Health Benefits of Flax Seeds, Chia Seeds and Hemp Seeds
The next big thing in nutrition might be these tiny seeds.
Health nuts are getting serious about seeds. The blogosphere is going crazy for chia seeds (yes, like the “pets”) and hemp seed sales grew 156 percent between 2008 and 2010. It’s no wonder: seeds deliver as much protein as nuts (and in some cases more) and all three of these seeds deliver heart-healthy alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), the plant-based omega-3 fat, also found in walnuts.
-Amy Levin-Epstein, “Super Seeds”
Healthy Chia Seeds
Chia seeds may have celebrity status as the newest superfood fad, but they’ve been around for centuries (they were prized by the Aztecs). The seeds absorb liquid easily, gelling and making a creamy addition to oats and pancakes. That property also makes them easy on sensitive stomachs, says David C. Nieman, M.P.H., Dr.P.H., of Appalachian State University. “Some other seeds, like flax, are harder to digest because they have more lignan, a tough fiber,” says Nieman.
Nutritional boons of chia (per tbsp.): 2 g protein, 4 g fiber, 1.75 g omega-3s
Healthy Flax Seeds
Flax delivers more ALA?than any other plant food. Grind seeds in your (cleaned) coffee grinder or food processor before adding to baked goods or sprinkling over cereal (your body can’t digest the seeds whole). Or mix flaxseed oil into salad dressings or smoothies.
Nutritional boons of flax seeds (per tbsp.): 1 g protein, 2 g fiber, 2 g omega-3s.
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Healthy Hemp Seeds
Hemp plants (aka Cannabis sativa) may be illegal to grow in the U.S. because of their association with the mood-altering cultivars of the plant, but eating hemp seeds is increasingly popular. As versatile as, and similar in taste to, sunflower seeds, hemp seeds can be eaten raw, toasted, sprinkled on yogurt or salads or ground into seed butter.
Nutritional boons of hemp seeds (per tbsp.): 4 g protein, 16% dv phosphorus, 16% dv magnesium, 1 g omega-3s.
Health Benefits of Flax Seeds, Chia Seeds and Hemp Seeds
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.