty acids—with 12 grams per serving—than flax and chia seeds with 9 and 7 grams respectively. Hemp seeds are also unique in that they contain something called gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), which is an anti-inflammatory omega fatty acid; flax and chia seeds do not.
When It’s Best
Hemp seeds are available year-round in many natural food stores. But hemp is often harvested in the fall.
Storage and Food Safety
Hemp seeds can spoil fairly easily. But when stored properly, a package of hemp hearts can last for a year. Packages of shelled hemp seeds should be stored in a cool, dry place or at cooler temperatures. The best way to prevent spoilage is to store hemp seeds in a sealed container in the refrigerator. When stored in a pantry, they will only last 3 to 4 months.
You can also store seeds in freezer-safe bags and store them in the freezer. You’ll know that hemp hearts have gone bad when they have a rancid smell.
How to Prepare
You can use hemp hearts to make many kitchen staples. For example, you can make hemp milk by blending hemp hearts with water, then straining them. Ground seeds can be used to make flour. Or you can use the ground seeds to make vegan protein powder. Some people extract hemp oil from the seeds and used for dressings and sauces.
Hemp hearts are versatile, so they can be used in a range of dishes, from sweet to savory. They help provide texture, a little crunch, and a subtle, nutty flavor. They’re a great protein-packed addition that can be sprinkled atop many dishes or included in a recipe as an ingredient.
Consider these simple ways to use hemp seeds, hemp milk, or hemp oil:
Hemp hearts—also called hulled hemp seeds—are a good source of protein and healthy fat. A 3-tablespoon serving provides 166 calories, 15 grams of healthy fat, and over 9 grams of protein.