Flax, Chia, or Hemp? A Nutrition Showdown
We all know that eating flax, chia, and hemp seed is good for our health (even if we aren’t entirely sure why). In a nutshell – or should I say, a “seed” shell – flax, chia, and hemp all contain alpha linolenic acid (ALA for short); the parent fat of the omega 3 family. Susan Macfarlene here to discuss these important omega 3 sources.
Omega 3 is an essential fat because our body is unable to make it (although we can convert small amounts of ALA into DHA and EPA, the type of omega 3 found in algae and animals that eat algae). The heart healthy benefits of consuming omega 3 have been well-established, although most of these benefits have been attributed to EPA and DHA. In a recent review (1), ALA was found to have a modest benefit in the prevention of heart disease, diabetes, and osteoporosis, and demonstrated the following health-promoting properties (1):
- Reduced hardening of plaque
- Lowered blood cholesterol
- Promoted healthy artery walls
- Prevented clots from forming
- Prevented arrhythmia
- Lowered inflammation
However, what research on ALA does not answer is what the best source is between the popular choices of chia, flax, and hemp seed.
One of the first crops domesticated by humans, flax has been commercially produced in the United States since 1753 and is used today for both its oil and seed (2). By weight, flax is 41% fat, 20% protein, and 28% fibre (containing both soluble and insoluble fibre), with a highly desirable omega 6 to omega 3 ratio of approximately 0.3:1 (3). In addition to being a good source of vitamin E (3), flax seeds also contain calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus. The nutritional composition of 100 g and 1 tbsp of ground flaxseeds seeds can be viewed below (USDA database):
|Nutr. Info||100 g||1 tbsp (7 g)|
|Omega 3 (g)||22.8||1.6|
|Omega 6 (g)||5.9||0.4|
Flax seeds are also rich in bioactive substances, most notably lignans, which exert health-promoting properties as a phytoestrogen and antioxidant (3). For example, lignans from flax seed have been shown to decrease biomarkers of breast cancer in premenopausal women (4), as well as supress the growth of tumours (5). Furthermore, the bioactive substances in flax may lower cholesterol (especially in post-menopausal women), reduce the risk of comorbidities associated with obesity, and mitigate inflammation (3).
Chia seeds are a relative of the mint family and were traditionally used in Central and South America as a medicinal and staple food (6). In North America, chia seeds gained popularity in the 1980s as “Chia Pets”; terracotta figurines that sprouted chia seeds to resemble an animal’s fur or hair. Nowadays, people are more likely to consume, rather than grow, chia seeds, thanks in part to their impressive nutritional profile.
By weight, chia seeds are 53% fat, 35% carbohydrate, and 12% protein (containing all nine essential amino acids) and are a good source of both insoluble and soluble fibre (6). In addition, chia seeds are high in antioxidants and contain the minerals calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and selenium. Unlike flax seeds, which in their whole form will pass through digestion unabsorbed, chia seeds can be digested and absorbed in their whole form (6). The nutritional composition of 100 g and 1 tbsp of chia seeds can be viewed below (USDA database):
|Nutr. Info||100 g||1 tbsp (11 g)|
|Omega 3 (g)||17.8||2.0|
|Omega 6 (g)||5.8||0.6|
There is a lack of high-quality evidence to support the use of chia seeds in the prevention and management of chronic diseases. Nonetheless, a few studies have suggested that chia seeds may help prolong satiety (7), reduce blood pressure and inflammation, and keep post-meal blood sugars stable (8).
Hemp seed has seen its fair share of controversy since it hails from the same plant as marijuana. Because of this, both Canada and the United States had regulations that limited, or outright banned, the growing of hemp seed, despite its very low content of THC (
0.2%), which is effectively removed by processing and cleaning (9,10). Thankfully, these bans have been lifted, allowing North Americans to reap the nutritional benefits of these hearty seeds.
By weight, hemp seeds are 20% to 25% protein, 20% to 30% carbohydrate, 25% to 35% fat, and 10% to 15% insoluble fiber (11). In addition, they are a good source of magnesium, phosphorus, iron, and manganese, and contain incredibly high levels of antioxidants (11). The nutritional composition of 100 g and 1 tbsp of chia seeds can be viewed below (USDA database):
|Nutr. Info||100 g||1 tbsp (10 g)|
|Omega 3 (g)||8.7||0.9|
|Omega 6 (g)||28.7||2.9|
Hemp seeds are unique in that they contain stearidonic acid (SDA); an intermediary in the pathway that converts ALA into the longer-chain EPA and DHA (11). Because of the presence of SDA, it is possible that an increased amount of EPA and DHA could be made from hemp seeds (compared to other plant sources of omega 3), but this has yet to be proven through research.
Similar to flax and chia, the fatty acid profile of hemp seeds exerts a favourable effect on lipid profile and markers of cardiovascular health (11). Furthermore, hemp seeds and oil contain phytosterols, which are plant-derived compounds that resemble cholesterol but have an LDL-lowering effect (12, 13).
Which to Choose – Hemp, Flax, or Chia Seed?
What’s clear is that flax, hemp, and chia seeds are all an excellent choice and provide a good source of plant-derived ALA, along with an array of nutrients and antioxidants. Of the three, flax provides the highest source of ALA and most ideal ratio of omega 6 to 3. On the other hand, hemp is the highest in protein and provides an excellent source of zinc, while chia seeds are the highest in calcium and fibre. To me, there is no clear winner among the 3, which is why I recommend including all of them in your diet. Just keep in mind that because of the high antioxidant and polyunsaturated content of these fats, it’s best to store them in your fridge or freezer and be mindful of cooking practices that could introduce free-radicals, such as high-temperature cooking.
