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.
Seeds of life: chia, flax, hemp and pumpkin
Seeds are a crucial food source for birds, squirrels, livestock and other animals, especially during winter. For humans, edible seeds provide a delicious, nutrient-packed punch to meals and snacks, and are the source of most of our cooking oils, as well as some spices and beverages.
Seeds are quite high in calories because of their natural oils but don’t let that dissuade you from enjoying them. Their nutritional value is worth every calorie. A few interesting edible seeds that top the nutrient charts are chia, flax, hemp and pumpkin seeds.
While most of us remember the “Ch-ch-ch-chia Pet” as an ’80s gimmick, the ancient plant is actually regarded as a superfood, with many clinically proven health benefits.
Chia, Salvia hispanica, a plant belonging to the mint family, was so highly recognized by the Aztecs that it was often used as currency. The powerful seeds, referred to as “running food,” sustained Aztec runners, hunters, traders and warriors on long expeditions, often as their only source of nourishment.
Today, experts suggest that chia is one of the most nutritionally complete foods found in nature. In addition to being an excellent fiber source (mostly insoluble, which creates bulk for stool), chia is a rich plant-based source of Omega-3 fatty acids, consists of about 20 percent protein, and contains high levels of antioxidants, calcium, magnesium and iron.
Research has shown that chia has enormous potential to prevent and treat cardiovascular disease and Type 2 Diabetes. It can lower blood sugar (glucose) after a meal, reduce inflammation (C-Reactive Protein) and blood pressure, and is a natural blood thinner.
Since chia can absorb several times its weight in water, it helps the body maintain hydration, an important advantage to athletes and to those living in hot climates.
Gluten-free chia seed can be added — whole or ground — to a wide range of foods, including cereals, breads and bakery products, yogurt, desserts, pasta, and even soups and mayonnaise.
Flax has been cultivated for centuries and has been celebrated for its usefulness all over the world. Hippocrates wrote about using flax for the relief of abdominal pains, and the French Emperor Charlemagne favored flax seed so much that he passed laws requiring its consumption!
The main health benefits of flax seed are due to its rich content of Alpha-Linolenic Acid (ALA), dietary fiber, and lignans.
The essential fatty acid ALA is a powerful anti-inflammatory, decreasing the production of agents that promote inflammation and lowering blood levels of C-Reactive Protein (CRP), a biomarker of inflammation. Through the actions of the ALA and lignans, flax has been shown to block tumor growth in animals and may help reduce cancer risk in humans.
Lignans are phytoestrogens, plant compounds that have estrogen-like effects and antioxidant properties. Phytoestrogens help to stabilize hormonal levels, reducing the symptoms of PMS and menopause, and potentially reducing the risk of developing breast and prostate cancer.
The fiber in flax seed promotes healthy bowel function. One tablespoon of whole flax seed contains as much fiber as half a cup of cooked oat bran. Flax’s soluble fibers can lower blood cholesterol levels, helping reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke.
Ground flax seed provides more nutritional benefits than does the whole seed. Grind the seeds at home using a coffee grinder or blender, and add them to cereals, baked goods, smoothies, and yogurt.
Store dry, whole flax seed in an airtight container at room temperature for up to a year. Ground flax seed should be refrigerated, also in an airtight container. Properly stored, it will keep for up to three months.
Hemp has been an important resource and source of nutrition for thousands of years. While Cannabis sativa L. and other non-drug varieties of Cannabis, commonly known as hemp, have not been cultivated for use much in recent years, interest in the versatile plant has been restored worldwide.
Studies have identified hemp seed as a functional food and important food resource. Technically a nut, hemp seed contains over 30 percent fat and about 25 percent protein, with considerable amounts of dietary fiber and other nutrients. Nutritionally, hemp seed — or hemp heart — is best known for its polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs). It’s an exceptionally rich source of the essential fatty acids linoleic acid (omega-6) and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), and a rare source of gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) and stearidonic acid.
The two main proteins in hemp seed are edestin and albumin. Both of these high-quality proteins are easily digested and contain nutritionally-significant amounts of all essential amino acids, arginine in particular.
Some of the known health benefits of hemp include increased energy, improved metabolism and immunity, reduced food cravings, and it can help lower blood pressure. Hemp hearts also contain plant sterols that have been shown to reduce cholesterol.
In the U.S., hemp seeds are used to produce food, nutraceuticals, and body care products. Natural Product stores and supermarkets sell a variety of hemp-based foods, including hemp hearts, hemp bars, hemp protein shakes, hemp milk (non-dairy beverage), and cereal made with hemp.
Pumpkin seeds have 373 calories per half cup. They are a good source of minerals, including zinc, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, copper, and manganese, as well as protein and fiber. Only one ounce provides about 7 grams of protein.
Pumpkin seed oil is rich in essential fatty acids (EFAs). EFAs have many benefits, among them the maintenance of healthy blood vessels and nerves, and all tissues, including the skin.
The oil is also rich in phytosterols, plant-based fatty acids that are similar enough to cholesterol that they can replace it in the human body, contributing to the reduction of blood cholesterol levels.
Pumpkin seeds have long been associated with a healthy prostate. The protective compounds present within the seed of the pumpkin, which include zinc and phytosterols, may help to shrink an enlarged prostate. For prevention, eat a handful (about 1 ounce) of raw pumpkin seeds three times a week.
Eating seeds raw is always preferred as roasting them deteriorates or destroys many of the nutrients. Add whole seeds to hot or cold cereals, baked goods (breads and cookies), salads, steamed vegetables, or grind them up to add to burgers, chili and casseroles.
Edible seeds provide a delicious, nutrient-packed punch to meals and snacks, and are the source of most of our cooking oils, as well as some spices and beverages.