Flax, Chia, or Hemp. Find out why these sources of omega 3 are so important in your diets, especially for plant-based dieters.
Flax Seed Vs Hemp Seed
You have probably heard of these names making their way into the wellbeing world. Flax seed and Hemp seed are two of the most powerful plant foods now available, but they have been around for quite a while. Flax seeds have been grown since the beginning of civilisation, used as a traditional remedy in Mediterranean culture and hailed for its health properties. And Hemp dates back to the Neolithic Age archeologically.
They are more than today’s newest buzzword or touted ‘superfood’. Even Charles the Great knew that flaxseed would be beneficial to his subjects, as he ordered them to eat this wondrous seed for their health! Both flaxseed and hemp have a whole host of properties and benefits as rich sources of vitamins and minerals. Find out which ones unique benefits would be most suited to you and your own individual health needs:
Flax Seed Benefits
– Ri ch in omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidant substances called lignans. These promote hormonal balance.
– Li gnans are antioxidants that fight against free radical damage, making flaxseed a great anti-ager and hormone balancer. However, it’s important to note that lignans are only available in the ground flaxseed form, and not in the oil. The process of making the oil removes them.
– A ric h source of vitamins, minerals, and omega-3 fatty acids nourish and promote healthy hair and skin. These include calcium, zinc, magnesium, iron and protein.
– E vidence suggests that flaxseed lowers cholesterol, and a low cholesterol is important for a decreased risk of heart disease and stroke.
– Ant iviral and antibacterial lignans help to prevent the onset of colds and flus.
– P olyphenols in flaxseed may help detox candida and yeast in the body by supporting the growth of probiotics in the gut.
– S upports healthy digestion and can provide relief for those suffering with digestive problems, such as Crohn’s disease. Flaxseed is a rich source of fibre that provides friendly bacteria in the colon so that your system can cleanse waste. Flaxseed is also commonly consumed for constipation.
– The Journal of Nutrition published a study stating that flaxseeds may support weight loss and help to combat obesity. The healthy fats and fibre found in flaxseed can possibly stop you from feeling hungry.
Hemp Seed Benefits
– S upports heart health by providing nutrients that are essential for a healthy heart, including fibre, healthy fats, and plant-based protein. Research suggests that hemp can improve cardiovascular health and high blood pressure.
– Pr omotes healthy skin, hair and nails when taken internally or applied topically. Hemp seed oil penetrates the inner layers of the skin for deep nourishment and healthy cell growth.
– Re searchers found that consuming hempseed oil could possibly lower the survival rate of MH7A rheumatoid arthritis synovial cells, concluding that hemp seed can help manage arthritis symptoms. They stated that it can even promote cell death at the right doses. You can find this study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology.
– He mp seeds high content of insoluble and soluble fibre promotes healthy digestive health by keeping the gastrointestinal system regular and provides relief from constipation.
– Th e fibre in hempseeds can keep you fuller for longer to reduce eating excessive calories. It has been recommended by nutritionists that by adding hempseeds to your breakfast, you can keep yourself fuller for longer, and curb hunger pangs throughout the day. This can help promote weight loss.
– As a rich source of the omega-6 fatty acid, gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), hemp seed has been known to support hormone health and manage symptoms of PMS.
– He mp seeds are nature’s best source of energy with four tablespoons containing 15g essential fats, 15g protein, 2.4g fibre, 4.5g carbohydrates and no cholesterol. If you’re feeling fatigued, try adding hemp seeds to your breakfast instead of grabbing a sugary energy bar, which might have the opposite effect with a sugar crash.
– He mp seeds have the perfect balance of omega-6 and omega-3 ratio, which is 4:1. Why is consuming this particular balance important? Today, most Western diets involve omega-6 fatty acids in excess and not enough omega-3 fatty acids, and this can promote an increased risk of inflammatory and immune diseases, cardiovascular disease and cancer.
Are Flax Seed and Hemp Seed the Same?
As both are a complete protein, this means that both contain all 9 of the essential amino acids that the body can’t make on its own. However, hemp seed is a higher plant source of essential fatty acid.
Hemp seed has double the amount of protein as flax seed. Flax seed contains 5.7 grams in a 3 tablespoon serving. But Hemp seed contains 10 grams of protein in a 3 tablespoon serving.
Flax seed contains more fibre. It’s important to note that the fibre of flax is primarily beneficial in using ground flax, not the oil. The oil is more useful for inflammation, and cell membranes. Hemp seed contains 3 grams of fibre in a 3 tablespoon serving, whereas flax seed provides 8.4 grams. This means if getting more fibre is important to you, perhaps to support digestion or to feel fuller for longer, then ground flax seed might be the option to choose.
To sum this all up, both flax and hemp seed are incredible powerhouses of nutrition. You might even want to incorporate both wonder seeds in to your diet, as both offer excellent health benefits and have the power to make you feel vibrant and energised!
Each individual has a different diet, therefore is in need of varying levels of nutrients. For a diet which will be nourished by a higher protein intake containing all of the essential amino acids, Hemp seed would be a wise addition to a diet, especially if you are a vegan or vegetarian. Alternatively, for a diet which would benefit from a higher omega 3 content, Flax seed is a rich source of Alpha Linoleic Acid which is an essential component of cell membranes and precursor for anti-inflammatory prostaglandins.
Have you decided which one is most suitable for you? Please get in touch if you have any questions.
Find out all the benefits of flax seed and hemp seed, and which one will suit your individual health needs.